ODE’s Opt-Out Form Better, Still Misleading

ODE’s 2016-17 opt-out form, beyond the parts you fill out, contains ill-informed and patronizing editorializing by people at the state who clearly don’t understand testing or what’s going on in general. Use the official form anyway. It’s not clear from the law if the form is required, or if it’s sufficient to simply notify the school of your opting-out.

The informational side of the form contains four questions. Our comments:

1.) How much time do the tests take?

ODE’s response is to look at the test administration manual. Sure. Bet parents will get right on that. The truth is that the test-taking requires usually several hours. However, the test prep often takes days or weeks away from regular classroom instruction. The better answer to ODE’s own question is: “Too much time and expense.”

optout2016-17stillwrong2.) What do the results mean and how do I get the results?

Here is where ODE gets shady. The tests give you a number (1-4, with 4 high) in 6 broad categories. How a 3 in reading can tell you a child’s strengths and areas for improvement is absurd, unless “areas of improvement” mean that your child needs to improve in reading. Hardly helpful information to anyone. These results do not help classroom instruction. The main thing standardized test scores indicate is the student’s family income level. We’ve known that for decades. We don’t need to spend millions each year on the testing system and lose countless weeks and months on test prep to learn it.

3.) Why does participation matter?

ODE claims: “having your child take the statewide tests provides educators and administrators with information about what educational approaches are working and where additional resources are needed.”

No. N-O. And one more time: No.

Standardized test results provide a generalized idea of how well a whole school is doing in a category. That’s what they were made for decades ago. The results say nothing about what education approaches are working – you can’t tell that because you can’t look at what questions individual students missed or even what questions your school students missed in general.

4.) When will my child take the test?

ODE provides a neutral answer, that it will be determined by the school and set after the 2/3 point of the school year.

Oregon Save Our Schools encourages parents and students to opt-out of high-stakes testing. For more students and families, the answer has become “Not now”. And that’s a good thing.

ODEoptoutformYou may be amused & educated by our recent posts from last year: “ODE sniffs at the law and thinks you’re stupid for opting-out” and another post about how some Oregon parents altered it to make witty & effective points.

Principals should stop intimidating students over opt-out rights

UmbridgePotterAt Oregon Save Our Schools, people regularly contact us about principals and sometimes teachers who try to intimidate or menace students (not only parents, but STUDENTS) to dissuade people from using their right to opt-out of high-stakes tests. Especially the SBAC summative test.

Several of us in Oregon SOS have direct experience with administrators trying to intimidate, and often lying, to our students about opting-out. It’s awful, and outrageous. We education activists push back. Now our legal rights have been expanded.

We know the people and corporations selling high-stakes testing have a lot of money, and want to make even more money. There is pressure on schools (unfair and not backed by research) to produce high test scores and high participation rates. We get it.

But high-stakes testing does expensive, ongoing harm to our schools. It doesn’t work. It punishes students in poverty and does nothing to alleviate poverty or make student and family lives better.

Those administrators and teachers who do not question bad policies, often willing to lie to deceive parents and students in order to manufacture test score quotas, are worse than a hindrance. They are on the wrong side of history.

And adults coercing students in this way may be acting illegally.

For the increasing number of educators concerned about student lives and quality instruction who support opting-out to the extent possible, even if it’s to simply accommodate students and families exercising their rights: thank you. You’re on the right side of history. And our numbers are growing.

For principals and teachers who don’t get it: stop.

Oregon Superintendents questioning SBAC

Morpheus Knows High-Stakes TestingCould it be that administrators in Oregon are starting to question the value of high-stakes testing like the time-wasting and expensive Smarter Balanced Assessment and lousy test-and-punish policies?

Looking at other states, we predicted/hoped something like this would happen in Oregon and earlier this school year, we sent “Our Open Letter on Opt-Out to Oregon Superintendents and School Boards” to give high-level people a nudge into the light. Below is an email from several superintendents to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) we found interesting:

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 Rieke‐Smith, 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, standards‐aligned 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 college‐entrance 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 college‐entrance 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 dual‐credit exams and teacher‐created assessments. For the students who already take the SAT and/or ACT, completing additional state tests can seem redundant, contribute to a sense of over‐testing, 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 college‐going culture aligned with Oregon’s 40‐40‐20 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.

ODE Leads With Fear: Districts/Schools Fail to Honor Intent of Opt-Out Bill

It seemed so simple.  The problem?  For some reason, since the implementation of SBAC, parents were finding it hard to opt-out of high-stakes testing. As more parents protested the new assessments by opting-out,  districts made up their own interpretation of the rules for opting-out, some even going so far as to question parents’ request for religious exemption  (our post about that scandal).

The solution? Legislators passed HB 2655 to provide parents and students with clear and consistent testing and opt-out information across the state.

What could go wrong? Plenty.

First of all, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) asked for input on their first draft of the opt-out form. ODE received lots of negative feedback and suggestions to make changes. Why? The form was basically an advertisement for how supposedly awesome and valuable the Smarter Balanced test is. Not only was the form misleading and biased, but it also threw in a guilt trip for good measure, with a statement at the bottom. It was not well received.

