Portland schools pushes staff and families harder for expensive testing and against opt-out rights

Portland administration is still trying to discourage the right of students to opt-out of high stakes standardized testing. Decades of real-world experience and research show these tests are an expensive, time-wasting fiasco that do not give classroom teachers valuable feedback.

Yet, bureaucrats have quotas to meet whether or not it’s good for student education and an effective use of public resources. From a communication to school principals:

I am placing the responsibility for ensuring effective administration of all assessments on principals. It is my expectation that you will provide leadership as we take another significant step forward in becoming a data-driven district. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Cuellar or me directly. I look forward to measuring our improvement in the area of participation in these critical assessments. Thank you for your dedication to our students.

Dr. Yvonne Curtis, Deputy Superintendent, Instruction and School Communities

Trying to discourage opt-out helps administrators cover their asses in meeting quota, but does not improve the quality of a student’s education experience.

Not meeting quota is a toothless threat, by the way. Worrying about quota is about appeasing The System (that corporations have paid for – the private SBAC company has hired many former Oregon policymakers and administrators who pushed for SBAC since the testing program started).

Below is from a communication to all district staff. Teachers are in a tough spot and cannot openly discourage opt-out if it disobeys their employer’s directive, but to read this is still disappointing:

Educators are expected to administer state assessments and to provide the best assessment conditions possible for gathering clean and reliable data. While I understand in the past it was considered acceptable for educators to promote opt-out to families or students, this is no longer the case. The state assessments are part of the required curriculum and more importantly, we need to have data that can be used to evaluate the success of instruction from year to year. I want to be very clear that It is not appropriate for staff to discourage participation, or to actively promote opt-out.

It is important for our families and students to be well-informed about student assessments. The role of PPS staff is to provide information and ensure an environment that is conducive to the successful administration of assessments.

Dr. Yvonne Curtis, Deputy Superintendent, Instruction and School Communities

Despite Portland Public Schools’ relatively short number of instructional days, its central administration thinks time and effort for higher participation and teaching-to-the-test is more valuable than letting teachers teach.

Oddly, a message to district families sent today admits beneath the surface that these tests don’t help classroom instruction. From today’s message:

Classroom teachers will continue to test their student’s mastery of subjects throughout the school year in order to adjust their lessons and provide additional support to students where needed. These types of assessments are most useful for short-term instructional adjustments in the classroom.

Dr. Yvonne Curtis, Deputy Superintendent, Instruction and School Communities

Essentially, tests the teachers make for their students have the most practical value. That’s reasonable. But that value doesn’t require millions of dollars on a statewide basis. That’s teachers teaching. From the same message to district families:

If SBAC results demonstrate that students are not meeting these standards, we will explore why and make the necessary adjustments for improvements at a district-wide level. In addition to providing the district with data, increasing the participation rates impacts school ratings assigned by ODE each year. ODE uses the SBAC scores to rate each school and ratings are used to determine where additional support is most needed.

Dr. Yvonne Curtis, Deputy Superintendent, Instruction and School Communities

Let’s once again save Oregon schools millions of dollars and countless wasted hours: students in poverty don’t test as well as other students. We should address the social problem of student poverty instead of feeding the Standardized Testing Machine hoping it will take students out of poverty. It won’t. There. Money saved.

Encourage Oregon officials to enforce opt-out rights!

District to schools: Hide opt-out forms! Nuance the messaging! Hit quota!

High-stakes standardized testing is on the wrong side of history. It is not an effective educational practice. It is expensive, stressful, and takes away regular instruction time. At best, it only proves the income level of the student’s upbringing (i.e. students in poverty struggle in school). Decades of research already shows that. We don’t need to keep spending public funds to keep showing that. Fix student poverty.

“Untitled (Buffaloes)” by David Wojnarowicz

Bureaucrats get nervous when people opt-out from standardized testing. Education experts know tests like SBAC (which Oregon uses for the English Language Assessment – ELA, and for math) are boondoggles and fiascos. But bureaucrats only know they have to hit quota. To paraphrase a line from Tennyson’s poem “Charge of the Light Brigade”:

   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to [test] and die.

