Exceptional Delaware Gets A New Look

I decided Exceptional Delaware needs a facelift.  You can only stare at the same Lord of the Rings picture so long!  But seriously, it’s a time of change for all of us, and what better way to celebrate (or mourn) those changes than a new look.  I may tinker with it a bit, but let me know what you think.  Hate it? Love it? Want the old way back? Don’t care but just keep doing what you’re doing? Let me know!

Back To School Message For Students, Parents, Teachers & Schools

In Delaware, all public school students are back in school.  This will be a very interesting year ahead for all of us.  The invasion of corporate education reform will be felt the strongest this year.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment results will be released on a statewide level in a couple days and the results will go to parents in a few weeks.  Priority and focus schools will feel the pain of submitting plans to the Delaware Department of Education.  Opt-out will become bigger and more complicated.  Schools will lose essential funding due to budget issues in our state government that will continue to go unaddressed.  Reports will come out showing how some charters in this state should practice certain application tactics.  Parents and teachers will complain about things.  The DOE will make it look like everything is awesome when they come out with press releases.  Governor Markell will most likely have about 20 weekly messages and 30 public comments about how great education is but how much we need to do to make Delaware the best state in the country for education.  A new Secretary of Education will decide if the DOE should stay on course or course-correct.  The 148th General Assembly will debate education issues for our children and the DOE and their reform buddies will lobby the legislators for their own agendas.  Parents will become increasingly vocal about hotbed education issues in our state.  Common Core will be a common pain for students and parents.  Wilmington schools will be the front page headline for most schools in the state.  Vouchers won’t go anywhere.  Most of the people in the state will still have no clue who Rodel is.  I will keep blogging about all of this.  But at the end of the day, it’s about our children.  We all need to keep them safe and keep them learning.  The rest is just detail.  Best of luck to all involved in any way with education this year!

Delaware DOE, Learn The Difference Between “Guidance” & “Regulatory”

Guidance means a “suggested” way of doing things.  “Regulatory” means you have to do it.  The Delaware DOE doesn’t seem to know the difference between the two.  There is a very fine distinction.  This is the case with the Accountability Framework Working Group being told by Penny Schwinn at the DOE that participation rate penalties in the Delaware School Success Framework are “mandatory” and “non-negotiable”.  This is a complete fabrication and distortion of the truth.  But it appears the district superintendents and administrators on this group swallowed the lie, because they agreed to it.

But here is the important distinction between guidance and regulatory.  The US DOE issued guidance on charter school enrollment preferences surrounding specific interest in their applications.  They stated charter schools should only use this to benefit Title I, IDEA, low-income & minority students, and students with disabilities.  As we all know, certain charters in our state completely ignore this and pick who they want for their schools.  I don’t see the Delaware DOE rushing to enforce this “guidance”.  If they had, there wouldn’t be a pending complaint in the Office of Civil Rights from the ACLU of Delaware and Delaware Community Legal Aid against the Delaware DOE and Red Clay Consolidated School District.  But when it comes to parent opt-out, that guidance becomes “mandatory” and “non-negotiable”.

In the presentation below, the key pages are 4 and 16.  It indicates a potential way of using opt-out or participation rate in accountability but nowhere does it say “You must do this or we won’t approve your waiver request.”  They can threaten and bully all they want, but we all know how that turns out in the end.

To read the non-regulatory guidance concerning charter school enrollment preferences, please read below:

Hey Kilroy, I Found A Better Publius! And This One Has A Blog!

Over on Kilroy’s Delaware, the godfather of Delaware education blogs, there is a commenter named Publius.  Typical education reform kind of guy, ticking people off with his “choice” comments and “march to proficiency” stuff.  But I found a better Publius! This one hails from Florida, and has a great blog called The Withering Apple with a handle of Publius Withering.  I wish the Delaware Publius would move to Florida, but I wouldn’t wish that on the better Publius!   Check it out at The Withering Apple.

Delaware’s 14 Focus Schools & Who Knew There Was A 7th Priority School In Laurel?

2015FocusschoolsThere was a seventh priority school I didn’t know about, and this is the first I’ve heard about it nearly a year after the initial announcement.  According to the DOE’s ESEA Flex Waiver request submitted March 31st, 2015, Laurel Middle School was also labeled a priority school along with the other six in Red Clay and Christina school districts.

With 14 Focus schools, these could eventually become priority schools if they don’t show the necessary “growth” and “proficiency” on standardized test scores.  This is wrong on so many levels, especially since the 10 new focus schools are named based on data from over a year ago.  That’s right, old data is being used by the US DOE.  It doesn’t matter if two grades of students are no longer at those schools, they will label and shame whoever they can…

New York Superintendent Writes Best Letter Ever: “I Do Not Care…”

If every single Superintendent in the country wrote letters like this, our country would have much better education.  Congratulations to Superintendent Michael Hynes from the Patchogue-Medford School District for writing this VERY awesome letter!

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US DOE’s Executive Summary On Delaware’s Race To The Top Program

The US Department of Education released an executive summary of Delaware’s Race To The Top program.  This has everything in there, including the latest Accountability Framework Working Group included…  And of course it wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the Vision Coalition’s latest launch…

More Proof DOE Is Moving Ahead With Participation Rate Penalty With School Report Cards

I just came across this document.  This is a Delaware Department of Education presentation to the University of Delaware’s Delaware Academy for School Leadership (DASL).  Ryan Reyna with the DOE, along with Gerri Marshall from Red Clay and Jeff Klein with Appoquinimink presented the below to DASL on June 24th, 2015 with some very definitive statements about this participation rate…

We see the DOE telling DASL, Part A metrics are those that were submitted to USDOE as part of our ESEA submission.  This is very important because this is where they openly admit they submitted this to the US DOE like this.  But keep in mind, this is NOWHERE in the public draft for ESEA authorization that the State Board of Education approved for submission on 3/19/15.  It did not show up in the draft until their “redlined” edition on 3/31/15.

Delaware DOE To Name 10 Focus Schools By End of 2015, School Report Card Will Determine Future Priority Schools

The Delaware DOE will pick 10 new Focus Schools by the end of 2015 according to their ESEA Renewal document.  These Focus Schools will be in addition to four remaining Focus Schools from the prior year.  No priority schools will be picked this year, but be sure they will the year after!  In the Delaware Department of Education’s ESEA Flex Waiver request for 2015, they wrote the following:

Classification of Schools and Districts

The U.S. Department of Education requires Title I schools to be classified into three categories: Reward, Focus and Priority. Delaware has created a fourth category for Title I and non-Title I schools called Recognition. Moving forward, DDOE intends to use the Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF) to classify its schools within these categories.1 The U.S. Department of Education has indicated that using a state’s rating system is permissible so long as the state demonstrates that it has identified the required number of schools that meet the ESEA Flexibility definitions.

