Unraveling The Gordian Knot Around The Delaware DOE, AIR, DRC, CCSSO & SBAC

American Institutes for Research, CCSSO, Data Recognition Corporation, Delaware DOE, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

For many years, the Delaware Department of Education enacted policies and procedures with most of Delaware not aware of what was really going on.  This is changing at an exponential rate.  A Gordian knot is described as an unsolvable problem.  For years, folks in Delaware took whatever the DOE said as the gospel truth and there was nothing they could do about it.  The times, they are indeed changing…

For example, Senate Joint Resolution #2.  Sponsored by Delaware State Senator David Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques.  This resolution creates a task force to do away with unnecessary assessments because “students are being tested too much.”  Now I am hearing the DOE wants to increase the amount of interim assessments for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  So we will get rid of the tests that actually give immediate feedback for instructional growth, but have more tests aligned with the Smarter Balanced?  You have got to be kidding me.  I always knew this was a ploy to fight opt-out, but now we are seeing the scorpion sting coming from the backend.  They want ALL the assessments kids get to be tied to Smarter Balanced, all for scores on THIS test.  And let’s not even get into how much more money this will give the vendor for Smarter Balanced, none other than American Institutes for Research (AIR).  As if $38 million between DCAS and Smarter Balanced weren’t enough…

In a couple newsletters from the Delaware System of Student Assessments (DeSSA), they talk about Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) being the scoring vendor, but never reveal the actual contractual relationship between AIR and DRC, even though other states were openly talking about it.  In fact, it appears the DOE did everything they could to avoid anything seen as issues with the Smarter Balanced Assessment during all of the House Bill 50 debate.

The key words in this newsletter from May of 2015, which talks about the “assessment inventory” are as follows:

Ultimately, the overall goal of this project is to provide a balanced system of assessments incorporating a minimum amount of high quality testing while meeting accountability needs and the needs of the educators supporting student growth and maximizing time for instruction.

Source: DeSSA May 2015 Newsletter

We are also finding out how much AIR and DRC are closely tied.  DRC is not just a test scoring vendor.  In fact, DRC was recently announced as the testing vendor for the Badger Exam in Wisconsin.  And there are already accusations surrounding campaign contributions to Governor Scott Walker from DRC President Susan Engeleiter.  DRC is the scoring vendor for Delaware’s Smarter Balanced essay portions of the test.  But the Delaware DOE never announced this.  In fact, they danced around the question for quite a long time.  They said nothing about it.

In the same newsletter from above, the DOE is very careful about how they word things:

Delaware non-machined scored online items are being hand-scored by the Data Recognition Corporation (DRC). Delaware student items are being scored using the rubrics and student samples validated by educators from Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium states, including educators from Delaware.

Hand-scored results will then be combined with machine-scored results for reporting purposes. Our score reports will then be sent from our Delaware online platform vendor, American Institutes for Research (AIR).

Parent reports are scheduled to be sent out early August, providing student scores for testing in ELA/literacy and mathematics. An interpretative guide will also be distributed to support full understanding of the document.

The whole newsletter is actually chock full of information.  Too bad parents don’t get this newsletter.  But in the March 2015 newsletter, it indicates more about DRC, and the qualifications for their scorers.

High Expectations for Summative Scorers:

Step 1 – Screening

Four-year college degree in relevant scoring content area

 Educational/work experience related to scoring subject

 Prior scoring experience is considered

Step 2 – Interview

Personal interview

 DRC content-area proficiency assessment

Step 3 – Training

Item training

 Reliability calibration/validation

Step 4 – Ongoing Validation

Read-behind validation

 Ten percent double-scoring, supervisor review

 Ongoing accuracy review

Step 5 – Retraining (if warranted)

Re-assignment of scoring and all previously scored work

 Follow-up tracking for accuracy

 Dismissal from process and rescoring of scored work

Source: DeSSA March 2015 Newsletter

The DOE confirmed at the May 2014 Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens that none of these portions of Smarter Balanced would be graded in Delaware.  This article from Oregon Save Our Schools shows a great deal of concern with DRC as the “human scoring vendor”…

…confirmed that the test vendor (AIR) is subcontracting with a company called Data Recognition Corporation, DRC, to manage scoring of constructed responses.  They operate in much the same way the Measurement Incorporated and Pearsons scores the tests using random temp workers paid low wages. DRC is paying $13/hour, like Pearsons while MI pays $10.70. They all make the only qualification, a BA or 4 year degree in any subject. These low wage temp workers are not educators and not qualified to evaluate our students. They work under conditions that are not conducive to good assessment, sitting for hours reading huge volumes writing of students they don’t know.