Here’s a gem from Oregon’s largest school district which advises school administrators to simply hide printed opt-out forms from people and “nuance the messaging”. Count the number of hidden forms you have presumably to tell if you’re handing out too many (note: opt-out is a legal right). Push the SBAC. The goal is to “meet or exceed the state’s expectations” in making students take the test, not whether it’s good education practice.

Oregon’s recent opt-out bill was intended to provide transparency. Yet districts, fearful parents will advocate for their student’s (and taxpayer’s) best interests, stoop to counteract the bill by outmaneuvering those rights.

The district memo asks administrators to reduce parent access to opt out info, sending it out only via email and making printed forms hidden in school offices. In the past, forms had also been sent home with students and placed on school office countertops. Relying solely on email discriminates against low income families who may not have easy internet access.

The high correlation between income and test performance means that PPS has in essence decided to double down on inequity.
WARNING: the memo below contains the phrase “paradigm shift” which was tacky even back in the 1990s corporate world.

From: Joe LaFountaine <jlafountaine@pps.net>

Date: December 7, 2018 at 4:40:01 PM PSTSubject: SBAC testing and Opt Out recovery

Dear High School Administrative Team Members,

Below is a message that was going to be sent to you today.  This message was a notification that PPS was going to be sending a parent email this weekend that explains how parents can opt out of SBAC testing.  We are delaying this email, so we can prepare our schools for managing the opt out process.

You need to know that PPS is taking a far more aggressive posture on ensuring all students are taking the SBAC.  All the executive leadership and school board have the expectation that all eligible students, minus a few exceptions, will be taking this assessment.  We know this will be a challenge since past messaging contradicts this stance.  That is why we are providing some time and direction on how to manage this at your school.  Certainly the email below covers some of this, but there are some other measures you should consider taking.

Last year we had some schools that permitted teachers to distribute these waivers to students in the classroom.  That is no longer permissible.  This waiver process should be initiated and completed by the parent of the student/s.

Meet as an administrative team to discuss this and establish your agreed upon talking points.  You need to message this to your staff , so establishing your talking points will help you manage pushback.  Our expectation is to meet or exceed state expectations.

While forms should be available at the office, I would suggest that you not print out a stack and leave them on the counter.  They should be at one of the secretaries desks so you have a person in the office who can speak to the outflow of forms.  I would suggest you print a specific number of forms so you can track that flow.

We know we are trying to “put the genie back in the bottle.”  If we are not united on this practice, it will make the task harder on those who are trying to manage this change in  practice.  We will dedicate some time at the end of the Leadership agenda to discuss this further and answer any questions you might have.  Next week the parent email will go and this will all go live.  Anything you can do to prepare your school will benefit your school through this paradigm shift.

Here is the email you will get from Systems Planning.  Don’t wait for it to arrive to initiate your conversations.

“Dear Principal,

The Oregon Department of Education requires that we provide a 30-Day Notice for Statewide Tests along with the ELA and math opt-out form to parents each year. In the past we have provided hard copies to be back-packed home with students. Beginning this year, our Communications team will be sending the link to the 30-day notice to parents by email. The message below will be sent to parents this week. Schools do *not* need to send this communication directly to parents.

30-Day Notice for Statewide Tests and Opt-out Form

The purpose of this communication is to notify parents and guardians of the upcoming statewide tests for the 2018-19 school year. The notice can be viewed on this web page:https://www.pps.net/Page/1651

Please know that although most students will not participate in testing until spring, some students will begin testing in January. Please contact your school for school-specific testing windows.

In addition to the email message to parents, we ask that you have hard copies of the notice and opt-out form available in the school office. Please do not display those copies, but do have them available upon request by parents. If students ask about opt-out forms they should be directed to talk with their parents first, as the opt-out decision lies with the parent and not with the student. The process for handling opt-out requests remains the same this year:

1.       Parents complete and sign the opt-out form and turn it in to the school.

2.       All opt-out forms should be direct to the School Test Coordinator (STC).

3.       The STC scans and emails opt-out forms to testinghelp@pps.net.

4.       The school should retain a copy of the opt-out form for the remainder of the school year. Testing Help will keep a copy for a minimum of three years.