“For each ESEA Criterion there is a proposed way in which the DSSF will be used to identify schools.2 By the end of 2015, this methodology will be used for the identification of a new cohort of 10 Focus schools (with 2015-16 school year as a planning year),3 at least two Reward schools, and up to 15 Recognition schools for 2015-16. A new cohort of Priority schools will not be identified for the 2015-16 school year, but the proposed new methodology is included to indicate how future cohorts may be identified.”

with footnotes added:

2 “For the sections in Principle 2 on Reward, Recognition, Priority and Focus schools, unless otherwise noted, LEA references district public schools.”

3 “Four current Focus schools will not exit from that status at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, for a total of 14 Focus Schools”

This information can be found here, on page 9:

http://www.doe.k12.de.us/cms/lib09/DE01922744/Centricity/domain/232/esea/DE_ESEA_Flex_Renewal_Proposal_3-31-15.pdf

The US Department of Education defines a Focus school as:

“A Title I school that has the largest within-school gaps between the highest-achieving subgroup or subgroups and the lowest-achieving subgroup or subgroups or, at the high school level, has the largest within-school gaps in graduation rates (“within-school-gaps” focus school); or

 A Title I school that has a subgroup or subgroups with low achievement or, at the high school level, low graduation rates (“low-achieving subgroup” focus school).”

The DOE will use past data from 2013-2014 to pick these focus schools.

Making matters worse, the US DOE is making the Delaware DOE use their upcoming Delaware School Success Framework to be the guide for picking Priority, Focus, Reward and Recognition schools once it is approved by our State Board of Education and than the US DOE (see the Scribd document). Delaware MUST submit an approved request for this by October 31st.  Even more reason for the General Assembly to override Governor Markell’s House Bill 50 veto, otherwise opt-out could push a Title I school to priority schools status.

Schwartzkopf & Blevins: Call For Emergency Session To Override Markell’s Veto Of HB50 BEFORE 10/17/15

We are at crunch time Delaware!  In the US DOE approval letter for Delaware’s 2015 ESEA Flex Waiver request (seen below), it explicitly states Delaware must approve their School Success Framework by October 31st.  The Delaware State Board of Education is the approving authority, and they meet on October 17th.

I need EVERY willing and able citizen of Delaware to email Delaware Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf and President Pro Tempore of the Delaware Senate, Patricia Blevins, to call for an emergency session to override Governor Jack Markell’s veto of the parent opt-out legislation and give it enough time to make sure it is approved by 10/16/15 with the condition that it goes into effect immediately.  If the House overrides the veto, it would go back to the Senate, but they cannot do the same in the same legislative session day.  So the latest this could happen for the House would be October 15th, and for the Senate, October 16th.

To email Schwartzkopf, please email: Peter.Schwartzkopf@state.de.us and his phone number is (302) 744-4351.

To email Blevins, please email: Patricia.Blevins@state.de.us and her phone number is (302) 744-4133.

If the State Board of Education passes this, our schools will be penalized for their participation rate on standardized assessments.  As I wrote yesterday in great detail, the Delaware Department of Education is trying to pull a fast one on parents and schools.  This is their final attempt to prevent a veto of House Bill 50 by inserting an opt-out penalty into state regulations without any legislative approval.  This was done with very underhanded and sneaky methods until I lifted the veil of transparency on this earlier this week.

Our schools deserve more than this.  They deserve who will work with our schools, not against them.  Penny Schwinn with the Delaware DOE needs to offer proof of her claim that the penalty rate portion of the Delaware School Success Framework, otherwise known as the School Report Card, is mandatory.  Otherwise she has pressured school district superintendents, admins, the Delaware PTA, and DSEA into setting up something that will be detrimental and dangerous to all our schools, students, teachers, and Delaware itself.  Please email or call Schwartzkopf and Blevins today!

State Rep. Earl Jaques Slams Teacher Pay While Justifying Cuts To The Poor

Yesterday, Red Clay Education Association President Mike Matthews posted on Facebook regarding a News Journal article about cuts to the homeless in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.  Matthews wrote:

“Shameful. Poor folks get $15 less per month but we found $1,000,000 to go to a few charter schools.”

The ensuing conversation was very much in agreement with Matthews original comment, until Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques joined the fray…

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Obviously, this brought teaching into this conversation in a huge way.  The comments started flying:

Is Earl suggesting that underpaid teachers should make up the difference of cuts to the poor? Since Earl is part of the General Assembly, what is he recommending be cut to get that money back to the poor and when is he going to formally propose those cuts? Does he have any idea of what Mike already does for the poor? Real classy.

Earl — I don’t want to hear that argument so don’t sell it here. The argument is (expletive deleted) and you know it. Cutting general assistance to the poor so Newark Charter can build a new lab is disgusting and you know it.

But I agree with the bottom part of your comment. I just wish we had more legislators willing to be brave and do the right thing.

 Earl Jaques has reliably demonstrated, with both his words and actions, that he is both incapable and unconcerned with helping public schools best serve students and parents.

The step increases will perhaps cover the additional healthcare costs borne by the educators. I wouldn’t know, I’m at the top of the scale and don’t get steps anymore. But I still advocated for them for my fellow employees.

How about he cut HIS pay and give to the poor?

Most teachers I know give to the poor in real, tangible ways. Has EJ ever, with his own income ever purchased a coat, a pair of shoes, a backpack for a poor child? How about pay a family’s electric bill? Find an air conditioner for an asthmatic child, provided a graphing calculator for a motivated high school student who could afford her own? Figure out how to get eyeglasses for a struggling student, paid for a field trip, or year book for a child NOT related to him? Purchased a novel on CD that an English language learner could not read?
These are things that teachers do. No one forces them. It is not required of them. But many will ho-hum this litany of giving.
They expect teachers to give as they expect missionaries to lay down their lives for the faith.
And they want no reminders of the needs they choose to ignore.
I mean, who lobbies for the poor, anyway?
Allow teachers to give willingly and then try to shame them for not giving more.

Now if I were Earl Jaques, I would have probably walked away from this.  Trying to compare cuts to the poor to expensive labs in charter schools is not a wise idea in the current fiscal environment in Delaware.  Especially since this charter already got grants from other sources for this lab, including the Longwood Foundation.  But this morning he came back with the following which drew a brilliant response from Matthews:

  • Earl Jaques What you miss was that the budget is a balancing act. Everyone had needs and we try to fill as many needs as possible, but unfortunately we can’t fill every need to the level we would like. Also teachers aren’t the only state employees.
  • Mike Matthews $250,000 for a Newark Charter School expansion, Earl. This school serves a limited low-income population and they’re already at huge levels of proficiency on the state test. So why do they “need” that money? You can say all you want about everyone having to sacrifice a little, but it’s disingenuous to not qualify the level of “need” for NCS vs. the level of need of those on General Assistance.
     

Yes folks, this is the Chairman of the House Education Committee in Delaware!

Delaware DOE Challenges Me On Opt-Out Participation Rate Penalties: Who Wins?

