DOE Considering Replacing SAT With Smarter Balanced Assessment, Markell’s “Assessment Reduction” Plan Has Been In The Works For 6 Months, & School Turnaround News

Smarter Balanced Assessment

Chief Accountability and Performance Officer Penny Schwinn, at the Delaware Department of Education, gave a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment to the State Board of Education today.  Schwinn indicated the Smarter Balanced Assessment may potentially be considered to replace the SAT in 11th grade for Delaware students.  She claimed that other states are doing this already.

The main part of the presentation was the five-year Smarter Balanced Assessment plan.  Schwinn and Dr. Carolyn Lazar, another associate at the Delaware DOE, talked about the recent “assessment reduction” initiative that had some rather revealing and shocking acknowledgments.  The DOE has spent the past six months reviewing state assessments and found there is a lot of replication across the state.  Their goals in this review have been to make sure assessments align to the state standards, yield valuable reports on student progress, adhere to best practices statewide, and align with the system in place.  Schwinn said “We all want as much instruction time as possible,” and in speaking about the community’s role in this initiative, “We want to be respectful of community input.”

Schwinn’s office feels end of year assessments (finals) are repetitive and they are starting to see a reduction on these tests in districts.  The five-year assessment plan will cover Smarter Balanced Assessments, DCAS for Social Studies and Science, Alternate Assessments, and the following tests: PSAT, SAT, ACCESS and NAEP.

Schwinn explained the grant funds involved with this assessment review available to the “largest districts” as she put it, and it would amount to $5.00 a student for a total of $80-90,000.  Lazar explained, contradicting Schwinn’s earlier statement, that the grant is available to all the districts in Delaware and that the DOE initiated this process two years ago but became a focus six months ago.  The grant funds became available for the districts in early April, and the districts have until the end of the April to deliver a list of their assessments to the DOE.

A company called Achieve is the DOE contractor involved in this, and their role is to provide a user-friendly model and to develop an action plan to execute on the findings of the review.  The DOE is planning to develop a communications and community engagement process, and they are pleased at the level of educator involvement already taking place with this review.

The DOE has already provided the districts with a template of the grant form to ease the burden on the districts.  They suggested the districts use an outside consultancy firm, like Achieve (which they specifically mentioned for a 2nd time).  The review plan has three steps: Phase 1: review, Phase 2: develop action plan, and Phase 3: implement action plan.  The goal, according to Lazar is “teaching more, testing less.”  The plan will ask “Why assess?” which they feel is necessary and State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray agreed.  “We are all consumers of data,” Lazar said.

The DOE will be more than happy to provide technical assistance to the districts that they may consider part of their budget, with the help of Achieve (3rd mention of this company), who may want other contractors to come in and assist.  But the districts can be creative with the funds (based on a DOE designed grant template and the able-bodied assistance of Achieve).

Gray restated the earlier statement that the grant is optional to the districts, but Schwinn stated they are committed to doing this for all of the districts.  Board member Pat Heffernan asked if there is a rubric for this initiative, to which Lazar said that is something they are looking to implement but nothing exact like a specific rubric (after they already designed the grant template).

They expect the district assessment tally in mid-May and an action plan by December.  During the gap in time, they plan to utilize focus groups (with no definition of who would be on these focus groups).

Schwinn indicated teacher created assessments used in the classroom are not a part of this review, but some of the Measure B and RTI interventions used by the districts, according to Gray, are repetitive.  Schwinn stated these are the universal assessments that all students must take and determining the validity of them.  Schwinn stated Common Core alignment with the SAT would be ready by next year with a transition in the next two years and full implementation in the next 3-5 years.

The next part of their presentation concerned the current implementation of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in districts and charters in Delaware.  Schwinn said she is “very excited” about the results they have seen so far.  As of April 10th, 15,000 students have taken part in the summative ELA Smarter Balanced Assessment, and 9,000 for the math.  When asked about the different in numbers, Schwinn indicated it was because of how the districts and schools implement the testing scheduled during their testing windows.  There was a long discussion about “chunking”.  Heffernan asked if there have been situations like the schools thought a section would take four days but it took six to which Schwinn answered they haven’t received that feedback at this point.

In terms of problems, the biggest problem which was on the screen, but not even discussed during the meeting was the issue of accommodations.  The screen indicated “ACCOMMODATIONS DATA TRANSFER EXPERIMENTING ISSUES-unresolved, students incorrectly appearing as “custom” for accommodations in the test administration interface.  Work-around requires test administrator to employ additional efforts to validate accommodations for every student.”  American Institutes for Research (AIR), the testing vendor is “working on the issue.”  Nothing was discusses about any financial impact to the state or the districts to resolve these issues.  The DOE has an internal system they use to monitor the Smarter Balanced called PBMS.  Schwinn indicated the first year of DCAS had similar issues (another state assessment designed by AIR).