The opt-out form applies only to the Oregon ELA and math tests. It does *not* apply to other assessments. Requests to exempt students from other learning activities, including science or ELPA assessments will be handled in a different manner. Soon, we be providing you with additional clarification around school expectations regarding student participation in our required assessments, including steps to take for exemption requests from other assessments and expectations regarding communicating with students and staff on this issue. “

I know this is a challenge on many levels.  My confidence in you to nuance the messaging is very high.  Let’s work together to share ideas we feel might help each other .

Have a good weekend.  That last week before the break always feels a little longer than five days.  So get some rest.  We will see you next week.


Area Assistant Superintendent of High Schools

Portland Public Schools


The preceding line in “Charge of the Light Brigade” is:

   Someone had blundered.

Bureaucrats and policymakers should stop blundering. They should instead listen to education experts: time and resources are wasted on high-stakes standardized testing. Instead spend those funds on regular instruction time and relieving student poverty.

Rachel Rich to Oregon Legislature on SBAC Testing: Kill It.

OptOutButtonRachel Rich, a member of CAPE (Community Alliance for Public Education: check them out on Facebook) in Eugene has been doing some great comprehensive work lately on exposing Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing as the destructive presence it is. Here is a compilation of her recent testimony surrounding Senate Bill 351, legislation that seeks to straighten out the botched audit on SBAC. The audit was way too sketchy and not comprehensive enough. Rich’s testimony is long but worth the read. That is followed by her update of the numbers after some more research.

I urge the passage of SB 351 to more thoroughly audit the costs of state mandated Smarter Balanced standardized tests – in finances, time and other resources.  I also endorse SB 354 to provide parents consistent, prompt and objective information on whether each standardized test benefits their own individual student and how to opt out if it doesn’t.

Last year’s House audits of Smarter Balanced stated they wouldn’t discuss classroom impacts or test quality, which should be central.  A new audit should also address costs beyond ODE contracts for test administration, such as for the enormous expansion of ODE personnel, training and infrastructure, as well as district’ costs for adding test-related positions, substitutes to setup and proctor, computer hardware and software, data management, technical services and training.

A new audit should also propose more solutions to the problems it finds.  From last year’s audit report, document #2016-21, I pulled out a partial list of flaws in the test’s design and execution.  Here they are in order and verbatim:

  • “results are not well-suited to inform instruction or individual educational decisions at the student level
  • students taking between 18-23 hours to take the tests
  • additional staffing and resource demands on the entire school
  • (needing) new staff or substitutes
  • training displaces professional development
  • test administration can take up meeting time at schools
  • testing tied up computers for months
  • less instruction time, fewer support services, and less access to common resources for all students during testing
  • multiple reports of computers freezing and accommodations, such as text-to-speech, not working properly
  • work …lost
  • anxiety or pressure
  • disruption and stress
  • challenges exacerbated by the length of the test
  • impacts fall hardest on vulnerable populations”

No test in history has ever caused so many problems or yielded such unusable results, yet the ODE justifies this for the sake of “systems level … accountability”.   All other tests report specific skills or standards for specific students that help teachers target instruction, such as if a kid understands decimals.  Instead, Smarter Balanced only reports “Claim #2 – Student can solve a range of complex, well-posed problems”.  There is no excuse for this.  Other tests are helpful both for instruction and comparing individual or group performance “for accountability.”  We’ve known this since the SBAC pilot in 2013.  It’s time for a change.

Further, the new audit must count all testing costs.  Not finding any ODE discussion of this, I asked Representative Susan McLain’s office for school budget records between 2010 and 2014 with regard to likely test-related budget items, pre- and post- Smarter Balanced.  (I chose budget items based on Smarter Balanced test manuals, an AFT study, etc.)  2010 was the starting point since OAKS alone was used and 2014 represents the full implementation of Smarter Balanced, as well as the last set of complete records for all Oregon districts at that time.  I used public records.

Here’s one example of what I found:  additional substitutes needed to set up and proctor the new tests raised expenditures this way:

121 – Substitutes-licensed      $3,887,787

122 – Substitutes-classified    $2,594,894

In total, districts’ test-related budget items increased by $86 million between 2010 and 2014.  That averages out to $22 million annually, so that for the past seven years schools themselves spent about an extra $154 million to both develop and administer the new tests.