Is it a federal requirement to have the participation rate penalty as part of the ESEA required School Report Card?  According to Penny Schwinn with the Delaware Department of Education, it is.  Was I able to debunk this?  Find out as I present this email chain between Penny Schwinn and myself over the past 24 hours.  As well, numerous answers are revealed about the School Report Card, the Delaware ESEA Waivers from this year, and accountability in regards to parent opt-out.

From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:kevino3670@yahoo.com]
Sent: Friday, August 28, 2015 9:08 AM
To: Schwinn Penny; May Alison
Subject: Re: Academic Framework Working Group

Good morning Penny,

I was curious if the AFWG group is still in existence.  I have seen nothing since the March meeting minutes, or any announcements of upcoming meetings.  If the group does meet again, I might suggest they are made public with a lot more stakeholder input.  For the most part, this group is made up of school leaders and admins, as if they are the only ones who would know what accountability is.  It wasn’t until towards the end, after most of the basic frameworks were already set up, that a PTA parent and a DSEA rep were invited.  At a minimum, I would like it made public on the DOE website a list of any upcoming meetings, the agendas, and what the vote counts are for the School Report Card.

Being completely honest here, I found the minutes for this group by accident.  And when I read them, I was shocked that this group existed, much less they are attempting to create policy designed to give parents input without any true parent input.  I know the surveys came out last fall, and I attended the Town Hall in Dover.  I specifically asked Ryan and Chantel about the Smarter Balanced weight for the report cards, and they said it wouldn’t be more than 50% of the report card, but in looking at the minutes, Smarter Balanced results or “growth” which stems from those results, will account for 90-100% of the grade a school gets depending on if its elementary & middle or high school.

Furthermore, penalizing a school for a parent’s decision to opt their child out of an assessment is not the fault of a school.  It is an indication parents don’t want their child taking this test.  Nothing against you, but the DOE can pump out as much material about SBAC as they want, but parents aren’t stupid.  Most of them don’t even like Common Core, so to come out with a test based on that is not really going to win public favor.  I know the DOE is tied to federal mandates, but you folks go way beyond even those stringent mandates.  People are catching on quick, and they don’t trust the DOE because of this.  I’m sure you can’t respond to a lot of this, and I understand that.  But opt-out is something the DOE should not punish schools for.  It will do more damage and probably cause MORE opt-out.  I am a firm believer in opt-out, but only if it is something a parent does as an informed choice, not just to go with the crowd.

Parents are going to be upset when they see the release of the SBAC scores and this will add fuel to the fire.  As I said at the August State Board meeting, I do not hate the DOE, but I do believe they need to engage and listen to parents a lot more than they have.  The result of the history with this is not good for our kids education.  I’m sure the DOE can provide me with numerous arguments on why SBAC needs to happen, but I can easily come back with a counter-argument for each one.  Every time I publish something on my blog that people didn’t know about, it is very bad for the DOE. 

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt


From: Schwinn Penny <Penny.Schwinn@doe.k12.de.us>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Cc: May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Friday, August 28, 2015 10:06 AM
Subject: RE: Academic Framework Working Group

Good afternoon,

Thank you for the email. I think that there is some good feedback here as well as some areas I would like to clarify. I agree, and have stated myself, that DSEA and PTA participation is important and should have been included along with district participation from the beginning. They did miss approximately four of the twelve meetings, but were absolutely part of the decisions on which metrics to include and what those business rules would be. The initial AFWG meetings, as you likely read in the minutes, focused on approach to the work without any recommendations having been made. Also to note, DSEA and the PTA selected the rep(s) that they wanted to participate and we are happy to have them. They have been good representatives of their constituents.

The AFWG is still in existence – until this week, we had not met since March because that is when the SBE approved the framework to be sent with the ESEA Flex waiver. The rest of the work that was needed would come after we received all of the testing data back. We have representation from all three counties and a relatively diverse group in terms of roles and responsibilities. We have had representation from a majority of the districts and I personally invited each superintendent to participate by email and also in a recent meeting. I hope you agree that this is an important and positive step forward in encouraging as much representative participation as possible from our districts, who are ultimately the ones being held responsible for the performance of our schools. Given the different capacities of districts, all superintendents have asked for, and will receive, direct correspondence around the minutes of the meetings. These minutes are also posted on the web site – it is an informal group (not a formal committee such as DESS), but we still want to ensure that we are reflecting the information. Currently, we have representatives from: Caesar Rodney, Appo, Capital, NCCVT, Indian River, Lake Forrest, Red Clay, Colonial, and Woodbridge. We have also had participation from Poly, Brandywine, and Delmar.

The AFWG is a group that meets to discuss and provide recommendations to the Secretary. There is limited Department staff present at the meetings (typically it is myself and one other person who provide facilitation and coordination services) – it was important for us to set-up the group to be able to discuss as stakeholders specifically.

You mentioned below the weight of Smarter Balanced in the DSSF as 90-100%. First, the weights have not been determined and that is what we will be doing over the course of the Fall. For high schools, it is well below 90-100%. For elementary and middle schools, it was difficult to find measurable metrics and that is why we are hoping to weight growth as much as possible. If you have ideas on other metrics that could be used for elementary, please feel free to share them. We have had very robust and long conversations on this specific topic and had truly hoped to find metrics that were fair to all schools!

I do apologize if you had trouble finding the information. We actually made adjustments to the new web site to make accountability its own toolbar so that it would be easier to find information. Hopefully, having that highlighted on the front page continues to make the information more visible. Please let me know if you have suggestions on how to make that even more prominent. I would like to respectfully draw your attention to the relatively significant amount of engagement that the team has tried to do: a statewide survey, a series of focus groups, and over 8 Town Hall/Community meetings over the last eight months. Additionally, we have an accountability email address that allows people to submit feedback directly to the Department if they are unable to attend a public meeting. Through this cumulative process, we have received thousands of responses and have absolutely reflected that feedback in the development of the DSSF (Delaware School Success Framework) – even in how it was named! I think that it is difficult to ask parents to come to meetings that exist during the day, when we meet, which is why we have worked to include as much input as possible from the evening meetings that we have set-up. We continue to solicit this input – one of the things we will be doing is holding a week-long stakeholder input opportunity (the Design Challenge) to present some options on the new DSSF and get input and feedback on its design. That will occur in September. As with any major project, there is typically a smaller (in this case relatively big) group that helps to frame the work and then we go out to get input on it. If you have ideas that will help to expand the number of families that we reach through this effort, place let me know.

As a note, we have also presented on components of the DSSF publicly at SBE meetings and retreats over five times. Truly, we want the input. We have actively discussed it as a group and have tried to create as much awareness as possible. We continue to look for additional ideas and look forward to your feedback and input.

I hope this answers the majority of your questions.

