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

Academic Framework Working Group, Parent Opt-Out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment

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.

Two days ago, I published information about the Academic Framework Working Group (AFWG), a group assigned and picked by the Delaware Department of Education to design the “School Report Card” for parents to view school ratings and accountability.  This accountability scenario first became public about ten months ago when the DOE started pushing their online surveys that generated a great deal of heat based on the questions and ideas presented on them.  During the survey time, the DOE hosted Town Halls for each county in Delaware.

Behind the scenes, the AFWG was meeting since June, 2014 and planning all of this, with very little knowledge of any of this going out to the public.  This information is on the DOE website, but navigating through that maze, even with someone who knows how to untangle the knots, can be a lesson in futility at times.  This group began when Penny Schwinn became the Chief Accountability & Performance Officer.  Schwinn is best known in Delaware as the DOE face of the priority schools.

The following individuals made up the AFWG.  At first glance, I assumed there was no representation from Red Clay or Capital since I thought most of the members were superintendents, but I was wrong once I started looking into the membership.  Some folks joined as the group progressed, and I will notate that in this list.

AFWG Members:

Theodore Boyer: Red Clay A.I. DuPont Middle School Principal (he is marked as absent in ALL of the meetings)

Heath Chasanov: Woodbridge Superintendent

*Jason Conway: Lake Forest Superintendent, joined in December 2014, meeting #6

Sharon Digirolamo: Seaford Director of Special Education

*Bill Doolittle: Delaware PTA, joined in January 2015, at 7th meeting

*Ed Emmett: Positive Outcomes Charter School Director, joined in August 2014 at 4th meeting

Kevin Fitzgerald: Caesar Rodney Superintendent

Ken Hutchins: Capital Data Specialist

Mark Holodick: Brandywine Superintendent

Joe Jones: New Castle Co. Vo-Tech Director of Assessment & Accountability

Donna Johnson: Executive Director of State Board of Education

Chantel Janiszewski: DOE Accountability (left DOE in June to become assistant principal at Academy of Dover)

Jeff Klein: Appoquinimink Director of Research, Development & Evaluation

Sally Maldonado: Kuumba Academy Director

Gerri Marshall: Red Clay Supervisor of Research, Evaluation & Professional Learning

*Jay Owens: Indian River Director of Compliance & Accountability, joined in December, 2014, meeting #5

*Ryan Reyna: Delaware DOE Accountability team, joined in December, 2014, meeting #5

David Ring: Delmar Superintendent (didn’t attend most meetings, left role in Delmar in March)

Penny Schwinn: DOE Chief Accountability & Performance Officer

*Deb Stevens: DSEA Director of Instructional Advocacy, joined in February 2015, meeting #10 (of 11)

The first meeting was on June 30th, 2014.  Several DOE employees attended the first meeting, including former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy who gave opening remarks.  The first meeting was introductions, Schwinn explaining how this came about and what are the “non-negotiable” demands of the US Department of Education as part of the ESEA Flex Waivers, and defining what accountability is.

The second meeting, held on July 29th, 2014, was more streamlined with just the actual AFWG team in attendance, actually more like 60% of them.  It was announced at this meeting that this academic framework would NOT determine Reward, Recognition or Priority Schools.  This was prior to the Priority Schools announcement for Red Clay and Christina schools, but Schwinn was already hard at work on them at this time.  The key takeaway from this meeting was “growth is not a Federal requirement” as said by Schwinn.  As well, there are questions about how to measure growth with the Smarter Balanced Assessment when there is nothing to measure it by.

The third meeting, held August 7th, 2014, contains crucial information.  This is the first mention of the “school report card”, Schwinn and the group realize stakeholder input is crucial but limit this to existing agencies like all the educator associations (DSEA, DASA, DSBA), DESS Advisory Council and the Delaware Business Roundtable.  There was a lot of discussion about the “community survey”, which rolled out in October, 2014.  For the school report card, Part A is for the non-negotiable items and Part B is for “other factors” such as culture and climate, or community and families.  Again, only 60% of the group attended this meeting.

The group’s 4th meeting held August 13th, 2014, contains a key sentence which will play a huge part later on: “The group acknowledges that this process will be simultaneous with the ESEA Renewal (community feedback will be solicited for both concurrently).”  The group also begins looking at other states accountability systems.  It is decided that “closing the achievement gap” needs to be included in the community survey.

The 5th meeting is a huge time jump from the last one and is held on December 1st, 2014.  Ryan Reyna with the DOE joins the team.  The community survey town halls have all finished (which Reyna led along with Janiszewski), and the group is on a tight time-frame cause the DOE has to submit their ESEA renewal on March 31st.  Key points: no school can get highest rating if they are not closing their proficiency gaps or increasing graduation rates.  The DOE is also getting an outside contractor to determine “individual growth and growth to proficiency”.  This meeting mentions the “business rules” which are centered around assessments.  It is not revealed what these rules are, but they play a huge role shortly.

