My Open Letter to Speaker Hickman and the House Leadership

Speaker Hickman and House Leadership,

I recently read the Speaker’s OpEd in the Daily Oklahoman and I wanted to take a minute to personally respond.   I am a lifelong citizen of Oklahoma and I currently live in Owasso.  But as the Speaker and other leaders in the House, your decisions impact citizens in every district in OK.

I am a parent.  I am a teacher.  I am a professor that prepares future teachers.  And I was disappointed by the words, claims, and the implications of this OpEd.

Some things in the Speaker’s OpEd were a little confusing to me.  For example, the piece said “Between 1992 and 2013, enrollment in Oklahoma schools increased by 14 percent while the number of teachers increased by 11 percent. Administrative and nonteaching staff increased by more than 33 percent. If nonteaching staff had increased at only the same rate as enrollment, Oklahoma schools would have nearly $300 million more available annually to pay teachers higher salaries.”   I would love to know the source for this information.  I would also like to point out that these percentages and figures mean very little without context and knowing the raw data behind them.

As a math teacher, I am pretty familiar with percents and statistics as well as how easily they can be manipulated or presented in ways that can be deceiving.  As a researcher, I also understand that the numbers do not tell the whole story.  So much is hidden within these numbers that muddies the water.

What is “non-teaching staff” exactly?  I am sure you realize that it includes IT staff that is vital for schools as we support infrastructures that help them students be prepared for a technology rich society.  It also includes Teaching Assistants who are vital not only in early childhood and special education classroom, but are filling the gap and helping in rooms where the number of students make it difficult for one adult to manage. I am sure you also know that it includes many new non-teaching positions in schools that support the myriad of mandates dictated by the state legislature, including testing coordinators, TLE coordinators, and other positions that help schools to stay in compliance.

This OpEd actually makes a great teachable moment about being a mindful consumer of information.  Mathematically speaking, when you increase two different amounts, the percent of growth depends on the initial amount.  I would have loved to see the raw numbers of teachers and non-teacher.  I used to always tell my middle school math students that the first thing you do when you see a percent quoted in articles is find the source and understand how they got those percentages.

While I am sure you understand what non-teaching staff is, I am left to wonder why your OpEd leaves the impression that you feel that those non-teaching positions are one of the reason why schools cannot find and keep good teachers.  I wish all citizens understood what I tried so hard to instill in my students: to know where the facts and data comes from.

Superintendent Hofmeister pointed out another great statistic.  I won’t give you percentages, but they are not as impressive as the actual numbers.  She pointed out that when we are 1,000 teachers short in Oklahoma, 25,000-30,000 students are impacted.  Over 25,000 may be in a classroom without a certified, permanent teacher.  I am thankful that my daughter is not one of those 25,000 students.  But my heart breaks for those that are.

In the last year that I have been working with preparing future teachers, I have learned another heartbreaking statistic.  Over 50% the college students I have worked with have told me they plan to move out of state to teach.  That is at least 30 amazing, Oklahoma prepared new teachers who will most likely not be impacting any of those 25,000 kids.

Our future depends on how well we prepare our students. It is my sincere hope and request that your leadership team and the rest of the Oklahoma Legislature can come together this spring, leave the rhetoric and misleading statistics out of the conversation and have an honest dialogue with ALL stakeholders about what WE all can do for the students in Oklahoma. 

Thank you for your time and service to our State.

Nicole Shobert

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Not your Mama’s Testing

I’m going to rant a little, but its important. If you are a parent or community member with any interest or connections to public schools, you need to watch this video. John Oliver hits the nail on the head about testing.

I remember  IOWA Test in school. We took it. My mom got the scores in the summer. We looked at them. Talked about them. I remember always being excited to see what percentile I scored in.  I even remember trying to figure out what the 91st percentile meant and how it was different that getting 91% correct.  (I was kind of a math person even then….)  After that, mom stuck the scores in the filing cabinet and we went on having a fun summer.

I am blessed and thankful that my teachers taught me to love learning and love school.

But, testing in schools today is not what you remember as a student.  It is an entire paradigm shift away from what it used to be.