Penny Schwinn

Associate Secretary,

Assessment, Accountability, Performance, and Evaluation

Delaware Department of Education

401 Federal Street

Dover, DE 19901-3639

(Editor’s note, in Penny Schwinn’s further emails her title and address appears but I am taking them out for brevity’s sake)


From: Schwinn Penny <Penny.Schwinn@doe.k12.de.us>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Cc: May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Friday, August 28, 2015 1:25 PM
Subject: Error

Good afternoon,

I wanted to correct a mistake I made in my last email: DSEA and PTA members joined the AFWG at different points last year. I am happy to go back and verify which meetings were the first and/or which dates the conversations occurred. After sending the email, I double-checked and realized my error. Apologies for that.

Thanks,

Penny


On Aug 28, 2015, at 2:18 PM, “Kevin Ohlandt” <kevino3670@yahoo.com> wrote

Penny,

I already have that info because you were VERY thorough with your minutes on attendance! 🙂

Thanks,

Kevin


From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:kevino3670@yahoo.com]
Sent: Friday, August 28, 2015 4:47 PM
To: Schwinn Penny
Cc: May Alison
Subject: Re: Academic Framework Working Group

Hello again Penny,

Sorry to keep bothering you on this, but I did have some feedback or potential suggestions based on what you wrote back. 

*Include Board Presidents in communications around this group, not just superintendents

*I know the group decided Suspensions & Expulsions are already reported elsewhere, I think this would be an extreme disservice to parents, as this is one of the chief areas they look at in determining a school for their child, or even what town to move to if they are coming from out of state.  I would go so far as to ask for Bullying & Offensive Touching percentages for each school.

*Once again, I would request these meetings be open to the public, regardless of the time it is, with time allotted for public comment, or perhaps even an audio recording so parents know what was discussed.  I know this isn’t required by law, but it would greatly benefit the DOE to show this kind of transparency to the public.

Just some thoughts, and thank you again for the open communication!

Kevin

(you don’t have to call me Mr. Ohlandt, it makes me feel old, LOL!)


From: Schwinn Penny <Penny.Schwinn@doe.k12.de.us>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Cc: May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Friday, August 28, 2015 7:40 PM
Subject: RE: Academic Framework Working Group

Hi Kevin,

Thanks again for the email and the feedback! Here are some thoughts:

·        I think it is a great idea to email Board Presidents with the minutes of the meetings and to make sure they know when the meetings will take place. I will coordinate internally around this. I appreciate the idea.

·        The suspension and expulsion debate was long and thoughtful. I will say that there was overwhelming support for this indicator in theory. The challenge is that not all districts and schools track suspensions and expulsions in the same way, or even suspend for the same reasons. The group was worried that if it became a part of a rated accountability system, it would create a perverse incentive for schools to not suspend for things that they should. (We have seen this in other states, for example). I agree that it is an important indicator for families, so what we have decided to do at this point is to transparently post the information on the online version of the DSSF. This online version is scheduled to launch in June and would provide information and more detail on all of the indicators that we know are important. I hope and expect that the culture and climate survey will reflect the same type of information (“I feel safe at school”) for the paper version, and in some respects better capture how the culture makes children and staff feel, instead of the number of suspensions alone. Again, I agree it is important, it is just tricky to include if schools aren’t consistent.

·        I appreciate your feedback on the meeting format. Originally when I came to Delaware, the plan was to use the charter framework and there was an even mix of district and DOE staff to adapt this system. We instead decided to restart the discussion/create the system from scratch, and put together the AFWG as a way to ensure that we were soliciting the feedback of our districts; it was relatively informal, though very impactful given that I thought (and believe) it was important to limit DOE staff in the discussion (currently two people). We did ensure there were certain “non-negotiables” in place to be in alignment with the minimum federal requirements. As a result, the group is not  formal like the DESS and while we’ve communicated the meeting schedule to districts, you are correct that we have not done so on the web site. Frankly, it was not to keep people out, it was just the nature of the group. We kept detailed minutes and posted those (along with every presentation) as a way to add transparency. I give you this context only so that you understand the intent. I appreciate your thoughts on ways to continue to increase the transparency, which I hope you feel like we have genuinely tried to do, and will add that for discussion with the full team.

You also had one question that referenced participation rates that I do not believe I fully answered in my last email – apologies. You had wanted information as to the penalty for participation rates on the DSSF and I provided the background on our work to develop weights. I did not, however, give you the reason as to why it was included at all…. As a federal requirement, we must have a piece of the accountability system that accounts for low participation rates. This is exactly the same as what is currently required in AYP, which Delaware uses. We have minimized the impact of this as much as possible by making proficiency a very small part of our new accountability system – currently, it is almost 100% of the accountability system. This was something that the AFWG and districts discussed and felt like would be fair to everyone and minimize the impact of overall participation rates. In summary, we must include it and we have limited its impact as much as possible.

Thanks again for your feedback on this and for your ideas.  Have a wonderful (and warm!) weekend.

Best,

Penny


From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To: Schwinn Penny <Penny.Schwinn@doe.k12.de.us>
Cc: May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Saturday, August 29, 2015 7:39 AM
Subject: Re: Academic Framework Working Group

Penny,

Thank you for your last email and for the clarifications on things.  I did want to respond to those, and also advise you I am publishing this email chain to lift the curtain on these matters.  You referenced the “accountability part of the system that accounts for low participation rates” and that this is a “federal requirement”.  I checked in the actual ESEA requirements for the school report card, and it does include that an SEA and LEA must report the participation rate.

In the guidance document provided by the Feds for this, found here: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/titleiparta/state_local_report_card_guidance_2-08-2013.pdf, it states:

Participation rates on State assessments

An SEA must report the percentage of students who are not tested on the State’s reading/language arts, mathematics, and science assessments and must disaggregate those rates by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, migrant status, English proficiency, and status as economically disadvantaged (ESEA section 1111(h)(1)(C)(iii)). In the alternative, an SEA may report the percentage of students who are tested, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, English proficiency, and status as economically disadvantaged. If an SEA that has received ESEA flexibility has included one or more combined subgroups in its State differentiated recognition, accountability, and support system, it must report participation rates for each combined subgroup also. An SEA need not report disaggregated participation rates if the number of students in a category is insufficient to yield statistically reliable information or the results would reveal personally identifiable information about an individual student (ESEA section 1111(h)(1)(C)(iii)).