The 6th meeting, held December 19th, 2014, was held about a week before Christmas.  This is the first mention of “participation rate”: “Change language under “participation rate” to align with current business rules.”  This is a few weeks after the DOE released the suggested letters about opt-out to school districts as the opt-out spark begins to spread in Delaware.  There are still no members representing parents on this group, but the DOE is proud to announce Education Analytics will be the vendor for the growth determination on the report card. From their website:

We use student assessment and demographic data to predict how students would do on standardized tests under the guidance of “average” teachers. We take those results and compare them to what students actually achieved on the tests. This comparison helps us know the impact teachers have on students’ learning within a given time period.

Our models work because they are co-built with you to meet the needs of your district or region.

We’ll show you the impact of teachers, grade-level teams, schools, and districts on student growth. When our work is done, you’ll have student growth estimates in usable reports and know how to put these data into action.

This is yet another education reform company funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  I actually wrote about this company a week and a half ago when I discussed the DOE’s spending amounts in July.  Education Analytics received over $110,000 from DOE in July and over the past five fiscal years over $1,000,000.00.  Oddly enough, the DOE does not make payments to Education Analytics but University of Wisconsin-Madison even though the company lists themselves as their own company on their website:

“In 2012, we started as an outgrowth of Dr. Rob Meyer’s work on school and educator effectiveness at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  We’ve been expanding ever since.  Today we’re a non-profit organization…”

The AFWG finally got parent representation at their 7th meeting on January 14th of this year in the form of Delaware PTA President-Elect Bill Doolittle.  The part that shocked me the most was something that was talked about on the community surveys quite a bit: suspensions and expulsions.  This is usually the type of area parents look at first when trying to decide on a school for their child.  The group decided NOT to include this on the school report card.

The 8th meeting on January 28th, 2015 had the group deciding among themselves and based on community feedback from the surveys to hold off on the implementation of the report card for another year and to request this with the ESEA renewal.

As this group got closer to the March 31st deadline, the February 11th meeting really got into discussion about “participation rate” and how to incorporate this into the report card.  At this point, the news about House Bill 50 has come out, and parents are really starting to discuss opting out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Better late than never to get someone representing teachers, Deb Stevens with the Delaware State Education Association joined the team at the February 25th meeting.  This key meeting had the group agreeing that “consequences for not meeting the required 95% participation rate would lead to a reduction in a school’s overall rating.”  As well, Education Analytics recommended growth as “after the completion of pre-test and post-test,” which includes “multiple pre-tests”.  But the group has some issues with this as seen below…

The final meeting of which there are minutes for was on March 12th.  This was an important meeting for many reasons.  It was the last meeting before the State Board of Education meeting on March 19th.  They determined the weights of the grade determination on the report card.  The School Chiefs on the committee made a very strong statement.  Donna Johnson came out of left field suggesting a review of Regulation 103 be included in the timeline ahead and future planning.  And the participation rate in the state assessments was determined to be a punitive measure against schools by being multiplied by the proficiency rate of each school.  I did previously report this calculation would go against the overall score for each school, but it only goes against the “academic achievement” portion.  For high schools this is 25% and elementary and middle schools: 30%.  The “growth” portion carries more weight than academic achievement with 45% in high school and 40% in elementary and middle school.  However, with the exception of 10% of “College and Career Readiness” in elementary and middle school, 90% of their weighting and 100% of high school ratings would be based on performance of the state assessment, currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Some clarification: the State Board voted on this at their March 19th meeting for what was included in the state’s ESEA Renewal Request.  This system is not written in stone at this point.  The DOE is required to have more AFWG meetings (none of which are listed anywhere despite a May 2015 meeting which was “to be announced”.  I did email Alison May at the DOE to get some clarification on this.

The DOE did announce in one of the later meetings they got an intern to help out with this project.  While they didn’t announce who it was, I did find the intern’s description of his work done with their partnership with DOE and Education Analytics:

Through my work at Education Analytics, I supported the organization’s policy and data teams, particularly on a project developing student growth models for the Delaware Department of Education to measure teacher effectiveness and assess school accountability across the state. I assisted with all phases of the project, including working with the state to determine the models Delaware will use, preparing the state data and running the statistical analyses, and communicating the measurement process and the student growth results to education stakeholders.

The data analysis and modeling work was a direct extension from many of the concepts I’m developing through the La Follette School’s statistical sequence of courses. Just as valuable, Education Analytics’ approach to balancing quantitative expertise with policy-relevant decision-making captures a core ideal of the La Follette School community and my own set of values.

Through my work, I observed how Education Analytics staff approach the technical process of measuring student growth and it collaborates with partners to incorporate the measures within an education system, particularly in a given the policy environment.

What concerns me the most on this whole group is the severe lack of transparency.  I now understand why Holodick was so adamant against House Bill 50 and opt-out last Winter.  I can see why so many school districts fought parents tooth and nail over opt-out, because they knew this was coming.  But the crucial thing about all this is the school’s cannot control what parents do for the benefit of their own child.  If a parent decides, based on their own research, that they do not want their child taking the Smarter Balanced assessment, it is their fundamental and God-given right to do so.  To punish a school for a parent’s decision goes against the very foundation of community involvement.  But yet, key figures across many of our districts AGREED to this.  They said “Yes, we will control opt-out.  We will control parents.”  And by doing so, they sold students and parents down the river.  They caved and gave in to the Department of Education over their own students.