My 7th grade math teacher​ worked with me, my parents, and other teachers to decide that I needed to be in Algebra 1 in 8th grade. She used my scores in her class, conversations with me.  Previous grades from other math classes, and maybe a glance at those IOWA scores in my school file.  But, she didn’t need 5 benchmarks and a standardized test to know that I would be good at Algebra 1.

My high school counselors didn’t need a series of 12 years of benchmarks and end of years tests (students take an average of 113 non-teacher made, standardized tests in their preK-12 career) to encourage me to take AP courses in High School or to consider taking the community service class my senior year where I went to a local elementary school every day, during school hours, to tutor.   They spent their time getting to know students and counseling them, not instead of spending their time creating elaborate testing schedules or making last minute changes at the whim or mistakes of testing companies.

I was heartsick yesterday when my 6 year old, in a conversation about how kids and parents have things in common, said “I am like you because we both like to play with legos, but I am not like you because you love school and I hate it….”  Don’t misunderstand me.  Her teacher is great.  The school is welcoming and friendly.  She has learned a ton this year and is progressing right on track.  But she feels it already.  That school is about “doing papers all day” not about learning and having fun.  She already knows and can talk about the difference between “school math” and “fun math” that we do at home.  She is not going to be a typical student.  She is an active, dramatic, hand-on learner, which doesn’t always fit in a test focused classroom so many have become.

Testing is out of control. It is tainting the entire schooling process.  It is based on flawed premises about schools failing and faulty research about testing and learning.  Pearson is making billions of dollars on our schools and students.  Many schools, even well intentioned and high performing ones, have become pressure cookers.

Be informed. Contact your legislators. Share your stories. Something’s gotta give.

As a parent and as a teacher, I am huge proponent of public education.  I always have been.  Parent groups like Oklahoma Central PLAC​ and Cleveland County PLAC​ have been created in the last few years and are working hard with legislators to help change the face of public education. I will continue to do what I can to support my local schools and the state of education in Oklahoma.  All students deserve the best.

But, sadly and honestly, I have to admit that if things don’t change and if I had the means and resources, I would pull my daughter out in a heartbeat and put her in a school that doesn’t have to be accountable to testing.  Not because I am against accountability, but because testing today is not your Mama’s testing.  It truly has become a Testing Beast.

If I Were Queen Of Education for the Day: An #oklaed Writing Prompt

Last night during the #oklaed weekly chat, this question was bantered around and a challenge made: blog your answer in 600 words or less. Here is my contribution.

As a parent looking for a new school district for my daughter, I have looked into private schools.   As a public school educator and advocate, I am ashamed that I have seriously considered private school.   My reason, as a kindergarten, my daughter is just starting her school career. She has an amazing teacher at an amazing school, but she asks me every day to take her temperature to she is she can stay home. I know many factors go into her not wanting to go to school, but in as a 6 year old, school should be the most fun thing she can do with her time. I want her experiences in k12 to be as profound and impactful as mine were, but if something doesn’t give in #oklaed, I am fearful that she will always have to deal with this mess we have allowed to be created in our schools.

So… If I Were Queen of Education, I would

ONE: Call for an immediate cease and desist on every unfunded and underfunded mandate that is in our state statues. Along with this, I would pull together a think tank of parents, students, teachers, administrators, university professors, child welfare experts, child psychologists, pediatricians, and politicians (from both sides of the aisle) to critically and honestly look at all mandates, requirements, and overall structures of schools in Oklahoma along with research, the stories behind the numbers, and the implications of poverty/home life on learning. They would be expected to look outside the classroom into communities to see what is working and why, but we have to be holistic in our analysis, public school doesn’t live in a vacuum.

TWO: Ramp up the campaign to bring renewed respect to the professionals that teach our children: Educators. No more lip service praise. No more berating and blaming. Like our new Superintendent has said: Every mandate ends up on a teacher’s desk. When things don’t work out, they also get the blame. When we as a state, including parents, press, politicians, begin to change the landscape of how teachers and schools are perceived, then #oklaed will be able to recruit and retain the best teachers in the nation.