We started to wonder: Why is Dr. Salam Noor, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction at ODE,  pushing for a test that parents and students don’t want? Enter stage left: magic number 95 — percent that is.  Ninety-five is the percentage rate of children the United States Department of Education (OSDOE) demands get tested…or else. Or else what? Our state maybe loses some funding? Gets a lower rating?

Big deal. We are already losing funding when dollars go into buying, supporting, and using this test. We lose quality schools when we don’t authentically assess what really matters. What really matters is the dialogue, work, and relationship in learning that goes on between a teacher, their student, and the parent.

No one in charge at the state level seems to have the spine to stand up to the USDOE and tell them their test is a problem and that we can assess our students just fine without threats and strings attached. Instead, ODE is all about compliance rather than supporting students, parents, and teachers.

12592213_883518368429152_2239647224809758887_nBut only for state testing. When it comes to many other types of programs and curriculum, there has never been a question about parents’ right to opt-out. Why is it that parents have been able to opt-out of programs like our state’s Healthy Teen Survey, sex education, other school curriculum, or even immunizations with ease but when it comes to the SBAC, ODE says no dice. What makes this test supersede the judgement of a parent or student?

Which brings us to gate keeping — controlling and interpreting the procedures to benefit those in charge.

And some districts are indeed gate keeping despite the letter Oregon Save Our Schools sent to almost every school board chair and superintendent in the state.  Why?  Who are they guided by?

The Oregon Department of Education.

ODE has a communications or messaging toolkit for the SBAC and opt-out. They even have a link on their page to testing propaganda by Stand for Children, a education deform group that has received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation and other wealthy donors. During Gov. John Kitzhaber’s tenure, Stand for Children was his “go to” source for educational policy advice and was thus able to gain wide influence within ODE. There are also a number of people in charge of programs who, in spite of the new power given to states to make changes by ESSA, are very comfortable with the way things are.

These may be some of the reasons why ODE isn’t very objective.

In any case, districts are taking their marching orders from ODE, and when Dr. Salam Noor writes a letter encouraging districts to minimize the number of opt-outs so as to not jeopardize the magic 95 percent participation number, then things get even more interesting.

The rules may be being followed, but just barely. So let’s take a look at the law again.

First of all, here is how a parent or student opts out and what needs to be on the form, Sections 3 and 4:

Then here is what is supposed to be sent to inform parents at the beginning of the school year, Section (5):

 Finally, Section 6, which makes one think that closer to the testing window, which is more relevant and timely for parent and students, districts will send out more clear and specific information about what to expect with summative SBAC testing so parents and/or students can then make a more informed choice to take the test or opt-out.

The current reality of the implementation of this bill doesn’t really honor its intent. The bill was created out of a need to help parents and families make a choice that was best for them. Instead, it appears that ODE is still trying to make it difficult for parents to opt their children out. It just may be less overt.

Now some districts across our state have links to opt-out information up front on their website, which is great.

However, there are still some concerns: some districts are interpreting “providing” by just throwing a link to information or the opt-out form on their web page somewhere and hoping parents won’t find it; some districts have the link, but also have all the propaganda from ODE supporting their claims that the SBAC is so fantabulous; some are changing the wording from Opt-Out to “Parent Exemption”, some districts are refusing to print out opt-out forms and visibly place them in school offices because if they aren’t seen, they aren’t likely to be used. However, this limiting of form access is an equity issue for families without computers and printers; some aren’t providing the specific information for Section 6, some parents are being called by their district and asked if they are really sure they want to opt-out, and some districts are expecting parents to meet with the principal to discuss their opt-out choice, even though there is nothing in the law requiring parents to do this. These are just some of the stories we are hearing.

So the question is: Why are some school districts trying to hide opt-out?  The answer leads back to ODE which is leading with fear and threats because they too have been led by fear and threats from the US Department of Education.

We keep hearing that the days of control by the federal government are gone, that states have the right to create their own systems of accountability and assessment. We must seize this opportunity. This is not the time for bureaucrats who are entrenched and invested in the current system to take charge. ESSA assessment committees and groups tasked with creating a better system are being formed now by ODE while Oregon teachers continue the work begun in partnership with former Chief Education Officer Nancy Golden towards creating a different way of assessing student learning. We must demand that our governor, who is also the Superintendent of Public Instruction, follow the will of the people and get rid of an assessment that parents, students, and teachers just don’t want by calling for a moratorium on the SBAC test and ignoring the threats of the feds.

In the meantime, ODE should be open about the opt-out process and instruct school districts to do the same.

If you have a story of you or your child being harassed by district personnel for exercising their opt out rights, please contact us at OregonSOSinfo@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

This post was originally on the Oregon Save Our Schools blog, which covers a variety of public education issues on the local, state, and national levels!

Opt-out & cross out!