So I thought I would check ESEA section 1111(h)(1)(c)(iii), which states the following:

SEC. 1111. STATE PLANS. (h) REPORTS- (1) ANNUAL STATE REPORT CARD- (C) REQUIRED INFORMATION- The State shall include in its annual State report card— (iii) the percentage of students not tested (disaggregated by the same categories and subject to the same exception described in clause (i)); which states for clause (i): (i) information, in the aggregate, on student achievement at each proficiency level on the State academic assessments described in subsection (b)(3) (disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, migrant status, English proficiency, and status as economically disadvantaged, except that such disaggregation shall not be required in a case in which the number of students in a category is insufficient to yield statistically reliable information or the results would reveal personally identifiable information about an individual student);

For the LEA portion, I checked on that in the same guidance provided in 2013, which states:

Participation rates on State assessments

An LEA must report the percentage of students who are not tested on the State’s reading/language arts, mathematics, and science assessments and must disaggregate those rates by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, migrant status, English proficiency, and status as economically disadvantaged (ESEA section 1111(h)(1)(C)(iii), (h)(2)(B)). In the alternative, an LEA may report the percentage of students who are tested, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, English proficiency, and status as economically disadvantaged. If an LEA is in a State that has received ESEA flexibility and has included one or more combined subgroups in its differentiated recognition, accountability, and support system, the LEA must report participation rates for each combined subgroup also. An LEA need not report disaggregated participation rates if the number of students in a category is insufficient to yield statistically reliable information or the results would reveal personally identifiable information about an individual student (ESEA section 1111(h)(1)(C)(iii), (h)(2)(D)

While 1111(h)(1)(C)(iii) is the same as above, the LEA has the extra caveat of (h)(2)(B) which states:

(2) ANNUAL LOCAL EDUCATIONAL AGENCY REPORT CARDS- (B) MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS- The State educational agency shall ensure that each local educational agency collects appropriate data and includes in the local educational agency’s annual report the information described in paragraph (1)(C) as applied to the local educational agency and each school served by the local educational agency, and—

(i) in the case of a local educational agency—(I) the number and percentage of schools identified for school improvement under section 1116(c) and how long the schools have been so identified; and (II) information that shows how students served by the local educational agency achieved on the statewide academic assessment compared to students in the State as a whole; and (ii) in the case of a school—(I) whether the school has been identified for school improvement; and (II) information that shows how the school’s students achievement on the statewide academic assessments and other indicators of adequate yearly progress compared to students in the local educational agency and the State as a whole.

The 2013 guidance regarding participation rate goes on to state:

D-7. What information must an SEA or an LEA include on its report card regarding participation rates?

An SEA or an LEA must report the percentage of students who are not tested on the State’s reading/languages, mathematics, and science assessments and must disaggregate those rates by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, English proficiency, and status as economically disadvantaged (ESEA section 1111(h)(1)(C)(iii), (h)(2)(B)). In the alternative, an SEA or an LEA may report the percentage of students who are tested. If an SEA that has received ESEA flexibility has included one or more combined subgroups in its differentiated recognition, accountability, and support system, the SEA and its LEAs must report participation rates for each combined subgroup also. 

So now that we know what the Feds are saying in their guidance and applicable ESEA law in regards to reporting participation rate on the school report card, it is importing to spotlight what “participation rate” can not include as written in the 2013 guidance document:

D-8. May an SEA or an LEA count students without a valid score as participating in the State assessments?

No. Under both the IDEA and the ESEA, students without a valid score may not be reported as participating in State assessments on either the State or local report card (34 C.F.R. §§ 200.20(c)(3), 300.160(b)(2), (f)(1)).

At this point, my key issue with the ESEA Renewal Request submitted to the US DOE by the DE DOE on March 31st is that it was not the SAME ESEA Renewal Request that received public comment.  As I indicated to you before, the only available way of the public seeing the participation rate portion of the School Report Card was in the minutes for the AFWG meetings or by attending or listening to the audio of the State Board of Education meeting.  Since the PDF for the final AFWG meeting notes was not even created by you until March 20th, the day AFTER the State Board of Education meeting, and the State Board approved the ESEA Renewal Request that day which was publicly noted, the ONLY way someone could look for changes to the 3/1 draft would be to listen to an audio recording or happen to see the red-lined edition on 3/31/15 when this was added in which was also the same day it was submitted to the US DOE.  This is NOT public engagement.  There was absolutely no time given for public comment on this issue, nor has their been until this week.  Given the fact that there was vigorous debate over parent opt-out at the time due to House Bill 50, a parent opt-out bill that was pending in the General Assembly, it would have been crucial to that ongoing discussion to include this action by the DOE.  When the DOE and the State Board publicly commented on this bill during the House Education Committee meeting on 4/22/15 and the Senate Education Committee Meeting on 6/10/15, absolutely nothing was mentioned about this, even those who testified would have had FULL knowledge of this.  As well, most would think this would be a valid argument against opt-out.  However the fact this was NEVER adequately exposed to the public until I found this out on 8/25/15, nobody was the wiser to this issue.  If I were a betting man, I would go so far as to say the DOE, State Board and AFWG did not want this publicly disclosed.  As well, I would say there was conscious effort to withhold this information. Nowhere in the comments section of the ESEA Renewal Request did it say anything about this. I am operating under the assumption the DESS Advisory Council was not advised of this either, and even their notes from their meeting prior to the State Board of Education meeting on 3/19 notated some members serve in both groups creating a potential conflict of interest.

Sources: http://www.doe.k12.de.us/cms/lib09/DE01922744/Centricity/Domain/234/Delaware%20ESEA%20Flex%20Renewal%20Redline%20DRAFT%203-1-15.pdf (page 72)

 http://www.doe.k12.de.us/cms/lib09/DE01922744/Centricity/domain/232/esea/DE_ESEA%20Flex_Renewal_Redline_3-31-15.pdf (page 78)

Regarding the “federal requirement” for the accountability portion of the school report card in including participation rate on the School Report Card, it says absolutely nothing as using the participation rate as a penalizing measure in the formulations and weights for the report card grading system.  It merely states the participation rate must be REPORTED.  The participation rate already has a penalizing effect for schools.  Students who don’t take the test are still counted in the proficiency ratings.  Since this would obviously lower proficiency ratings for the overall school the higher the opt-out numbers, the school is ALREADY punished for opt-out.  But by adding a participation rate penalization portion of the school report card, you are in essence punishing a school TWICE for the same action.  As well, as written in the final ESEA waiver, with the weights included, if a school goes below the 95% participation rate they would not be able to get the highest level on the school report card, thus giving a school a potential THIRD punishment for opt-outs.  Since these last two are not required by the federal government, I would strongly suggest this AFWG group with very limited stakeholder input aside from district superintendents, two charter heads, one DSEA rep, one DE PTA rep and one State Board rep, along with one or two members of your group, immediately disqualify the participation rate portion of the School Report Card.

The 95% participation rate began because schools were not testing certain students so they could make their test results look better.  The way the laws are written around it, on a Federal and State level, are based on that past history.  Nowhere does this account for parent opt-out.  The schools are required to administer the assessment to all students.  Parents are not required to have the test administered to their children. This is the key difference here.  No law exists anywhere demanding this.  Therefore, the 95% rule is a fidelity measure for the schools to adhere to their responsibility as written in the law, not the parents.  If a school tells a student, “you aren’t taking the test because the school doesn’t want you to”, then yes, they should be punished for that because it would mean they are violating state and federal law.