So what is the relationship between AIR and DRC in terms of standardized assessments?  They both have strong ties to overall education policy due to their business relationship with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  These corporations pay a “membership” fee to get in, and then reap the benefits through numerous contracts with testing consortiums and state education agencies like the Delaware DOE.

Led by Executive Director Christopher Minnich, CCSSO describes itself as:

The Council of Chief State School Officers is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.

But good luck getting into any of their closed-to-the-public meetings.  In fact, they stress this is by invitation only.  As I reported last night, Mark Murphy and former Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery were both on the Board of Directors, but due to their recent resignations, they can’t be on the Board.  But that doesn’t mean other members of the DOE aren’t participating in the many different work groups within this organization.

Delaware DOE has a hand in the following groups at CCSSO: Accountability Systems and Reporting, Assessing Special Education Students, Science, Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction, and Supports and Interventions.  While CCSSO is very strict about quoting from their website, it is worth poking around at the CCSSO website to see exactly how many of the grand announcements coming out of the Delaware DOE actually come from this organization.  Everything from their recent announcements about educator effectiveness, to school leader programs, and even the Delaware School Success Framework seem to come from work done in this group.  Keep in mind this is a company, and it is not the United States Department of Education.  But they certainly assist in setting policy while they get paid handsomely by states and businesses.

Their business members, which they call “corporate partners”, include the following: American Institutes for Research, Data Recognition Corporation, Educational Testing Service (ETS), McGraw-Hill, Microsoft, Pearson, Scholastic, Amplify, Apple, College Board, ACT, IBM, Questar, Texas Instruments, and numerous other assessment and technology companies.  These members join at a Tier level, between 1-3, based on the amount of their entrance fee.

If you look at the contracts web page for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, you can see how many of these “corporate partners” are directly aligned with development of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

States also have to pay for CCSSO’s services.  Delaware alone has paid $770,572.00 since Fiscal Year 2011 in annual membership fees and payments.  All of the companies CCSSO works with have made billions of dollars on testing American public school students.  American Institutes for Research is at the top of the pack.  Some have theorized that the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium IS American Institutes for Research, but this has not been proven definitively.  But it is more than obvious AIR benefits from the need for high-stakes testing as blogger Mercedes Schneider wrote last year:

AIR does not question the self-defeating role that test-driven reform plays in compelling states to set “safe” state goals for an unrealistic NCLB  (including the lowering of state standards and watering down of state tests) in order to not have principals and teachers fired and schools declared failures and taken over in order to be “turned around” or handed over to privately managed, under-regulated charters. AIR assumes that test-driven reform is good and will result in some undefined international superiority evidenced by America’s achieving The Best Test Scores In the Universe.

But there is another home-hitting, *economic* reason for this AIR “CCSS and assessments” push:

AIR NEEDS CCSS because AIR is counting on profiting from CCSS assessments. 

AIR is the company that designed the pre-National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests which soon became the NAEP test as we know it.  They published report after report about how our schools were failing.  They were heavily involved with CCSSO who developed the Common Core State Standards (CCSS, not to be confused with CCSSO).  Then they developed the Smarter Balanced Assessment, many of the psychometrics for the test, and the algorithms for the test which creates the adaptive portion of the test.  And because so much of this is proprietary, they won’t even let state DOEs contract out the scoring vendor of THEIR test.  Only they can sub-contract.  Which they do to DRC, all the time.  But DRC is also known to be a recruiter for AIR, an assessment vendor, and other similar functions.  In this crazy world of corporate education reform, it is very hard to tell AIR and DRC apart.  But at the top of the assessment game, it’s AIR.  They not only created the need for the Smarter Balanced Assessment, they created the test, the benchmarks, the algorithms, and they are well-connected with the company that scores the essays from the test.  It’s all a big win for AIR as Schneider wrote in the above link:

So, for AIR to analyze state standards and assessments, compare those to national and international assessments, and find in favor of a set of standards that it cannot test because doing so would require AIR use assessments that do not yet exist but are nonetheless declared imperative for America to compete internationally– that is decidedly suspect given AIR’s past, current, and future aim to profit off of CCSS assessments.