THREE: Dismantle and delete TLE, ACE, A/F, and anything related to high stakes testing.  This is included in number one, but I felt it needed repeating.  Research does not support these reforms, at all.  In fact, most research shows that these reforms are harmful.

FOUR: Have a serious discussion about funding, budgets, tax cuts, tax breaks, and money management with politicians… with facts.  Politicians have to acknowledge their biases and principles and be open to hearing the biases and opinions of those they disagree with.  We have to come to a middle ground, to balance conservative ideals with liberal ones.  It has to be possible.  Money isn’t everything.  But lack of money can be.  

FIVE: Make sure we all have consistent definitions.  Words matter.  In education policy, it seems like people often argue different sides of the same issue they both agree with simply because they are defining terms differently.

SIX: Open the doors of communication between Higher Ed/College of Educations and Common Education.  For some reason, the communication between stakeholders in OK is stilted at best.  We are all in this together, we need to be collaborating in meaningful ways.

SEVEN: Give every child a pony… (totally kidding….)

We need a paradigm shift in education.  We need all stakeholders to have a voice, but also make sure their story is heard so we have common ground.

If I were Queen of Education…

Opting Out Options – A Parent’s Rights and Responsibilities Part 1

This headline came across my twitter feed last week: Bixby School board OK’s testing opt out for parents.  My first thought was “Wow.  That’s amazingly unexpected!”

Soon after, okeducationtruth blogged their response.

And then the next morning, my twitter feed and FB timeline exploded with Rob Miller’s blog: We’ve Been ‘Opted Out’ – Really?!?!  It appears that Jenks and Owasso have been blessed with a free ticket out of the field tests item tryouts this spring and this blog post has been seen over 40,000 times.   The question is: how did Jenks and Owasso qualify for this district wide opt out?  Here is a little snippet of Mr. Miller’s Blog to answer that:

A conversation yesterday with an executive at the headquarters of Measured Progress revealed what I suspected. Measured Progress was given specific instructions by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to draw their testing sample from all districts in Oklahoma, with the exception of two school districts: Jenks and OwassoThis information has been confirmed separately through sources at the state department. It certainly appears that “someone” at the SDE knowingly excluded these two districts to avoid negative publicly associated with a possible parent opt-out this spring. Are you kidding me?!
 

My daughter is only in preK, so we are a few years away from any high stakes test (I hope).   But I have been listening and watching the discussions.  I would say the over/inappropriate use and over-abundance of High Stakes Testing is one of the top two or three problems facing public education today.

But there is hope. Parent can make the difference.  We have a voice.  We have to speak out and let our elected officials know what we feel.

Bixby Public Schools is making a huge step, even if all they are doing is laying out the facts so parents are informed.  Last spring, when Jenks Middle School’s PTA organized an opt out of the 7th grade geography test,  the State Department of Education was quick to accuse the principal, Rob Miller, of over-stepping his boundaries and encouraging parents to take this “extreme” measure.  This fall, they investigated his involvement and even threatened to revoke his teaching/administrator license.  Jenks Public Schools and Mr. Miller complied with all of their requests for email records but also responded to the accusations on his own blog as did other education bloggers.  To date, he is still the Principal at Jenks Middle School.

This is becoming a popular and confusing topic.  So as a parent, I wanted to know exactly where I stand.   And I want to help other parents be informed so they can make the best decision for their family.

Opting out of the Field Tests Item Tryouts

Parents and students have the right to opt-out of field tests item tryouts without penalty to the school or the student.

In the past, field test questions have been embedded within the test itself.  For example, the 8th grade math test had 60 questions, but each year 10 of those were field test questions and 50 live items.  Field test questions are not necessarily bad or harmful.  Every standardized test, including the ACT, SAT, GRE, and even the IOWA test have to field test items.  It is part of the process of creating fair and reliable tests.

The problem in OK is that those field test questions have been pulled out to be a separate testing session.   The State Department of Education has entered into a new contract with Measured Progress  and next year’s assessments for Math and English/Language Arts will be based on new standards and testing format.  Becuase of these changes, the new items/questions, can not be embedded with the current test and will be given as a separate (but shorter) assessments.