Oregon Department of Education has said it will accept opt-out forms with the language above the signature crossed out. That’s good, because that language is false. Our nation’s overemphasis on standardized testing has caused more harm than good. Test-and-punish practices don’t work. Download your opt-out form, cross out the misleading language, and turn it in at your school!

View our webpages “Why to Opt-Out” and “How to Opt-Out”. Thousands already have. Let’s make the movement even larger this year!


Our Open Letter on Opt-Out to Oregon Superintendents and School Boards

OptOutButtonIt’s time for school administrators and boards to step forward and speak out against high-stakes testing and the test-and-punish culture. This is happening in other states, our state should join them. Oregon Save Our Schools sent the following letter to as many Oregon superintendents and school board chairs as we were able to gather. Our volunteers spent many hours going to district websites in order to reach out to them. We apologize to districts we may have missed, and post the open letter to hope more will get our message.

Send a copy of this letter to your local school board, superintendent, state legislator, or anyone else you think needs to hear this message!

Dear Superintendents and School Board Chairs of Oregon school districts,

As testing season approaches, Oregon Save Our Schools would like to address you on behalf of the many parents in Oregon who will be choosing to opt out their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year.

As you know, HB 2655 was passed last legislative session. Undoubtedly you have received instruction from the Oregon Department of Education regarding participation and informing parents of their right to opt their children out of the assessment. While we understand the need for you to attempt to comply with ODE directives, we write to urge you to respect parental rights as outlined in this bill which was a hard won battle led by parents who did not wish to have their religious beliefs nor their right to direct their children’s education questioned by local school districts.

With that in mind, we ask that you not put up roadblocks that are not required by the law. Parents are not required by law to meet with anyone in the school district to obtain approval to opt their children out of testing. Further, asking principals to do anything other than accept forms handed in places a problematic burden on them which can result in a mistrust of the principal by parents. That could also be a recipe for division among parents at a school site. This was happening prior to the HB 2655 and the hope was that it would end with its passage.

While the Department of Education encourages parents to submit the form no later than February 1 in order to help districts plan, there is nothing in the law that requires parents to do so. ODE representatives, when questioned, have confirmed for OSOS members on more than one occasion that it is a parent’s right to opt their child out of testing at any time, even if the child has already begun testing and the parent does not wish their child to continue. We have also been forwarded an email by a founder of Eugene Parents Concerned About High Stakes testing in which Holly Carter, ODE’s Interim Director of Assessment states that crossing out any statements on ODEs form about the value of testing which parents do not agree with should not prohibit parents from exercising their rights.

Additionally, opt out forms should be easily obtainable in school offices, not just available to download, and in parents’ native languages to assure equal access for all parents.

The intent of the law was to stop making it difficult and onerous for parents to exercise those parental rights. If that is at all in doubt,  you can read letters from HB 2655 co-sponsor Representative Lew Fredrick to Dr. Noor here and from co-sponsor Representative Chris Gorsek here.  We urge you to follow the spirit of the law and allow parents who wish to opt their children out to do so without interference.

We would also like to call on any of you who feel so moved to speak out publicly against the Smarter Balanced Assessment and high stakes standardized testing in general. Note that you would not be alone. In Vermont, the State Board of Education sent this letter to parents in November of last year.  Back in 2011, a Florida school board member took their state assessment and, after seeing his results, felt it was imperative that he speak out.  And more recently, Idaho’s Superintendent of the Year gave a TEDX talk about his concerns regarding high stakes standardized testing. The full talk can be seen here.

We share the concerns of Oregon teachers regarding SBAC and look forward to all of us working together to finish the work begun by OEA and ODE towards a better assessment system.  We hope you will question assessments that do not follow the guiding principles found in the linked “New Path for Oregon” document nor “Student Assessment Bill of Rights” found on page 18 of the document. Our students deserve quality assessments that their teachers can use to inform instruction. We hope you will join us in advocating for that.

In the meantime, we hope you will heed our recommendations, made in the interest of respecting parent and student rights and minimizing divisiveness in local school communities. The new ESSA gives us great opportunity to make local decisions and while it continues to require a 95% participation rate, we believe there is no legal basis for either the federal or state government to withhold funds from a district or school based on parental decisions.

We ask you to join us in advocating for creating an assessment system that works for teachers and students and respects and restores the power of local school communities.

Thank you for all you do for your students and families.

Respectfully yours,
Oregon Save Our Schools

Cross-out ODE statement on the opt-out form

We have it from the ODE that if you redact the wrong-headed language on its opt-out form for the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), the form will still be accepted by your school. That’s welcome news!

The false language meant to dissuade people challenging high-stakes testing that appears above the signature:

“I understand that by signing this form I may lose valuable information about how well my child is progressing in English Language Arts and Math. In addition, opting out may impact my school and district’s efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning.”

We’ve commented on the problems with this ODE form (“ODE sniffs at the law and thinks you’re stupid for opting-out“), and some parents cleverly created a mock form to make fun of ODE and emphasize the importance of opting-out of high-stakes testing.

So, let’s cross this language out on our opt-out forms!