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. 

1939855_10203138983773259_1051683114_n

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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 3.49.29 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 4.56.37 PM

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?