Additionally, an ODE contract with AIR test administrators (annual or biannual?) was for $27.5 million, as opposed to the old test which Rob Saxton said totaled only $3.5 million.  The SBAC was implemented statewide from 2013 to now, meaning that since then there have been two to four AIR contracts for test fees and administration totaling about $55-110 million.  The ODE says their contract is now a few million less, but that is a drop in the bucket of the total costs.

Further, a 2009 ODE grant application to develop Smarter Balanced outlines their own expanded infrastructure, personnel and training for $202 million.  The maintenance of this expansion continued after the grant expired – for added staff, equipment, bandwidth, data storage and training.  At an average of $50 million yearly, the subsequent three years after the grant would total about $150 million.

To summarize, depending on whether you count only out-of-pocket expenditures only or if you include the grant as part of total test-related spending, and whether the AIR test administration contract is annual or biannual, Smarter Balanced has increased state expenditures by approximately $350 – 600 million!!  Those are only some of the increases, not total costs.  It also doesn’t include the new ESD, district or school personnel required for this more elaborate testing system.

Are we getting our money’s worth?  The most highly respected national test, the NAEP, shows Oregon has made no improvement under the tutelage of Smarter Balanced. Worse, teacher training outside of the testing theme is down by $11 million and funding for key student services like reading support, talented and gifted and psychological services are also in the red, suggesting although we test to identify needs, but aren’t committed to addressing them.

Further, the shift in emphasis, funding and personnel towards math and English and away from electives has created a new set of problems:  students feel they have few avenues for developing their own talents and interests outside those dictated by adults obsessed with data and accountability.

In short, spending so much time and so many resources on testing is not only futile, but it robs students of their love of learning.  I think we need SB 351 and 354 to hold the adults accountable.

Rachel Rich

Rachel Rich’s Assessment of SBAC budget costs.

How much does your state spend on testing?  What are the trade-offs?         Rachel Rich, 4-10-17

Since starting Smarter Balanced, Oregon’s spending on standardized testing has exploded by over $550 million!  That’s according to one ODE contract, a grant and their own budget spreadsheets.  Yet key student services have risen less than one feeble million and teacher training is down many millions!  How can we expect more from students and teachers when we support them less?

Two years ago I never heard a peep about testing costs, so I decided to investigate.  Rustling through Oregon Department of Education records, I found this:

A 2014 contract shows AIR charged Oregon $27.5 million for two years of Smarter Balanced.  That’s an average of $14 million annually, while the previous computerized test was a mere $3.5 million.  After Smarter Balanced went statewide in 2013, it continued racking up fees totaling over $50 million!

Further, the ODE 2010-14 Race to the Top grant shows they expanded their office personnel, training and infrastructure by a whopping $202 million.   The grant expired, but nobody fired the new help or threw the equipment out the window, so costs continued.  At an average of $50 million annually, seven years of maintaining ODE expansion now total over $150 out-of-pocket or $350 million over-all!

Next, school districts themselves spent extra to accommodate longer and more elaborate tests.  According to Smarter Balanced testing manuals, an American Federation of Teachers study, two state audits, and friends who are administrators, school board members, test coordinators and tech specialists, school districts had to add:

  • Extra substitute teachers to set up and proctor
  • Test-focused professional development
  • New hardware and software
  • Increased technical services
  • Additional data management

Using those as a reference, I requested ODE spreadsheets of related budget items.  A friendly legislator expedited the process.  The first spreadsheet was for 2010 when the state used the old test and started designing the new.  The last spreadsheet was when Smarter Balanced was already underway, which happened to be the last year of available data:  2014.  Here is the difference between test-related spending before and after Smarter Balanced, listed by budget item:

121 – Substitutes-licensed – to act as proctors     $  3,887,787

122 – Substitutes-classified – prepare for and proctor tests     $  2,594,894

470 – Computer software – system updates for testing     $26,804,376

480 – Computer hardware – additional computers     – $1,095,277
(grants offset costs for new computers)

