Saturday, October 8, 2016

Smarter Balanced Fails to Show Any Merit

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) added information in the opt out form packet that states that if a student doesn’t take the Smarter Balanced Exam (SBAC), then valuable learning information will be lost.  What is this valuable information?  How would this information be used to guide instruction?

Last year, I was called into a full-day meeting to go over the first year’s SBAC results with the intent of looking at what areas of instruction we needed to focus on.  At the end of the day and after contact with ODE experts, we were unable to get one piece of information about which areas we would need to put extra time in for instruction.  We were told that we would have to give additional formative assessments to get that information.  So what were we told is the purpose of the test?  Accountability.  

When the projected cut scores were first released they showed that English Language Learners (ELL) students, had a projected rate pass rate of 5% or less in some of the grades, I filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.  My complaint was rejected because they said that since most everyone would be failing, then I couldn’t prove discrimination against any protected class, such as ELL or Special Education students.

You don’t need to be an expert in data or statistics to come to the conclusion that this test is not valid.  It does not give teachers the information they need to determine how to better make students college and career ready.  The results don’t come out in time to make instructional decisions.  The test discriminates against ELL students as the pass rate threshold is so low that no valid data conclusions can be made.  The test is an autopsy of our failure to provide adequate services for ELL students.  This is different than what Stand for Children and Chalkboard Project infer that it is because of poor teaching that the students are not succeeding.  We continue to document the opportunity gap, and it should come as no surprise that it is not improving.

Now that the official scores have been recently released by the ODE, we are seeing some articles trying to draw some conclusions about the merit of the test and the performance of the students.  Data can be interpreted in a variety of ways, some of which will support a predetermined assumption or result.  You can look at overall passing rates, growth formulas, and comparing school and district performance with statewide performance.

A congratulatory email from the superintendent in my district went out to all staff outlining our district’s performance against the state’s.  While we are a high-performing district with hard-working dedicated staff, many students are being left behind.  And if we are near the top, what about the rest of the students in other districts?  This breaks my heart, as students only get one chance to be in school.  

ODE says that the SBAC measures the achievement gap with about the same accuracy as the previous assessment.  What is the purpose of this measurement?  

Patricia Muller
McMinville ELL Teacher

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Eugene CAPE Member's Letter to Oregon Legislators, Education Leaders

Rachel Rich, a member of Eugene Community Alliance for Public Education (CAPE) has written this letter to Oregon Legislators and Education Leaders regarding the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Please write your own letter to as well as to the Oregon and Education Committees. 

To Oregon Legislators and Education Leaders:

The Oregon Secretary of State just published an audit of standardized testing costs pursuant to HB 2713.  For an accurate accounting of costs relative to achievement, they should have dug deeper into their own data.  To wit:  according to their own contract, they paid over $27 million to AIR to administer OAKS and Smarter Balanced.  Further, the ODE  website lists each district's expenses line by line, including items related to state mandated testing.  No need to guess.

The results are clear:  testing costs have risen significantly.  But in light of today's cost-cutting measures, a test that doesn't provide prompt and specific guidance to individual students and their teachers is a poor expenditure.   Smarter Balanced reports do not offer specific information like whether students understand fractions or grammar, and reports aren’t returned for one full year.  We don't need to tinker with this test, we need to replace it.

While we continue to waste money on this poor quality testing program, there are fewer engaging electives to keep kids in school, while counselors, field-trips, talented and gifted programs, or speech and audiology services are scarce.  Ironically, despite spending massive amounts to identify under-performers, only a fraction was spent on remediation, pre-K, early intervention, and Title I in 2014-15, far less than in 2010-11!  This is not progress.  

By 2010, in just nine short months, Common Core and Smarter Balanced were completed, but still not fully implemented while OAKS was still in use in Oregon.   

Although the state pays generously for OAKS and SBAC tests in the form of annual membership dues, per-pupil fees, data storage, help desk, scoring and reporting, nevertheless, individual school districts were responsible for the rest.  District budget items likely affected are labeled not just "testing", but ranged from staff development and substitutes to technology and data management.  

District staff require extensive training to administer online standardized tests, which dominates both staff meetings (which are not a line item) and paid presentations.  Previously, professional development was devoted to best practices in teaching, instead of testing.  The current trend brings both financial and pedagogical costs.

Substitute teachers and classified personnel help set up and administer tests, or even serve in the classroom while teachers proctor the SBAC or OAKS.  The SBAC alone, minus preparation, is 10-11 hours long, much more for SPED and ELL students and substantially longer than the old OAKS test.  (Did Springfield purchase the additional interim and practice tests for SBAC?  Those consume still more time and resources - monthly.)  

Online testing increases computer purchases, as well as updates to existing operating systems.  Both Microsoft and SBAC phased out service to Windows XP, which constituted the majority of school computer operating systems.  Besides multiple OS upgrades, testing required increased bandwidth.

Because I taught in Springfield for several decades and that is where my grandchildren attend school, I chose District 19 as a test case. Comparing 2010 and 2014, here are Springfield's budget items likely affected by standardized testing.  Some items went up, while others were reclassified.  Overall, even counting for inflation, costs rose significantly.  

 2010-11 vs. 2014-5 Testing Related Expenditures

$126,262 - #2230 - Assessment and Testing


$1,565,099 - #2210 - Improvement of Instructional Services


$948,474 - #2240 - Instructional Staff Development


$188,662 - #2630 - Information Services


$2,431,265 - # 2660 - Technology Services


$27,483 - #2670 - Records Management Services


$4,855 - #2630 - Information Services


$1,092,642 - #121 - Substitutes - Licensed


$235,429 - #122 - Substitutes - Classified


$3,880,019 - #310 - Instructional, Professional and Technical Services


(new item appears in 2014 budget)

$2,565,340- #380 - Non-Instructional Professional and Technical Services

$70,262 - #390 - Other General Professional and Technological Services

$393,824 - #470 - Computer Software


$486,677 - #480 - Computer Hardware


$14,037 - # 550 - Technology



2010-11:  11,430,728

2014-15:  14,606,110  

Note:  In spite of Oregon's woes, Springfield has expanded programs for English Language Learners and continued to provide support services at Brattain House.   Further, this year the district has appointed a full-time coordinator, former school board member Jonathan Light, to design career strands leading students on a more direct path to success.  The goal is to offer each student career counseling, while rebuilding electives that inspire future vocations and avocations.  But think how much easier that would be if fewer millions were directed to over-testing.