Imagine if the General Assembly passed a law stating “We will allow opt-out but only 5% of parents can do it.”  It would be illogical and it would cause public chaos.  In essence, this is the message being sent from schools in our state to parents based on this insane dictate.  In their effort to prevent opt-out so their schools are not punished, some districts and charters are telling parents “No, you can’t opt out” or “Only we can decide who opts out”.  This has created a situation pitting parents against schools based on laws that only apply to schools or their employees, not parents.  Which is also why no school has received federal funding cuts based on participation rates below 95% which is caused by parent opt-out.  The laws are not written to reflect this, nor should they ever be due to the fact that children would be denied resources based on situations beyond their control.  The feds know this, which is why they left it to the State of New York to determine that with their high opt-out numbers.  New York is backing away from those cuts.  The legal challenges, if this ever did happen, would cause considerable expense to districts or charters, SEAs, and the federal government.

So while I appreciate the level of perceived transparency on this issue, it was not anywhere close to transparent.  In fact, many school board members were not aware of this at all until I informed them of it.  Parents, teachers, school board members, and citizens of Delaware are outraged by this.  They are mad, and they have every right to be.  They feel the DOE and the AFWG duped them, and their impression of them is not good.

I sincerely hope these types of transparency and public impression issues are corrected under the new leadership of Dr. Godowsky as Secretary of Education and I look forward to the pending but immediate removal of this participation rate section of the School Report Card in the Delaware School Success Framework.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt


Okay, now that you have read this long post and feel inclined to know more backstory on this mess, it started here and continued here but really, everything behind this is included here, here, here, and here and on a national level, here and here.

Is The DuPont Hay Road Dioxin Pile Already Leaking? All Delaware Citizens Need To Read This!

The below information was forwarded to me today.  It is an email from John Kearney with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families to Delaware State Representative John Kowalko.  Yesterday, Kowalko started a petition for the removal of a dangerous toxic pile of waste at the former DuPont currently Chemours site at 1201 Hays Road in Wilmington, DE.  The petition stated the following:
Protect the health of Delaware’s residents by mandating the total removal of the hazardous waste pile built from 1997-2001 by DuPont at its Edge Moor facility, containing titanium dioxide, benzene and other life-threatening toxins and carcinogens.
Governor Markell, we the undersigned demand that you protect the health and welfare of Delaware’s residents by mandating the total removal of the hazardous waste pile containing titanium dioxide, benzene, and a host of other life-threatening toxins at the Edge Moor facility, holding both DuPont and Chemours fully liable (jointly and severally) for any costs borne by taxpayers for cleanup.
This caught the eye of John Kearney with the Department of Children and Families over in New Jersey who did some rather clever detective work on this issue, and the below results are startling.  If I were a family living in this area, and you are facing any potential health issues, I would seek advice immediately.
Is DuPont’s Hay Road dioxin Pile already leaking?  I’m unsure whether DuPont passed this liability off via its recently conceived Chemours entity, but that veil can be legally pierced to hold DuPont responsible for this location; therefore I am going to continue to refer to this as the DuPont Dioxin Pile.
Wasn’t this supposed to be a lifetime cap solution?  Is their lifetime solution already starting to wear down?
Earlier today I read Jeff Montgomery’s New Journal story about the closing of the Chemours Facility on Hay Road and then I went to Google Maps to look at satellite images of the caped Dioxin Pile.  While looking at the Google images of the Dioxin pile on Hay Road, I noticed something interesting.  It looks like the pile has already been leaking and that they have patched it.  Grey material can been seen in the recent pictures of the location that is not shown in older pictures.   This grey material clearly looks like a patch that has been added by DuPont.
This first set of pictures was from the satellite pictures included with the August 21, 2015, News Journal story  regarding  the closing of the Chemours,  Edgemoor facility.    From these pictures, it looks like some green runoff has pooled in the south east corner of  the capped DuPont Edgemoor site (see below).  If you look close, it looks like the green material goes all the way up to the base of the cap.  See the next set of pictures below.  I have marked the locations with red arrows and labels.  The patch is not in the picture included with the  August 21, 2015, News Journal story.    
The pictures and News Journal story can be found here:
This is the picture included with the August 21, 2015, News Journal story: 
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image001.png@01D0E180.6950F080
Close up showing that the green wastewater extends all the way up to the edge of the pile:
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image002.png@01D0E182.28BAC030
The red arrows show what looks like could be the source of the leak because the green color can been seen all the way up here, the furthest west that this material can be seen.
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image003.png@01D0E182.28BAC030
Now, if you go to the current pictures on Google Maps.  There is a cap in this exact location.  The cap appears to be made of the same material that they have placed around the edge of the pile and the same material as a patch on top of the pile.  This ridge of material around the edge of the pile, almost looks like a bad caulking job in an old bathtub.  The patch in the latest Google pictures is clearly made of the same material.  Again, this patch is not present in the pictures included with the News Journal Edgemoor closing story.   There also appears to be less standing green wastewater in the more recent pictures.  See below. 
Another close up showing this cap is not present in the older Google Maps pictures:
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image004.png@01D0E182.99862D90
This series of pictures is taken from the current Google Maps pictures.  You can follow this link and see for yourself:
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image005.png@01D0E182.F04D72F0
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image008.png@01D0E186.85487550
Here is a close up of that same location shown above near the source of the leak.   A comparison between the picture included in the August 21, 2015, News Journal story and the current pictures found at the Google Maps website on August 28, 2015, indicates that this is a recent patch.  Current Google Maps images in use on the Google website can be anywhere from a few months old to, approximately, two years old. 
This is a closeup of the patch.  The grey material can be seen covering the entire area, where in the older pictures, no grey material can be seen at this location.
Conspicuous black line and current leak without the red markup.  This line also was not in the August 21, 2015  New Journal article about the closing of the Edge Moor facility:
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image011.png@01D0E185.CBE66B80
Why would this patch be there, if the pile wasn’t leaking?  Did DuPont report this leak to DNREC?  What is in this green wastewater runoff?  What toxins are contained in the runoff?  I sure would like to know.
Please see this recent story from the Huffington Post regarding DuPont and C8 as an example of how honest DuPont has been with these types of leaks:
John Kearney
Yesterday, James Dawson with WDDE/Delaware Public Media published an article about the toxic pile.  In this article, he wrote:

The nearly 23-acre site sits next to the Delaware River, east of I-495 and within a mile of surrounding neighborhoods and other waterways. Earlier this spring, Dupont installed more than 4,000 solar panels on part of the encapsulated pile that generate enough electricity to power nearly 150 homes for a year, on average.

Kowalko proposed legislation in 2007 and 2009 that would have forced companies to safely treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste they generate in Delaware according to federal standards.

“Once we allow these things to accumulate, eventually, we’re looking tragedy in the eye,” said Kowalko. “I think that we have to be more respectful of what we are using, what we are making, what we are distributing and how we are storing it in between distribution.”