Currently, almost every OK  student in grades 3-8, Algebra 1, and English 2 will be given one “field test.”   If you feel strongly that your child should not take one of the field tests, let your school know as soon as possible that you would like to opt out them out. Each school may have a different procedure to document your request.  Most likely, you will be asked to write a letter to the school expressing your interest.  Here is an opt-out-field-test-letter-to-admin-template, modified from a template created by a New York state parent.

Remember,  test makers rely on field test data to make sure that the tests are valid and reliable.  For example, last year (spring 2013), the 5th grade and 8th grade Social Studies and the 7th grade geography test were “field tested.”   For some psychometric reason, the 7th grade geography test did not get enough usable data to make validate the results of the tests.  Therefore, this year (2014), the 7th grade geography is scheduled to be field tested again.

Keep in mind, while you have the right to opt your child out of field tests, if enough parents do so, it may impact the quality of the results.  I can imagine that this would cause either another year of field testing or a test that is not quite 100% reliable or valid.

Keep in mind, I am not advocating one way or the other.

I am simply trying to wrap my brain around the impact it could have.

Do what is best for you and your family.

Remember, opting out should not be taken lightly.   There must be open communication between the parent, the student, and the school and even the school board.  Know the facts.  Know the consequences.  Then make an informed decision for your child and your family.  

Finally, take it one step further.  

Contact your OK State Representative and your OK State Senator.  

Tell them: “I made an informed decision to opt your child out of the field test for ________ because _________ .   Please consider helping to write legislation next session that will reign in and limit high stakes testing in our schools.”

Your story has power.  Take the time to tell it.

A Parent’s Voice for Public Education

I am a parent. 

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My daughter is in preK and embarking on her school years.  That means that I am embarking on my journey as a public school parent.  It can be a scary place, wanting the best for my daughter but not always knowing what I can do to support and help her school.  In Oklahoma, public education is in a scary place.  It is a new passion of mine to do what I can to make the next 13 years of my daughter’s school career the best it can be.  It is painfully obvious that the majority of our elected officials don’t seem to be listening to educators these days…. but they need to start listening to parents.  

As a parent, I believe in the power  and importance of public education.   A community’s future depends on the education of its citizens. Maybe 100 years ago, public schools had a different role than they do today.  But in our global society, public schools serve the needs of all students and families.  For many students, school is the safest place they can be and the best hope to build a future for themselves.

Public school can and should be:

  • a place where students feel safe, challenged, and encouraged
  • a place where students are able to make mistakes and be creative
  • a place where they learn how to get along with their peers but also how to work collaboratively with them, even when they disagree or don’t get along
  • a place where students are exposed to not only the foundations of reading, writing, and arithmetic but also exposed to innovative ideas and engaging learning opportunities in all content areas
  • a place where parents, communities, teachers, and administrators work together, striving for the best interest of all students but also the best student of each student

Currently in Oklahoma, the state aid for schools is approximately $3,000 per pupil.  That breaks down to about $17 a day per pupil.  Last time I checked, most teenage babysitters charge $15-20 an hour. (edited to clarify…because we don’t get out much I gladly pay $15-20).

I am sure there are a ton of complicated formulas and other factors, but as a parent, I am not an expert in school funding.

Can someone help me understand why we currently have the lowest per pupil funding in over 5 years?   Or why Oklahoma remains the lowest in our regional per pupil funding?  Or why although we have steadily increased in the number of students in our schools, we have had the highest percentage of education funding cuts in the nation?

Since I don’t understand, I have had several conversations with administrator and experts in local schools to help me understand.  The only answer we can come up with is that Public Education is not a priority for our elected officials.  Or put more simply, the education of our states future generation and future leaders is not a priority for the majority of men and woman we have elected to represent us at the Capital in OKC.

Our school superintendent and Governor like to blame the cuts on everything from the recession to ObamaCare.  They do brag that even in the midst of a struggling budgets, they increased the public school budget last year.  What they fail to mention, is that because OK had an INCREASE in the number of students in the public schools there was a DECREASE in the per pupil funding, even with the increase budgeted by the legislator in 2013.