380 – Technical services – typically for testing     $8,262,137

390 – Other tech services – typically for testing     $23,896,065

2660 – Technology services – typically for testing     $14,430,357

2210 – Improvement of instruction – typically test PD     $4,084,000

2240 – Staff development (paid) typically for testing     $982,613
Mostly covered by ODE grant until 2014, test focused regular staff meetings not included

2630 – Information Services – manage increased SB data     $1,500,554

2230 – Assessment and testing – other than state tests     $614,948

2670 –Records management     $93,225

Increased test-related expenditures for all Oregon districts 2010-14:     $86,055,679

This averages out to an increase of $22 million annually or more than $150 million since 2010!

That doesn’t count the extra personnel schools needed!  Smarter Balanced manuals show districts were expected to add testing personnel or else divert staff away from their primary duties.  As a consequence, district and school test coordinators, test administrators, regional ESD partners, data managers, and technology specialists popped up like dandelions on a baseball field.

Summary of Oregon’s increased testing-related expenditures since Smarter Balanced:

                                                                Yearly                                  Total

AIR Contract                      $14 million x 4 years         $50+ million (since 2013)

ODE expansion                  $50.5 million x 7 years      $350+ million (since 2010)

District expenditures         $22 million x 7 years        $150+ million

District test personnel        ?                                            ?

                                                $87 million                        $550+ million ($350+ out of pocket)

Meanwhile, expenditures for key student services (like nurses and summer school) only grew half a million dollars in four years. Given we have half a million students, that’s an increase of $1 per pupil or just 25 cents per pupil per year!!!   Clearly, over-spending on tests is choking out services. Check out the difference between 2010 and 2014, listed by state budget item:

1113 – Elementary extra-curricular      $50,059

1122 – Middle school extra-curricular  $3,912

1132 – High school extra-curricular      $160,875

1140 – Pre- K                                               $226,488

1210 – Talented and Gifted      -$196,181 loss

1220 – Restrictive programs for disabled  $442,655

1250 – Less restrictive programs for disabled  $1,006,129

1260 – Early Intervention (SPED)          $974,795

1271 – Remediation                                  $518,935

1272 – Title I                                              -$6,228,523 loss

1291 – English Language Learners       $467,229

1400 – Summer school                             $4,120

2130 – Health services                             $691,049

2120 – Guidance services                        $1,560,981

2140 – Psychological services              -$376,844 loss

2150 – Speech pathology and audiology  $919,983

2190 – Services Directions and Student Support   $285,341

Total increases for Oregon’s key student services from 2010-14:  $505,003

At an average of $125,000 since 2010, school services increased a mere $875,000 since 2010!

Notice: Psychological Services, Talented and Gifted, and Title 1 Reading assistance actually fell by $7 million! Summer school, which helps kids who’ve fallen behind, rose by a lousy $4 thousand! That doesn’t even include losses to electives like music, art, shop, PE, and civics!

Also, teacher training that’s not test-related is down $11 million! Yet any professional needs updates on best practices. Budget item 310 – Professional development lost – $10,830,571

Clearly, out of control test spending is robbing schools of vital programs and services!  Why do we accept this?  Why do we test supposedly to identify needs, when we aren’t committed to addressing them?

Oregon should audit SBAC, says legislation & Multnomah Dems

sbacThis is great, but needs help to pass!

Oregon spends far too much time, expense, and stress on high-stakes standardized testing. This especially holds for the money Oregon wastes on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, a testing program that does not inform teacher instruction. The results are useless for classroom teachers, who end up using their own tests to measure student knowledge anyway.

Oregon is considering whether to renew its agreement for the Smarter Balanced Assessment. We think it should be scrapped, however we also support measuring its costs and effectiveness.

There are forces against even measuring whether the tests from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is a strategic, good investment of hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Thankfully, legislation put forth by Sen. Lew Frederick asks for a much-needed audit of SBAC, and the Multnomah County Democrats recently passed the resolution below which included calling for the suspension of the SBAC testing process until the audit is completed. Contact your legislators to let them know you support Senate Bill 351!