The legislation did not pass.  While I don’t normally write about matters outside of the education/disabilities realm, this concerns me.  The Delaware DOE and their standardized testing vendor, American Institutes for Research questioned the overdiagnosing of special education needs for students with disabilities and openly stated Delaware’s percentage of students with IEPs was too high compared to most states.  I took great offense to this.  Delaware is known to be one of the most polluted states in the country.  Disabilities are on the rise across America, especially in Delaware.  The Autism Task Force stated they expect the number of Autism cases in this state to rise significantly in the future.  Is there a connection between the rise of disabilities in Delaware and situations like these that happen right before our very eyes while the Delaware government looks the other way?  In addition, how many cases of cancer and dangerous diseases could be attributed to these man-made environmental poisons?  Questions to ponder as this “capped” pile of toxic waste continues to pose a grave danger for all around it.

Email Penny Schwinn At The DOE To Oppose The Opt-Out Punishment In The School Report Card!!!!

It appears the Academic Framework Working Group will have a few more meetings heading into September.  They will be finalizing their decisions at their September 23rd meeting.  Today I had a very cordial email exchange with Penny Schwinn, the Chief Officer of Performance & Accountability at the Department of Education.  I found out the next three meetings will be on 9/2, 9/17 and 9/23 and I asked Penny Schwinn if they could be made public and for more stakeholders added to this group.

Schwinn indicated other than the non-negotiable items mandated by the US DOE, which have to be in there, the other items have not been finalized, including the participation rate penalty and the growth measures.  She said no weights for the school report card have been finalized at this point as well.  I did share with her that I felt far too much weight, as proposed based on their March meeting, is tied to the Smarter Balanced Assessment results.  In addition, I did advise her more of the school culture, such as suspension & expulsion rates and even bullying statistics should be added, as this is a frequent concern for parents in any school choice.

Schwinn also shared that all Delaware Superintendents will receive emails about the next few meetings and all have been invited to attend. She did not say anything about the Board members in each district, but I did request the Board Presidents be emailed as well since they have a large say in district matters as well. I also asked if the meetings could be recorded and released on the DOE website to show a level of transparency for the public.

This measure the AFWG wants to have with a participation rates for standardized testing being multiplied by the school’s academic performance is a punishment against schools. It is out of the school’s hands if a parent opts their child out.  It is 100% a parent’s right and their decision.  Penny Schwinn did indicate she is more than happy to receive public input on this matter and anything associated with the school report card and welcomes any input.  So please email Penny Schwinn and the accountability department at the Delaware DOE, DOEAccountability@doe.k12.de.us and include me in the cc: section with kevino3670@yahoo.com so I can get an accurate feel for the opposition to this punishing measure.

I suspect the State Board of Education will attempt to vote on this at their October meeting, without true stakeholder input.  This could be very damaging for our schools and teachers and students.  A poor grade for a school can cause a lot of public perception to sway parents towards one school or another.  This School Report Card is vastly weighted with the results of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which can not and should not be a determining factor for how good or bad a school might be.

As well, email your legislator, the Delaware PTA, the school board in your district, and anyone who you think might be able to oppose this.  If you have children in Delaware public schools, talk to other parents.  Let the principal know you oppose this.  MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!  Whether you support or oppose opt-out, this is not an accurate measurement of a school!

If Delaware Is Like Connecticut, Most Students Failed The Smarter Balanced Assessment

Connecticut, although larger in population, may be a good comparison for what Delaware can expect when we release our Smarter Balanced Assessment results next Wednesday, September 2nd.  Governor Malloy of Connecticut announced the statewide results today, and according to Jon Pelto‘s blog, Wait What?, the state did not do well on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Pelto writes:

“As designed, intended and projected, the vast majority of Connecticut students have been labeled as failures according the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC math test results.”

In fact, for the math scores, with a high of 48% proficiency in 3rd grade and a low of 31% proficiency in 11th grade, I would consider this an abysmal failure.  For special education students in math, only 8% made proficiency, English-Language Learners, 7%, and low-income, a range of 15.4% to 26.4% depending on their free or reduced lunch fee status.

Connecticut has some very wealthy areas, specifically in Fairfield County with many workers commuting to New York City from the suburbs.  Based on this, I would venture to say Delaware’s results will be worse than Connecticut.  Pelto, like myself, has been wondering when his state was going to release these scores.  With the track record of states releasing results, it seems like they are waiting longer to release them if the kids did really bad on the test.

I am hearing low-mumbled groans about some of Delaware’s results, but nothing I can officially talk about.  Delaware did not do well on this test based on what I am hearing, but I will wait for the “official” word on 9/2.  I am fairly sure the DOE and Governor Markell are dreading this day.  Not released in Connecticut are their opt-out numbers.  As I always say in Delaware, parents have the right to REFUSE THE TEST if they don’t think Smarter Balanced is a good assessment for their child.

UDPATED, 4:26pm: The Connecticut Department of Education released a briefing on the results.  The scores are so bad in this state, they can only compare them to NAEP results from two years ago…

Maryland Superintendent Lillian Lowery Resigned, Was Mark Murphy’s Predecessor In Delaware

Breaking News: Maryland Superintendent Lillian Lowery has resigned according to ABC Channel 2 News out of Maryland.  She will be going to a company called FutureReady Columbus to serve as the President and Chief Executive Officer.  The article describes FutureReady as “an education non-profit corporation with an initial focus on early childhood education, public policy, and community engagement.”

Lowery resigned as the Secretary of Education in Delaware in 2011.  She is best known for helping Delaware win the Race To The Top competition in securing Delaware $119 million a few years ago.  In 2012, Mark Murphy became the Secretary of Education, but he announced he is resigning as well a couple weeks ago.

The DOE, State Board & Superintendents Want To Get Opt-Out Punishment Into State Code Before January

This may very well be the most important article I have ever written on Exceptional Delaware.  Parents, teachers, and citizens need to know what is going on and how perceived absolute power corrupts and serves to belittle and demean those who don’t have it.  Those of us who have been fighting for every student’s education in this state can’t do it alone.  You need to TAKE the power from those who would punish our children, teachers, and schools.  You need to let everyone in the state know about THIS article, because the fate of our children’s future depends on it. Continue reading The DOE, State Board & Superintendents Want To Get Opt-Out Punishment Into State Code Before January

Public Comments From Delaware’s ESEA Flex Renewal Request

This can be read anywhere, but you came here!  In this document are the public comments from the public comment period prior to Delaware submitting their Elementary & Secondary Education Act Flex Renewal for the 2014-2015 school year.  There is a very specific reason I am posting this, which will be forthcoming in another article, but remember this…

The DOE Smarter Balanced Propoganda-Brainwashing P.R. Campaign Begins Now!

The Delaware Department of Education released their latest newsletter called “Take Note” today with a very important message about their upcoming release of the Smarter Balanced Assessment results.  I feel obligated to break this down and give my thoughts on each part.  As usual, DOE’s stance is in black, mine is in red (which John Young from Transparent Christina invented, at least on Delaware blogs).

The Delaware Department of Education will release preliminary statewide Smarter Assessment results on September 2. Final results will be released in mid-September, when families also will receive score reports.