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I know that throwing money at schools is not the answer, but as a parent, I am pretty sure that this great state can do better than 17 Dollars a day.  Yes,  local taxes and federal dollars supplement state aid, which increases our per pupil funding overall to about $8,500.  But even with those added, OK is still lowest in the region by at over $1,000 per pupil.

As parents, we can ALL tell our stories and urge our legislator and state leadership to start limiting or removing some of  the unfunded, underfunded, and harmful (based on years of educational research) reforms like:

  • The retention clause of the Reading Sufficiency Act.  Although this law has been in place for almost a decade, in 2011 the OK legislature added the retention clause that removes a parents voice from the process.  In all of its years of implementation, RSA has never been fully funded.  This year, schools received about 30$ per qualified student to implement one of the most overreaching reforms our state has seen.  Supporting and intervening as a student learns to read it vital.  It my daughter struggles over the next few years, I know it is my job to work with her teachers to support her however I can.  Retention is not an evil thing.  But a crucial part of making retention successful is parental support and by-in.  RSA can work, but it has to involve all parties without high stakes.  By the way, I have yet to ever see any article that shows me that a standardized test is even a good way to improve my child’s learning.  Still not convinced, ask a third grade teacher how they feel.
  • High Stakes End Of Instruction tests for High School students.  Colleges don’t care if students pass these exams.  Neither do vo-techs, welding schools, beauty colleges, or any other job or post high school training that our high school grads will face.  No one cares.  All the EOIs seem to do is stress out students and teachers, give the SDE data to crunch, and make some students feel like dropping out might be their best option.  Companies and colleges want employees who can think, problem solve, adapt, and communicate clearly.  How many EOIs test those skills?
  • TLE and other teacher evaluation systems based on test scores and faulty value added calculations.   People are complex beings.  Schools are complex communities.  Teacher evaluations, based on test scores and value added models, do little to harness the complexity that is a student or school.  It doesn’t improve student achievement, but it does drive good teachers out of education.
  • A/F School Report Cards.  As a parent, this is probably one of the most embarrassing things about public education in Oklahoma.  It is painfully obvious to almost every parent I have talked to that this system means nothing.  A parent knows how their child’s school is doing.  If they don’t, I am sure all public schools would welcome a parent to come spend time in the building, see what is going on, and get involved in their child’s education.  All the A/F Report Card does is label and degrade schools by things that are out of their control.  It is a fickle system and even that coveted A’s could easily be B’s or C’s next October based on the faulty statistics used.  This recent article in the Tulsa World is a great example.
  • Tax Cuts!  Budgets are tight statewide and tax cuts are not the solution that is best for Oklahoma.  Many departments are facing cuts again this year including DHS, Prisons, Mental Health, and transportation.  The tax cuts proposed this year will net less than 80$ in the pocket of the 80% of Oklahomans.  Tax cuts are not proven to stimulate the economy or provide for lasting growth.  OK Policy does a great job of breaking down this issue and how it impacts Oklahoma.But…What can we as parents do?

Contact your legislators.  Most of our elected officials DO listen to citizens.  But remember, they also hear from paid lobbyists from mega-corporations who push for laws that profit their bosses.  That is why it is VITAL for citizens to contact them.  There are so many issues that they need to hear from REAL PARENTS about. Remember, most legislators don’t have children in public schools, so they don’t realize what is truly happening within our public schools.  We have to tell our stories!  Go here to find contact information for your legislators. It sounds intimidating, but you can do it.  You can either email or call.  If you are adventurous, get a group of friends together and head up to the capital to chat with them.  You are a tax payer.  They represent you.  Tell them how you feel.

  • Make your message short and sweet
  • Say where you are from
  • Be passionate, but not crazy or extreme
  • Tell why you are against it, how it affects your children
  • No threats, just show your concerns
  • Ask them to propose and/or support laws that fix the problem (taken from a TN Parent Group’s page)

Follow groups like Tulsa Parents Legislative Action Committee (PLAC), Central OK PLAC, Sand Springs PAAT, Cleveland Co PLAC, Pontatoc County PLAC, Oklahoma PTA.  We are trying to get as much information out to parents  as possible so YOU can know where YOU stand on the issues and how those issues impact YOUR children and family.    When important bills are being heard in the house or senate, we try to get the word out so you can contact those voting on it.  Last week, parents and educators rallied and as a result, the voucher bill was defeated in committee.  Our voices were heard.  It works.  It is empowering.