Executive Director of the State Board Donna Johnson asked how many districts were doing the interim assessments and Schwinn answered this is decided by the actual schools, and in some schools, only certain grades.  For the hand-scoring they are using a new technical system for curricular assessments and collaborating with the State of Washington and Air for training.  This is posted on a portal called the Teacher Hand-Scoring System.

There has been an inconsistent display of resources but conference calls with other states in the SBAC, the staff at Smarter Balanced and AIR is allowing for collaboration and sharing of resources like sources, prompts and materials deployed.

Schwinn indicated students like “Smarter” (a recent Facebook commenter said all the DOE hipsters like to call it “Smarter”) better than DCAS and are showing more interest because it has listening and is more realistic (with not even 1/5th of the students in the state taking the test, they are already making this assumption without all the end-of-assessment surveys).

Here is my take on all this, and the whole “reduction of assessments” initiative is not to actually reduce testing, but because the DOE wants more Smarter Balanced interim assessments.  The DOE and Governor Markell want everything tied to the Smarter Balanced Assessment: college course placement, standards-based IEPs, SATs, and even those pesky little “other” assessments that provide real and valuable data in many cases.  My big question is this: how much did the legislators know of these plans with this test when the majority voted to approve it last year with House Bill 334?

While this question is being pondered, who is Achieve?  According to their website, their agendas (not making this up, they actually have a tab called “Our Agenda”) include standards, graduation requirements, data & accountability and assessments, with sub-groups in this category called sample student assessment reports, ADP assessments, measures that matter, and what a coincidence, one called Student Assessment Directory for School Districts.  And look at that, they just completed a huge guide for districts on 3/20/15!

And from their website, which can be found at just another corporate education reform link:

Below is a brief history of Achieve:

1996: Achieve is founded at the National Education Summit by leading governors and business leaders.

1998: Achieve begins its Academic Standards and Assessments Benchmarking Pilot Project.

1999: Achieve sponsors a National Education Summit.

2001: Achieve sponsors a National Education Summit; Achieve joins the Education Trust, Thomas B. Fordham Institute and National Alliance of Business to launch the American Diploma Project (ADP) to identify the “must-have” knowledge and skills most demanded by higher education and employers.

2004: The American Diploma Project releases “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts.” This groundbreaking report – the result of over two years of research – identifies a common core of English and mathematics academic knowledge and skills, or “benchmarks,” that American high school graduates need for success in college and the workforce. Education Week later named “Ready or Not” one of the most 12 influential research studies.

2005: Achieve co-sponsors a National Education Summit on High Schools, with the National Governors Association; the American Diploma Project Network is launched with 13 inaugural states.

2006: Achieve releases its first annual report on the ADP college- and career-ready policy agenda: “Closing the Expectations Gap: An Annual 50-State Progress Report on the Alignment of High School Policies with the Demands of College and Work.”

2007: The ADP Assessment Consortium launches to develop common Algebra II end-of-course assessment, which was, at that time, the largest multi-state effort to develop assessments to date.

2008: Achieve releases “Out of Many, One: Toward Rigorous Common Core Standards from the Ground Up,” a report that found that individual state efforts to set college- and career-ready standards for high school graduates actually led to a remarkable degree of consistency in English and mathematics requirements.

2009: Work begins on the development of the Common Core State Standards; Achieve partners with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers on the Initiative and a number of Achieve staff and consultants serve on the writing and review teams.

2010: The final Common Core State Standards are released; Achieve begins serving as Project Management Partner for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

2011: Achieve begins managing the state-led development of the K-12 Next Generation Science Standards.

2013: The final Next Generation Science Standards are released.


So now that we know the who, what, where, when and how, my big question is WHY?  This is just another waste of money so the DOE can pay another corporate education reform company.  Is there just this huge and massive network of these companies that comes into states and “transforms” everything education related?

Well, at least now we know Penny Schwinn does more than worry about priority schools.  Wait a minute… I take that back.  I found this on the Delaware Contract Bid website, just placed two days ago in fact…


But let’s all hope Delaware Secretary of Education Mary Murphy’s sniffles get better.  The poor guy either has a bad cold, or allergies, or something.  Hope you feel better Mark!



Formal Review for Freire, Prestige Academy, DE Design Lab & Academy of Dover


At the State Board of Education meeting today, four Delaware charters, two of which have not even opened yet, were all put on formal review.  Two were for enrollment, one was for enrollment and academic issues, and the last was for academic and financial issues.