But AIR doesn’t just get rich from state DOEs.  They have over 20 contracts with the United States Department of Education as well, as I reported in April in a very extensive article about AIR.  If you look at the contracts web page for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium you can see how many of these “corporate partners” are directly aligned with development of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

AIR also “helped” the Delaware DOE with their state educator equity plan, which drew the wrath of numerous inner-city school districts once the News Journal published a story blasting Delaware educators, especially those in Wilmington schools.

Source: Page 8, Delaware Excellent Educators For All Plan

AIR and DRC have their hands all over the education landscape.  And Delaware seems to be an easy target for their extensive work.  But our children do not benefit from their empire.  Delaware citizens are lied to all the time from state officials, or they aren’t given pertinent information.  Our educators are ridiculed and humiliated constantly, and the DOE doesn’t care.  They want this.  Make no mistake, this is a vast network of companies and US Government agencies, with tentacles everywhere, not just in education.  To untangle it all would take a great deal of time, and every time you think you have it figured out, like a hydra, two more take its place.

Since all of this culminates in the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the easy solution is the most obvious: REFUSE THE TEST!  Take away the fruit of all their labors, and what are they left with?  These companies have tried to mold public policy in their own self-serving interest to make more money!  At the end of the day, this conspiracy is all about money.  They are corporate invaders trying to take over public education because they want to make more money by privatizing it all.  This isn’t one political party that’s doing all of this.  It’s bi-partisan.  Because there is one thing that makes the world tick: money.  Either you have it or you don’t.  And in corporate education reform, these companies are getting it by the truckload every day!  You don’t have to be a prophet to see the profit.  But you do have to care to see this is not good for children at all.

Did Milford PAC Violate Election Laws In Last School Board Election? One Milford Parent Says Yes. Did Denn’s Office Agree?

Election Law, Milford School District

Last May, citizens in the Milford School District elected Yvette Dennehy to the Milford School District Board of Education.  As I reported at the time, Dennehy won by a landslide.

Milford: Dennehy 386, Evans 149, DelRossi 44

But was there something going on behind the scenes?  Milford resident Jenn Cinelli-Miller thinks so.  She wrote a complaint to the Delaware Attorney General’s Office of Public Trust for a legal opinion (which does not appear on the Attorney General website).  The opinion, seen below, was dated July 20th, 2015.

After the Attorney General’s office ruled on Cinelli-Miller’s complaint, she wrote to the media.  A letter appeared in the Milford Chronicle.  Cinelli-Miller gave me permission to reprint her letter here for context in this article:

Throwing in the towel

I grew up in Camden and graduated from CR. I then attend Wesley College in Dover and relocated to the Washington, DC area.   I spent almost 10 years working for the Federal Government before coming back to Delaware. When I decided to move back I looked at many areas but decided on Milford for many reasons. Milford reminded me of what Dover and Camden were when I was growing up – small and community oriented. I can’t say that now about where I came from but I can say it about Milford. But Milford has one really big problem – cronyism.

I always hope that we can get past this disease but I find, in Delaware especially, that it is impossible.   I moved here in 2006. By 2008 I was involved with Morris Elementary’s PTO and helping with events. I continued to get involved in education statewide as well as locally. I served on the Citizen’s Oversight Committee (CBOC) for the Milford School District from 2010-2014 and continued to attend meetings until recently. I was invited to serve on the University of Delaware’s Autism Education Committee for the Blueprint for Action that was developed to improve services statewide for children and adults on the spectrum. I have attended Individual Educational Plan meetings with other parents and I have met with (then) Lt. Governor Denn, the Director of Delaware’s Homeland Security and State Board of Education member and numerous Senators and Representatives to discuss issues in education in Delaware.

Why am I providing all of this information? Because I am so fed up and angry with everything I have heard and read in regards to the referendum I want you to understand how I got to this point. One of the recent letters to the editor asked “Where Were You?” I was working hard and volunteering for education – where were you? Until a year ago I had never even heard of you. You and another board member, at the recent community meeting, responded to my pointing out that Buccaneer Tomorrow had not distributed flyers throughout the town – as you had claimed, stated that it was “my job” to help. No, no it isn’t. My job #1 is raising my child. My job #2 pays my bills. I am a volunteer and have been for years. Welcome to the party.