At no time during the many discussions over House Bill 50 and parent opt-out did this EVER come up.  Which is shocking, because it could have been an argument for the opposition.  But they hid it, without anyone the wiser.  They opposed opt-out because they believe our children should be given the Smarter Balanced Assessment and they are in league with the DOE.  Even more disturbing is the fact that a representative of the Delaware PTA knew about this and told no one about it during all of the House Bill 50 discussions in the House and Senate Education Committees and all of the talk during the actual votes on the House and Senate floors.  Delaware PTA even passed their own policy honoring a parent’s right to opt-out, and Doolittle said yes to this.  After he knew about this AFWG decision.

This is my prediction: the group will meet this fall to finalize all the details.  Since I now exposed this conspiracy, they will try to mitigate the expected fallout of their decision.  They will either take it out or press forward.  They may try to get the State Board of Education to pass it before the legislators come back in January.  Because then the General Assembly could override Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50.  The opt-out legislation would make it illegal for the Academic Achievement portion of the School Report Card to have this as part of their calculations.

But here is the catch, if you listen to this State Board of Education audio recording from March of this year, about 90% of the way through it, Penny Schwinn informs the State Board they will finalize the plan in the fall and it would come back for a State Board vote in either October or November.  And Donna Johnson states it would become a part of Regulation 103, which would write this opt-out punishment into Delaware State Law!  There are only two places the public would have known about this information prior to the article I posted the other day: a 15 second blurb on a 3 1/2 hour State Board audio recoding from five months ago or being able or even knowing about these AFWG meeting minutes.  This information, like the Smarter Balanced Assessment results, has been INTENTIONALLY withheld.  The DOE used all the controversy over extending the waiver for Smarter Balanced results to be used in teacher evaluations to muffle this.  The DOE are masters at distraction.

The PDF for the last meeting of the AFWG was not even created until March 20th, the day AFTER the State Board of Education meeting.  When I did a right-click on the file, it shows Author: Penny Schwinn, created March 20th 2015.  The DOE made it sound like this School Report Card was all part of the ESEA Renewal, but they plotted and schemed out of public view to get their own agendas in there.  Nowhere was this mentioned at all by anyone in the ESEA Renewal public comments, which is why I published it earlier today.

Delaware parents, it is now crucial you let the General Assembly know they need to override the veto NOW.  Not January.  The DOE and your own school leaders are conspiring against YOUR rights.  They see our kids as data, and proficiency, and achievement gaps, not as students.  Not as children.

The DOE and our school leaders want to prevent you from opting YOUR child out of a high-stakes assessment that has NO growth model, that has horrible scores that will be released in a few weeks, that the DOE based a proficiency number they pulled out of thin air, and our schools will be judged on this.  Your own child, by not making proficiency, will be labeled at their school.  No matter how they do in regular classwork, or homework, projects or classroom tests, they will be labeled a failure.  They will get specialized intervention, maybe a request to stay after school to get help, or even ostracized by their classmates if it gets out.  This is all from the minds of the DOE and Governor Markell and our unelected State Board of Education.  And our school leaders are ALLOWING this!  As well, they want to eventually punish teachers over these insane tests.  Do not allow it.  Teachers are the front line in your child’s education, not the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Email the entire Delaware Senate and House that you want them to be called back into session to do this.  Once again, with gusto, I present the 148th General Assembly e-mail copy and past list.  Email them ALL!

This is the ONLY way you can control this situation.  REFUSE THE TEST for your child, but also demand the General Assembly rises above these over-paid State employees and do the right thing for our kids!  You DO have power, you just need to use it.

UDPATED, 4:54pm: This is the email I just sent to all members of the Senate and House in Delaware:

To all distinguished members of the General Assembly,

I am requesting an override of Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50, to occur prior to October 15th, 2015.  My reasons for this are complex and with a lot of detail.  Please read the below article, which is VERY long but has all of the reasons and the justification for calling an emergency session to stop the absolute insanity that has overtaken our children’s education in Delaware.

I know I have had disagreements with some of you in the past, but this is not about me.  This is about the students in our state, who deserve the best education possible.  With this current high-stakes testing environment in our schools, our children are not only getting a bad education, they are getting a toxic education.  This is not because of the teachers.  It is because of the agendas and abuse inflicted on our schools by the Department of Education, Governor Markell, the State Board of Education, and even some of our district leaders and administrators.  This is not what education is.  This is madness…


Kevin Ohlandt


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

  1. Kevin you are spot on, again. Thank you for gutting this rotting fish. If parents don’t wake up, CHOOSE TO REFUSE, and stop this madness, they can kiss any hope for their children to have a positive productive future goodbye.


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