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Join with educators at the Capital on March 31st.  Parents voices are IMPORTANT and POWERFUL.  This rally is not just for teachers and administrators.  PARENTS can rally for their children just like teachers can rally for their students.  If you are unsure how this impacts your school, set up a time to meet with your principal.  Ask other parents.  Attend PLAC meetings (like the one in NORMAN on MARCH 4th).  If your school board has voted to send representative teachers instead of the dismissing school for the day, adopt a teacher to represent at the Capital.

Follow education blogs and #oklaed on twitter.  New blogs are popping up everyday.  There are blogs written by parents, principals, teachers, retired teachers, and even anonymous education experts.

Here is my story.  My reason for speaking out.prekphotosOU30 copy

This is Dani.  She is our world.  She is the child for whom we prayed.  She is half princess, half superhero.  She is creative, loving, inquisitive, and a tad ornery.  As of today, she wants to be a princess superhero when she grows up.  She loves to read books and tell stories.  Frozen is her favorite movie (of course) and she loves the idea that she doesn’t need a prince to be strong.  Now that she is in school, a whole new world is opening up to her.  She was telling me the other day all about the books her teacher is reading to her and the songs she is learning in music class.  It is my responsibility and honor to advocate so her learning experiences in public school are amazing and she can be a Superhero Princess or anything else she wants to be.

What’s your story?

Opting Out or Civil Disobedience

I am going to throw in my two cents on the issue of opting out.  Not because I believe in standardize tests or their questionable results.  I was torn because in the past, if a parent mentioned opting out, I though it could create an adversarial relationship between the parent and the school, often putting the student in the middle.  I swore I would never consider opt my daughter out because I didn’t want her teachers and schools to look bad or suffer any consequences.  I wasn’t ready to participate in a little civil disobedience.

But, I am no longer torn.  Before I can tell you why, I need to say a few things about testing.

High stakes testing is wrong.  Period.

No reliable research has ever shown that using test scores of students to evaluate teachers improves any aspect of public education.  If I am wrong and you can provide that research for me, please email me. I would love to read it.   Same with A/F grades, despite what our Superintendent tries to tell us, it is NOT working in Florida.

There is no reliable research that has shown that withholding a High School diploma from a Senior because he or she didn’t pass the right number of tests has done anything to improve that student’s motivation, self-worth, or future.   (We could argue all day about the idea that all student need to go straight to college or what we can do to ensure that those students who go to college are prepared… but that is a whole different issue…)

There is no meaningful or reliable research that shows anything beneficial about giving a standardized test in Language Arts to an 8-year-old and using the result to decide their placement for the next year.  Teachers who are on the front lines know this.  Reading specialists understand the danger.  Unfortunately, our State Superintendent doesn’t seem to understand the ramifications of the reform she has so stubbornly supported.  In fact, she has made the claim that it worked in Florida, but as Rob Miller so eloquently reminded us, those results are inflated and out of context.

Even worse is the plan to use that 8-year-old’s score on that Language Arts test without taking into account the countless data points (formal and informal) that highly qualified teachers have been collecting and observing for over three years.  And worse still is the plan to make that decision without allowing the parent to have the final say, or even an opinion, when they have most likely worked with teacher to whatever extent is possible, since their child was in kindergarten.

Sure, we have 6 Good Clause exceptions.  And there is a portfolio option (with little guidance about what they needs to look like or what students to keep it on or when they should start collecting artifacts…).  But let’s be honest, it’s still all about that test.  It’s about the test that every 5, 6, 7 and 8 year old in our state will soon be stressed over.  It’s about the test that will determine up to 50% of a school’s report card grade (if a school only goes up to third grade, like this one, the grade is based completely on the two 3rd Grade OCCT tests).

