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!

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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
http://oregonsaveourschools.blogspot.com

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!

OptOutCrossOut

Parents improve Oregon Dept. of Ed’s bad opt-out form

OptOutKidsMany have had their fill of ODE not getting it with the right to opt-out (and thinking people who do get it are ignorant) and have modified ODE’s  ill-considered form with humor and made a FAR superior product. You’ll have to look closely, the humor and truth is throughout, but you’ll find this worthwhile! Download the mock form here.

On how to actually opt-out, go to our “How to Opt-Out” webpage on this site.

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Goof2015ODE-optout_Page_2

Opt-out in Oregon success and odd political bedfellows

How goofy is education policy nowadays? It unites both left and right-wings in opposition. The Washington Post brought the happy news that Oregon is in the Top 5 states opting-out of high-stakes testing, and touts how the Oregon SOS-supported HB 2655 has expanded student & parent opt-out rights even further. The building opt-out movement does not come out of one political party. It is broader than that.

Conservative & libertarian types often see Common Core and excessive testing as more than a waste of public funds and resources, they see it as an illegal action by the Federal government to set a national curriculum. And they are correct in these concerns.

TestKillJoy

Progressive types often see that high-stakes testing, and the corporate interests pushing them and Common Core, are not addressing the true core of what affects student education: high student poverty. Yet we do nothing other than insist on taking more expensive redundant measurements instead of acting to improve student and family lives and restore cut wraparound programs and broader curriculum.

And people’s concerns about high-stakes testing don’t necessarily fall into tidy political categories, either. Parent-driven discussion groups about opting-out are often driven by people who vote very differently for U.S. President. It can create fascinating tension when topics veer from opting-out, but these different perspectives do work in harmony when it comes to challenging Common Core and harmful, ignorant education policy.

To this day, one can still hear policymakers, education group insiders, and corporate front groups like Stand for Children think the opposition to high-stakes testing and shoddy, unproven, expensive dreck like Common Core is exclusively the realm of “wingnuts”.

Hopefully, critics of opting-out will notice their numbers are dwindling and that they are on the wrong side of research and history. Then maybe, just maybe, they’ll realize they don’t know what they’re talking about and listen to those who do.

ODE sniffs at the law and thinks you’re stupid for opting-out

Don’t be patronizing to parents, students, and teachers. Easy enough? Yet education bureaucrats misunderstand the opt-out movement and do things that antagonize and build up the movement further.

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) was given a simple job: provide school districts with an Opt-Out FAQ and Opt-Out Notification form that is factual and unbiased. Similar to the information provided by the Albuquerque Public Schools. Now ODE has put Oregon school districts and school administrators in the unenviable position of having to intimidate, coerce, and misinform parents and students about our constitutional right to opt-out of the SBAC tests and their potential consequences. Shame on ODE for pitting parents and students against their school leaders.

Our nation has had 15 years of high-stakes testing due to No Child Left Behind and has sunk millions/billions of dollars only to prove…students in poverty do worse than other students. That’s it. Over and over again.

But these people don’t want to talk about shamefully high student poverty and inequality, they’d prefer to fund more high-stakes testing that, even if done well, will only get the same result and keep us away from fixing student poverty and inequality.

Yet ODE has messed up this simple job, and cops an attitude while doing so, claiming that it knows better than students, parents, and teachers who see high-stakes testing as the waste of time and resources that it is. Check out this from above the parent/student signature line of ODE’s new opt-out form (red ink comment is not from ODE):

ODEoptoutform

Does ODE truly have no idea how many teachers and educated parents and students object to high-stakes testing? Does ODE not sense how many administrators and testing experts are talking to each other about the harmful effects of test-and-punish approaches?

As in other states, Oregon will start to see building principals, district administrators, superintendents stepping forward about the harmful effects of high-stakes testing. School board members, teachers, specialists, parents, and students have been speaking up, and the numbers continue to grow. ODE adding that phrase above the signature is not only misleading, it’s obnoxious, and on the wrong side of history.