Freire and Delaware Design Lab High School were put on formal review for low enrollment.  As per Delaware state code, an approved charter school must have 80% of it’s fall enrollment by April 1st.  Freire had a major modification approved to reduce their enrollment cap from 336 to 224 at last month’s State Board meeting.  As of April 1st, they were at 78 and today they are at 92.  Delaware Design Lab is going through the same growing pains as well.  Other charters scheduled to open next year have the following enrollment percentages- Great Oaks: 100%, First State Military: 94% and Delaware Met: 81%.  Freire could ask for a one-year extension to open, but they would have to do so by 5/12.  Delaware Design Lab already was granted a one-year extension last year, which can only be done once.

Prestige Academy was placed on Formal Review for low enrollment as well as academic reasons.  Out of their 225 enrollment cap, they were at 59% as of 4/1 with 186 enrollments, and today they are at 190.  Their academic percentage of proficiency also went down 17% between the 2012-2013 year and the 2013-2014 year, from 56% to 39.1%.  What muddies the waters on this formal review is the framework for Smarter Balanced won’t be available until January for all schools.  For all three of the enrollment formal reviews, Executive Director of the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education Jennifer Nagourney said “Funding drives academic programs.”  And the schools funding is based on enrollment figures.

Academy of Dover, also in the hot seat for academic reasons definitely has some major financial issues going on.  Like Family Foundations Academy, they are being audited by State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  This also explains why the financial part of their performance framework has not been updated on the DOE website since last fall.  The school’s auditor noticed some financial irregularities and it was sent to Wagner’s office.  They couldn’t put anything up while the audit investigation was going on.  Nagourney did share there is a litigation matter going on with the school but she was unable to give any details.  I asked her specifically if the litigation had anything to do with former Head of School Noel Rodriguez resigning last fall, and stated she wasn’t sure of that.  She did state the auditing issues began an the same time Rodriguez resigned.  I’m sure there is much more to the story about Academy of Dover than what we are hearing, and I’ve already put some feelers out there.

Academia Antonia Alonso was taken off probation status, Odyssey Charter is complying with their required meeting with the Public Integrity Commission and will meet with them later this month, and Family Foundations Academy submitted their first monthly report to the charter school office as a condition of their probation status given by the State Board of Education last month.

After the meeting, I spoke with Nagourney and David Blowman, the Deputy Secretary of Education, along with Matthew Albright of the News Journal, Avi Wolfman-Arent with Newsworks/WHYY and Larry Nagengast with WDDE for a q and a on these issues.  The big question which the DOE was not able to answer was why these enrollment figures are so low.  The question was asked if the charter market in Wilmington is saturated.  but the fact that two other charters opening next fall makes this a difficult issue.  Blowman explained that a change in enrollment deadlines coupled with a first count of funding based on enrollment figures based on a 5/1 count seems to be causing problems this year.  When asked by Wolfman-Arent about any “ghost” schools, where an approved charter never opened due to low enrollment, Blowman and Nagourney did not know of any.

And yes, I was shocked to be invited to this impromptu media gathering!

Capital School District’s Awesome Response Letter To Smarter Balanced Opt-Out

Parental Opt-Out of Standardized Testing

I just received this in the mail today.  I opted my son out six months ago, but I guess the district is required by the DOE to get these letters out!

Lawyer: Are the Common Core Tests Valid for Teacher Evaluation?


I can answer this with a resounding NO!

Diane Ravitch's blog

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, an attorney who represents public schools in education matters, including testing and special education—and is currently working to reform special education—posted this comment. Her website is

Can we really use student tests to measure teacher effectiveness?

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, M.A., J.D.

This is the year! Tests related to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are launching across our country. They are designed to measure how well students are learning the CCSS. Meanwhile, some states, with federal encouragement, plan to use them also to measure teacher effectiveness. Is this use valid?

There is no shortage of controversy about educational testing and, unfortunately, this controversy includes the opportunity to file lawsuits. The use of student achievement data to also evaluate teacher effectiveness is certainly controversial. Notably, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, gave states a year’s reprieve on implementing this practice. Across the country, teacher unions have called…

View original post 1,007 more words



I watched a bunch of math teachers at the Red Clay board meeting explain the Common Core methods of teaching math based on some new and exciting method which is supposed to make it easier. I’m sorry, but grouping and having problems take five times longer is NOT effective. Let the comments begin!

Americas Education Watch

By Dr. Peg Luksik April 15, 2015

Editors Note: Never ever forget that Common Core is Child Abuse!

Can you add the numbers 17 and 15?