Back to opting out.  Like I mention earlier, until a few months ago, I would have been hesitant to opt out my daughter or to encourage other parents to pursue an way to opt their children out of tests.  I have worked at the state department and served on test committees and I understand that the data from the tests is important.  Like it or not, in order for the psychometrician to help make the test as valid as possible, they need kids to take the test.  If we have to have tests, I would have argued that we could at least have valid ones.  And, like it or not, that data is used to measure the effectiveness of our teachers and schools.

Then I heard about “A”.  “A” is a second grader in Moore.  “A” can read the early Harry Potter books.  He loves to read whatever he can get his hands on and is interested in.  He also happens to be good at math and science, as well as recently being the MVP in the inaugural season of the imaginary football league his friends and he created to play during recess.   Because when your teachers don’t let you play tackle or touch football at research, you just play the game with an imaginary ball.

No teacher would ever think to keep a portfolio of work on “A” or be thinking ahead to which good clause exception might save him.  And “A”’s mother, a teacher herself, had no reason to worry about him passing his third grade test…until this bright, energetic, creative, independent reader and second grader told his mom that he was worried about passing that reading test next year and not going to fourth grade.  Why does a second grader even know that this is a possibility.

This is why I am now in favor of parents having the option of opting their children out of tests.  Because no child should be that stressed over a test.  Ever.

No second grader should be stressed out about a test that is over a year away.   If “A” had not said something to his mom about being worried about it, he could have spent the next 18 months letting internalizing that worry, letting it simmer and grow, eating away at his confidence.   How many of our 5, 6, 7 and 8 year olds are internalizing the stress of their teachers and parents over a 50-question Language Arts test.  How many third graders will sit down to the test in April, the only thought in their head “If I don’t pass this test, I don’t get to go to fourth grade.”  How many students will be so worried about pleasing their teacher or their parent that they freeze up on test day?  And how well do you think those students are going to do… regardless of what reading level their DIBBELs and STAR tests say they are on?

How can we do that to our kids?  And for what reason?  I dare you to give me a good, research based reason.

The SDE is threatening reminding districts that if more than 10% of their students have no score, the school and district will automatically receive an F on their report card.   Let me put some context on that 10%.  If a grade has 60 students, it would take 7 kids “opting out” or not testing to earn that school an F.   For a larger school with 120 students, 13 missing scores would earn them an F.  In a smaller school, maybe with 13 or 14 students per grade level, it would take 2 students.  TWO.  No wonder schools have been adversarial when students try to opt out their students.

Our state superintendent doesn’t seem to like to talk with the liberal education establishment.  She doesn’t like to talk with OEA.  On twitter and Facebook, she is condescending and deflects real questions with vague responses.  She holds press conferences and invites the public, but then refuses to take questions from anyone accept the press.

If she doesn’t listen to the educational experts, maybe she will listen to parents, who are the experts on the most important part of this equation:  their kids.   I honestly believe that parents are the key to slowing down the educational reforms that are chocking our schools.

How crazy would it be if every school across the state had 11% of their students opt out, results in every district in the state getting an F.   I would love to see the spin on that story.  Maybe the grades would be released on time without being changed 27 times.  And as an added bonus, maybe the general public and our elected officials would fully understand how meaningless the A/F grades are.

I know that sounds like crazy talk, an extreme measure.  As a parent, I wonder if we are at the point that we need parents doing something extreme, something that is completely in the best interest of their children, in order to make our elected officials realize that High Stakes testing (RSA, TLE, A/F, ACE) is not what is needed or what is best for Oklahoma.

A little disclaimer: I am not going to organize a massive opt out across the state and all opinions expressed here are my own as a parent.   As a teacher with an degree in elementary education and certification in special education, I am fully aware of how important reading comprehension is for a student.  I am not against retention when it is a decision made in partnership with parent, teacher, counselor, and student.   I am not against data driven decision making (when the data is meaningful and taken in context).

I honestly hope that we don’t have to resort to the extreme of civil disobedience with a massive statewide opt out. But I will continue to help empower and inform other parents with the facts about education in Oklahoma and how they can advocate for their students.   It is my hope that our legislators are already listening to our concerns and asking the hard questions.