Thursday, March 24, 2016

Oregon Superintendents Decry Time Spent on SBAC, Ask State for Reasonable Assessments

Oregon Save Our Schools has been made aware of a letter sent by five Oregon superintendents to the Oregon Department of Education and the governor's Chief Education officer in which they ask for relief from the Smarter Balanced Assessments and request that our state use the opportunity given with the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) to move away from SBAC.


This assessment has always been wrong for our students and our state. We applaud these district leaders for speaking up. Smarter Balanced needs to go!

Here is the letter.

January 28, 2016

To: Lindsey Capps, Chief Education Officer (acting) Dr. Salam Noor, Oregon Department of Education

From: Carole Smith, Portland Public Schools 
Jeff Rose, Beaverton School District
Gustavo Balderas, Eugene School District 
Susan RiekeSmith, Springfield Public Schools 
Colt Gill, Bethel School District

Re: Improving Our Statewide Assessment System 

Dear Mr. Capps and Dr. Noor,

With passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Oregon has a unique opportunity to reassess and improve our system of student assessment and school accountability. The prospect of regaining our reputation for innovative and effective student assessment systems is once again within reach.
We applaud ODE’s efforts to quickly begin an inclusive process to guide Oregon’s response to its new opportunities and responsibilities under ESSA. We would like to join in an open dialogue with school district superintendents and other educators across our state about how we can best assess student learning and impact student achievement.

As the leaders of some of Oregon’s largest school districts, we are keenly aware of the importance of student achievement data. We value the information provided by valid, reliable, standardsaligned assessments that are administered consistently to all groups of students in order to provide critical information to educators, parents, students and the public about our students’ knowledge, skills and learning needs. However, our current statewide assessment system carries high costs in instructional time, impact on graduation preparedness, and student and educator attention all of which detract from the benefits of the system.

We ask that serious consideration be given to replacing the current 11th grade state assessments with a standard collegeentrance exam such as the SAT or ACT. Oregon currently sanctions these tests to meet student graduation requirements, but does not include them in school accountability systems. Some states already have made this change with the approval of the U.S. Department of Education, and others are considering following suit with passage of ESSA. We acknowledge that changing the standard high school exam to a collegeentrance exam would require careful consideration of these assessments’ validity to measure progress toward Oregon’s Essential Skills and college and career readiness standards. However, such a change could carry numerous benefits. The amount of testing students undergo in their junior year is a serious concern. Many students in 11th grade complete the Smarter Balanced Assessment, OAKS Science, AP, IB, SAT and ACT tests, in addition to numerous dualcredit exams and teachercreated assessments. For the students who already take the SAT and/or ACT, completing additional state tests can seem redundant, contribute to a sense of overtesting, and further reduce motivation and instructional time.

Designating the SAT or ACT as the statewide high school exam would decrease time spent on testing, open doors of opportunity, improve equity, and contribute to creating a collegegoing culture aligned with Oregon’s 404020 goal. We believe that this change would be in the best interest of Oregon’s students—especially for students who may not otherwise complete college entrance exams.
This opportunity for reflection on assessment and accountability systems may also create space to consider whether current assessments are effective tools for measuring Oregon’s Essential Skills for an Oregon Diploma. This is also an opportunity to consider Oregon’s nine Essential Skills adopted almost 10 years ago. It may be the right time to review their alignment to state standards and the methods we use to ensure students are able to demonstrate Essential Skills prior to graduation.

As discussions progress in ODE’s workgroups, we also ask for thoughtful consideration of the most appropriate and effective assessments for grades 3–8. While the Smarter Balanced assessments improve in many ways on the previous OAKS exams, the new tests are lengthy and complex to administer. They require cumbersome and lengthy training that commandeers valuable professional development and teacher collaboration time which otherwise could be focused on meeting student needs, improving instructional practices, enhancing student engagement techniques, and advancing equitable systems in our schools.

There are assessments in existence that correlate well to the Smarter Balanced Assessment and also provide information to teachers and students in a far timelier manner. Perhaps an ideal statewide summative assessment would take less than an hour to administer, it would align with state standards, align with and provide for a balanced system of formative and interim assessments that could inform instruction throughout the year, and validly and reliably measure student learning, all while minimizing the amount of instructional time devoted to testing rather than learning.

We believe that this ideal is possible to achieve. We do understand that the timeline and passionate concerns regarding statewide assessment systems make this new opportunity a “heavy lift” for ODE. We would appreciate the opportunity to continue discussing options to support your efforts to adapt to the changes under ESSA. We also may be able to support the work of ODE by convening a separate, but inclusive, “think tank” to provide thoughtful recommendations to ODE, the State Board, the Governor’s Office, the Legislature, or other interested parties.

The changes brought forward by ESSA offer tremendous opportunity for our state, our schools, and our students. We can improve on our state’s system for student assessment and school accountability. We can consider measures of student engagement, college credit attainment, family participation and more in our accountability systems. However, addressing the constraints of our current assessment model is a first step. Please consider how we can help support the development of a new plan that can make Oregon a leader in the field once again. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

OSOS Brings Authentic Assessment Discussion to Salem

Last Tuesday, Oregon Save Our Schools brought a discussion on what our schools would look like with assessment for learning to Salem Public Library. Our panel included , who is currently running for Oregon Senate District 22;  , Portland parent and teacher newly elected vice president of Portland Association of Teachers; , Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education and Professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership at University of Oregon; and founder and president (retired) of the Assessment Training Institute in Portland as well as a researcher on classroom assessment and author of many books on that subject. 