Multnomah County Democratic Central Committee
Resolution: 2017-4 Cost Benefit Audit of High Stakes Standardized Testing

WHEREAS, Oregon’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for citizenship, careers, and lifelong learning, as well as strengthens the state’s social and economic prosperity; and,

WHEREAS, Oregon is spending burgeoning amounts of money, time, and energy on standardized tests to measure student performance and using those test results to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators, and schools; and,

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that high-stakes standardized testing is an inadequate, and in the case of Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests, an unreliable and invalid measure of student learning, educator effectiveness, and school success; and,

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing does not inform instructional practice, nor does it convey meaningful information to students or parents about student progress, but does exert undue mental and emotional stress on them, and,

WHEREAS, the state collects, stores, and analyzes data gleaned from the tests to make decisions that can have major impacts on students’ lives, the hiring and firing of school personnel, and school closings; and,

WHEREAS, the cost of maintaining the Statewide Longitudinal Data System that accompanies the tests is not only costly, but grows steadily as more and more testing data is collected, stored, and analyzed; and,

WHEREAS, Oregon state-mandated standardized testing costs from 2010 through 2014 are estimated to have been at least $414 million dollars; and,

WHEREAS, the State of Oregon is facing a substantial budget deficit of $1.7 billion dollars which most likely will force school districts to take drastic actions (e.g. laying off staff, increasing class sizes, cutting back on school days); and,

WHEREAS, it appears that the Federal Government is going to turn over more control to the states, so more time is needed for Oregon to review and/or develop an effective testing system, and

WHEREAS,  the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Education Association are already working in partnership to create alternative assessment models and, thus, Oregon is seen as a leader in the creation of such assessments.

THEREFORE, be it that the Multnomah County Democratic Party resolves to support cost effective assessments in Oregon’s public schools that benefit students, educators and schools, by:

AMENDING, SB 351 to suspend the use of the statewide assessments developed by a multi-state consortium and postponing the renewal of any contracts or Memoranda of Understanding related to the use of statewide assessments.

SUPPORTING, Senate Bill SB 351, directing the Secretary of State to conduct a thorough cost benefit audit related to the use of the statewide summative assessments in Oregon public schools.

THEREFORE, the Multnomah Democratic Party will use its available communication system to do the following:

  1. Communicate this resolution be shared with Governor Kate Brown, members of the Oregon Legislature, and members of the Multnomah County Democratic Party.
  2. Request that members of the Multnomah County Democratic Party contact their Legislator, Senator Lew Frederick to express support for SB 351

Resolution submitted by the Education Study Group of the Multnomah County Platform Committee.


SUBMITTED BY:  Education Study Group of the Platform Committee

RESOLUTION SUBJECT:   Suspension and audit of the use of high stakes summative tests in Oregon public schools developed by a multi-state consortium.



BILL SPONSOR:  Senator Lew Frederick




Each year the state spends millions of dollars on high stakes summative tests that are neither valid nor reliable.  They offer little information of value to individual teachers or students and their families.  The state collects, stores and analyzes data gleaned from the tests to make decisions that can have major impacts on students’ lives, the hiring and firing of school personnel, and school closings.  The tests along with the Statewide Longitudinal Data System that accompanies them are very costly.  Since Oregon is facing a $1.7 billion deficit, suspending these tests and performing a thorough cost/benefit analysis audit is mandatory.  In support of SB 351 this resolution directs the Secretary of State to conduct an audit of the use of statewide summative assessment in public schools in Oregon and to submit a report to the Governor and interim legislative committees no later than September 15, 2017.

Send a postcard to Gov. Brown: don’t renew SBAC!

Oregon has paid a lot of money, and wasted a lot of essential classroom time, for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing system. We hear the contract expires this year! We should avoid wasting any more money on it!

SBAC does not help student poverty, it does not improve instruction, and those funds could better go to restoring curriculum and student wraparound services. We need to encourage Gov. Brown and legislators that high-stakes standardized testing, such as SBAC, is worse than a waste, it does harm to our school system. Encourage Gov. Brown to not renew the SBAC contract, and to not replace it with another expensive, high-stakes testing approach. Download a postcard you can send to the Governor, and make copies for your friends and others in your school!sbac

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!