But they have had the results for well over a month now, but they were too chicken to actually release them.  Instead, they met with every single Delaware legislator individually.  Slowly but surely, I’m hearing some results here and there, and they are anything but promising, especially among students with disabilities.

The test results will show children’s strengths and weaknesses in different areas within each subject. This will help families and educators understand whether children need additional practice or need to be challenged by going deeper into a subject. Families can use these results to locate activities online that were designed specifically for each category at every grade level. Families also can use the test results to guide a discussion with their children’s teachers about additional supports or challenges that may be needed in class, as well as other ways to support their children at home.

The test results will show this is a crappy test, period.  This won’t show strengths.  It will show the inherent weaknesses in THIS test.  How will this help educators who no longer have the same child in their grade this year?  It won’t.  When you say “need to be challenge by going deeper into a subject”, what you are really talking about is teaching to the test.  “…to guide a discussion with their children’s teachers…”  I said this the other day.  If you have problems with the test, call the DOE.  The teachers want to teach, not go over a child’s test results when they weren’t even their teacher.  They don’t know how your child answered or even what questions they were given.  Parents, the best way to support your child at home AND at school is to REFUSE THE TEST!

There are many resources available. For example, you can find Delaware-specific resources differentiated by subject, testing area and grade level at Be A Learning Hero’s Skill Builder site (http://bealearninghero.org/skill-builder). Also check out GreatKids! (http://www.greatschools.org/gk/) for more resources, including a new Delaware-specific tool launching Sept. 1. Using a child’s individual results, a parent or guardian will be able to find resources that will match the child’s areas of strength and areas for improvement.

If the teacher isn’t teaching to the test properly, you can go online and have the same thing!  Because every child wants to go home and do the SAME thing for a high-stakes test they won’t even take until next Spring.  (Unless you REFUSE THE TEST and they don’t have to worry about it!)

Find these and other great resources and information about the Smarter Assessments on the DelExcels (www.delexcels.org) site. There you also will find sample score reports for each achievement level, an interpretive guide for reading the score reports and an extensive FAQ document.

Or parents, you could help your child out with their homework, or spend time with them and talk to them about how their day was, or go for a walk in the park, or count stars…you get the idea.

Students took the new tests, which assess children in grades 3 to 8 and 11 in English language arts/literacy and mathematics, for the first time in the spring. The tests replaced Delaware’s previous Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS) state tests in reading and mathematics.

The U.S.A. is the ONLY country in the world that tests our children in all of these grades like this.  Something to be proud of…not!  DCAS was a much better test, and it actually showed growth, something this test doesn’t because there is NO growth model. And multiple states wisely jumped out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium because they knew it was going to be bad news.

The Smarter Assessments help parents understand how their children are doing and whether their children know and are able to do the things in each grade that are important for them to be prepared for the next grade level and the future. The tests show results in comparison to their peers in their grade levels and schools.  They also inform parents where their children need more support or additional challenges, which allows for more personalized teaching. Along with families knowing how their own children are performing, schools also benefit from knowing how all of their students are progressing, which enables educators to make the best and most-informed instructional decisions.

If it’s the first year of the test, how can the DOE say these tests “help parents understand how their child is doing”?  They can’t.  There is nothing to compare it to.  And they don’t show comparisons to their peers in their grade levels, they show comparisons to their peers from the LAST grade level, with a different teacher.  Your child is a guinea pig for the endless data machine that is killing public education.  Schools hate this test, and educators do as well.  The only ones that don’t are the ones who will use it to advance their own careers by sucking up to administration and DOE.  And how can teachers give “personalized” teaching when this test sucks the oxygen out of their entire school year?  And they have huge classrooms with little support?  Or are you talking about personalized learning, which is basically have the computer do all the talking and teachers just chat a little bit about it or go over homework?  No thanks.  I want my kid to be taught by a teacher, not a screen!

Next week’s score release will include preliminary aggregate results at the state, district and school levels. Final results, including analysis by student demographics and subgroups, will be released on Thursday, September 17 (but they have had the results for over a month) in conjunction with the State Board of Education meeting. Families will receive score reports for their students via U.S. mail beginning in mid-September.

Because the unelected State Board needs to know before parents!  What I really want to know is the number of opt-outs for each grade and sub-group.  The growth I want to see is how much that can be increased next spring.

In general, we expect fewer students to score at the proficient level on these exams than did on the DCAS. That’s because we are asking students to do more challenging work that will better prepare them for their futures. The new tests are measuring more complex skills including critical thinking, analyzing and problem solving, which is different than previous tests. A low score does not mean that a child did not improve or that he or she learned less. This first year’s test scores set a new baseline from which progress will be measured moving forward.

The first year’s tests will also punish schools by their participation rate.  Since the Feds said they can’t enforce federal funding cuts with opt-out, they are leaving this to the states.  The Delaware DOE, in conjunction with Delaware Superintendents and staff, with very little stakeholder input from other education organizations or parents, and almost no transparency passed this one on the sly.  A low score means the test is horrible Delaware parents!  If your child did well, they are probably good at memorizing what is on THIS standardized test because it was drilled into them for 7-8 months.  The DOE wants low scores, because if everyone does well, they have no basis for their continual high salaries and outside vendors they throw taxpayer money at, all in the name of the children.  Which is utter nonsense.

Back to normal color!  If you want to truly make a difference in your child’s education, REFUSE THE TEST!  Let’s get out of this high-stakes testing mentality that does nothing more than test, label and punish!  Just give the school a letter stating your child will NOT take the Smarter Balanced Assessment next Spring, and you expect your child to be educated during this time.  If the school wants to meet you to “discuss” this, politely say thank you.  If they pressure you, let me know.

Milford Superintendent To Retire After Two Failed Referendums

Referendum.  Many school districts in Delaware fear this word.  It can make or break a district.  No where has this been more evident than the Christina School District.  After two failed referendums last year, the district has been forced to make painful cuts to their schools and services.  Now the virus has infected Milford School District.  Like Christina, they experienced two referendums that did not pass.  In the midst of this, their Superintendent Phyllis Kohel announced her retirement at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.

According to the Milford Beacon, Kohel announced her intention to retire at the Milford School District board meeting Monday night.

“This is my 32nd year and it’s a very difficult position,” she said. “I like to think that I have, but I don’t know if I’ve ever worked so hard in my life as I have with this position.

“It’s very demanding and can be very disappointing at times, particularly when you’re in referendum mode as we’ve been in for the past two years.”

Mike Finney, the writer of the article, explained how Kohel served the school district for the past 31 years, and has been Superintendent since 2012.  As the second district this school year facing Superintendent and referendum woes, this could be a sign of things to come with Delaware’s antiquated funding system.  Meanwhile, in Wilmington, a commission of 23 will attempt to tackle this issue head-on and devise a new way of funding our schools.  This school year will be one of massive change in Delaware, between a new Secretary, Smarter Balanced results, parent opt-out, redistricting, WEIC, and an upcoming budget battle in the General Assembly that promises to be controversial.