The four panelists spoke about the flaws in our current assessment system, specifically the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which all agreed is a flawed measurement. Frederick talked about the history of standardized testing as a gatekeeping mechanism used to exclude people of color. Thiel told the audience that the Smarter Balanced Assessment yields no useful information to her as either a teacher or a parent in understanding where a child’s strengths and weaknesses lie and how to help them. Yong Zhao discussed the false meritocracy that the tests support, wherein students who are from higher socioeconomic backgrounds do better on the tests than students from poverty, thus rationalizing maintenance of the status quo and causing an under valuing everything, including the Arts and Music, in favor of high scores in English Language Arts and Math. Stiggins stated that he is still waiting to see any empirical evidence in the form of peer reviewed, replicated studies, that prove that high stakes standardized testing used for strict accountability does anything to improve teaching and learning. He also questioned where the attitude of or effect on the learner in relation to our current system has been taken into account.

The audience had many questions regarding assessment systems, so many that there was not enough time for all of them to be answered. 

All panelists spoke of the opportunity to change our current system under the new and the importance of involving students, parents, and teachers in that discussion. Lew Frederick mentioned how very important it is for citizens to make their views on education known to their representatives and to stay abreast of and involved in the ongoing political discussions and decisions about education.

Oregon Save Our Schools thanks all of our panelists for helping bring this important discussion to a wider audience. We hope that our audience members will continue to seek answers to their questions about education and assessment and we hope all Oregonians heed the advice of our panelists: stay involved in and informed about what is happening in education, and , especially while the new rules for ESSA are being rolled out. We have an opportunity to create a better system. Let’s all get involved and do it! 


Photo credit Tim McFarland, Salem Keizer Education Association 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Catcher in the Rye: Revisited

Today we are featuring another post from OSOS and cofounder   Many thanks to Joanne for allowing us to repost here.

Today’s post is something I wrote long ago--1994 to be exact.  It came to my mind again because an old friend referred to it.  I have changed a few words to modernize the piece, and I want young readers to know that "The Catcher in the Rye" was a top best seller in its time and often taught in high school English classes.

When I first read J.D. Salinger's novel, “The Catcher in the Rye", the catcher metaphor struck me as silly, a clumsy device invented to justify a meaningless book title. Would any real teenager see himself -- as the novel's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, does--as a rescuer of children, and why were children in need of rescue anyway?
Although I am still cynical about Salinger's creative motivation, I find the "catcher" image far more poignant and real in today's world. In contrast to the world of Holden Caulfield's rye field near the cliff, our world today has so many children who are physically, economically, socially, or psychologically in danger. Statistics don't tell the story of many children's tragic lives, but we as educators see the evidence day after day in their anger, apathy, self-destructiveness, and resistance to learning.
Because we are where children are, because they will drive us crazy if we do nothing, and because we care, teachers must be today's catchers in the rye.
I have lost faith in any and all large-scale solutions to educational problems. They just put more paperwork, regulations, and job titles between children and the help they need. Where schools are failing, it is not because they don't have enough programs and consultants, but because they have lost the human touch. Children mired in the morass of family and community decay can't benefit from higher standards, instructional technology, or remedial programs; they need caring adults to pull them out of the muck and set them on solid ground--one at a time. Only then can each child, in his or her own way, begin the adventure of learning.
I have no magic formula for child catching. Each rescue must be worked out in personal terms that fit the catcher and the child. It probably doesn't matter if the means are sophisticated or crude, gentle or tough, as long as at least one sensible adult is looking after the welfare of each child. I do believe, however, that there are some conditions that are essential for child-catching to work. The framework of operation must be small, physically close, and flexible. Forget any plan for recruiting 500 teachers as catchers, training them, and setting up a schedule for patrolling the rye. We need small schools or schools that are divided into small community units; classroom time, space, and organization that allow personal relationships to flourish; legitimacy for play and conversation in school; authority in the hands of front-line practitioners; and educational visions unclouded by political pressure to cover academic ground, raise test scores, or produce workers for industry.
Within such a framework, teachers are able to catch children who stray too close to the edge. They know each child as an individual and see most of the things that are happening to him or her. Kids hang around and tell them what they cannot see. Teachers also find time to talk to each other about classroom problems and to work with their classes to make changes in rules or processes without having to implement any special programs or bring in any outside consultants.
Although permanent rescue is a slow process and an imperfect one, catching often shows quick, dramatic results. I credit those results to what I call the "wart theory of education". In essence, that theory asserts that children's problems are like warts: If you can destroy just a few of them, the rest will get the message and go away. Children who are carrying intolerable burdens of poverty, family dysfunction, bad learning habits, and social ineptitude may shake them off in the space of a few weeks when a caring teacher takes time to talk through a single problem with them or tutor them in one small skill.
I have seen schools that do an impressive job of rescuing large numbers of children over time. Ironically, they are not the same schools that produce the highest test scores, send the most students on to college, or attract the attention of the media.  Mostly, such schools don't even worry about whether the data on achievement and behavior makes them look good. Catching children is its own reward when you're out there in the rye.