If you are like most adults, you write the number 17, put the number 15 below it, add the ones column to get 12, write the 2 in the ones column, carry the 10, add the tens column to get 30, and write the 3 in the tens column.  The answer is 32.
Math 3
You learned that process in about the second grade.

But according to the PARCC Model Curriculum, our children do not have to be able to do this until Grade 4.  At the same time, we are told that Common Core is “more rigorous” than the math that preceded it.

The obvious question is, how can the math be more rigorous if the concepts must be learned up to two years later? …

View original post 474 more words

Delaware Father’s Passionate Email To The House Education Committee

House Bill 50

This is why I blog.  Not for myself, but to get the word out to others.  I asked parents to email every single member of the Delaware House Education Committee to show their support for House Bill 50, the Parent Opt Out legislation.  One father took the baton and ran with it.  What David Brenton said in this email is nothing short of amazing, and I highly encourage every parent to come up with their own words from the heart and email every single member.

State Of Delaware Legislators,

I have 3 children in the Delaware Public School system. I am a former Delaware Public School student. Like many of your constituents, I spend a lot of time trying to make ends meet. My head down and nose to the grind stone. I and many like me have trusted you to see our children’s education is the best it can be. You have before you an opportunity to earn that trust. HB 50. Please pass it.

I have been paying attention lately. I have been to many meetings to listen to other parents, teachers, principals, and my representatives about Smarter Balanced Testing. I listened to a DDOE official tell me about the value of assessments and the data that this testing will provide. About the money we will get from the Federal Government. About how rigorous these national standards are and how they will help our children compete in the global economy. I’m sorry, I don’t agree, here is why:

Assessments, I expect a certified teacher to have the skill set to assess my child. I expect the school principal to have the skill set to assess their teachers. I expect the superintendent to have the skill set to assess their principals. If this is not the case, Someone is not doing their job!

Data Collection, At my Delaware school, I was told the difference between The USA and the USSR was freedom. “That in the USSR the young children had to take a test in school, and the results would plot their course to employment. Here In the USA you have the freedom to aspire to any type of employment if you worked hard”. I didn’t think it was a good idea then. I don’t think its a good idea now. Please forgive me if I don’t trust others with data to manipulate my children.

Money From the Federal Government, I pay taxes, I pay school taxes, I don’t care if Delaware has excepted a bribe from the DOE to set up yet another bureaucracy, It all comes from the same pocket, mine.

Rigorous National Standards, These standards were not created by educators, there was no task force that scoured the globe in search of the best educational methods and standards. In fact educational scholars refused to endorse these standards. They are not proven at all! This is experimental education and I don’t like my children used as guinea pigs.

Compete in the global economy, My generation’s education went to the moon, invented computers, internet, cell phones and much more. This is a definition of not competing I’m not familiar with. I have opted my 3rd grader out. I will opt out my older children soon. I need your support. HB50.

Proud Father David Brenton

My Email To The News Journal Reporter Who Left The Red Clay Board Meeting Before The Parent Opt Out Resolution

News Journal Bias

I got home from the Red Clay board meeting tonight where they passed the parent opt out resolution and I figured the News Journal would have something on it since their education reporter Matt Albright was in attendance at the meeting. Nope, not one word, or even a tweet about it. So I decided I should not only email him about this, but also post this as an article so Delaware parents can start to see beyond what is reported in our largest newspaper.

Red Clay Parent Opt Out Resolution

Kevin Ohlandt

Today at 12:53 AM

To: Matthew Albright ( 

Hey Matt,

I went to say hi to you after the Red Clay board meeting tonight, but you had already left. I have to say I was a bit upset to see the News Journal had a huge story on the Conrad Alumni/Redskins controversy, but absolutely nothing on the huge parent opt out resolution the board unanimously passed. As we both know, House Bill 50 will be heard at the House Education Committee next Wednesday, and I would think having the second largest district in the state supporting parent opt out would be something newsworthy for the News Journal. Especially since they could be poised to become the largest district if the redistricting of Wilmington schools does happen.

This is the kind of bias that is unfair to parents in Delaware. You wrote a huge article on the “remedial classes” and Smarter Balanced Assessment announcement yesterday by Governor Markell, but the fact that one of the districts is taking that initiative and stating parents rights are more important than anything associated with standardized testing shows this bias. As a blogger, I’m biased to my side of things, but as a journalist with the biggest newspaper in the state, I expect more balanced coverage of newsworthy events. Especially when it comes to the students of Delaware. For far too long, we have seen the News Journal often give more weight to Markell and DOE opinions than the voice of the citizens of Delaware. I truly hope you will consider this in the future.


Kevin Ohlandt