In regards to the other Board member, I don’t know him personally, but at a community meeting a few years ago he approached me and told me “change causes chaos.” Not sure I want anyone who believes that around educational decisions. With no change you remain stagnant. Education should be constantly changing and advancing especially with our constantly changing world and technology. Which leads me to the Board – you all are elected officials. If you can’t handle criticism and you keep remaining defensive you should not be on the Board. Your skin needs to be much thicker and you need to be less defensive especially when community members are making very valid points. This Board has made several bad decisions and failed to listen to the community as a whole. I personally can say “I told you so” about many of those decisions. Your failure to even listen to the CBOC – an advisory committee – is proof that you have no desire to hear anyone else’s opinion.

I can only praise one Board member – Renate Willey – for asking questions and trying to do what is best for the students and the District as a whole. The other letter to the editor was appalling as it insulted students. However, I would agree with a community member who posted on Facebook “consider the source.” This letter should not have received a response – most importantly not from the Superintendent of the District. I have asked repeatedly that she stop responding and stop putting comments out that are not helpful. She responds just as the Board does – defensive and alienating. Stop – just stop!   I have tried for years to help. I have made points that have been scoffed at but then the same points are made by other community members and you ignore them as well. This District is dysfunctional. We need help and you refuse to ask for it from all members of the community. You ask for it from cronies. You ask for it from people who post pictures of them and their friends with the caption “We are Milford” under it and there are only 10 people all the same age in the picture. Really? Last time I checked Milford was made up of more than 10 people and of many different ages, nationalities, beliefs and personalities. That is what makes us a community. So it is with much sadness that I throw in the towel. Its someone else’s turn to take the wheel and try to steer this ship back on course.

With much love for Milford, the District and our Teachers, Staff and students

Jenn Cinelli-Miller

A few weeks later, she picked the towel back up and wrote a letter to several different media outlets in Delaware.  Not one of the newspapers or websites posted her letter.  She asked me to run it, which I am today.  I’m also including the email she sent to Delaware media.

From: Jenn Cinelli
Date: Tue, Aug 18, 2015 at 9:42 AM
Subject: Letter to the Editor
To: melissasteele@capegazette.com, Trish Vernon <thv@capegazette.com>, newsroom@capegazette.com, Publisher@seafordstar.com, newsroom@newszap.com, Andy West <awest@newszap.com>, letters@delawareonline.com, cbarrish@delawareonline.com, dan@delaware1059.com, “Finney, Mike” <mike.finney@doverpost.com>
Cc: dennis.kelleher@state.de.us, allison.reardon@state.de.us, coe_vote@state.de.us


My name is Jenn Cinelli-Miller and I am a resident of Milford, DE.  I am writing to you to correct the record about the Milford School District and the School Board Election held in May 2015.  Recently, the Milford Chronicle stated in an article written by its Editor that the District was “Cleared” of any wrong doing.  He went on to try to make my reporting the election misconduct seem trivial and the elected candidate even claimed that she was “exonerated.”  I find it interesting that she is able to speak to the media but not to the Attorney General’s office.  I served almost eight years at the Federal Election Commission in DC and ended my service as a Senior Compliance Analyst.  I take the election process seriously which is why I contacted the superintendent of the District in April 2015 to let her know that the candidate was receiving an unfair advantage by being given the platform of the referendum when the other candidates, who also supported the referendum, were not given the same exposure.  She ignored my concern and I finally contacted the Commissioner of Elections who advised me to file a complaint with the Attorney General.  Additionally, the letter from the Attorney General’s office dated July 20, 2015, states “If  the district knew that a member of Buccaneer Tomorrow intended to run for school board and they were using the referendum election to further that  effort, allowing them to participate in district-sponsored events might constitute misconduct on the part of the district, particularly if other candidates for school board were denied equal access.”  The letter goes on to state that nothing found in their investigation revealed that the District had any knowledge of the candidate’s intent to run.  On April 29, 2015 and again on May 3, 2015 the candidate appeared in local news publications (Milford Live and the Milford Beacon respectively) announcing her candidacy for the School Board.  I didn’t realize that an investigation would not check the public record for the facts.  Also, said candidate filed her Statement of Candidacy for the School Board election on March 4, 2015 and proceeded to participate not only as head of the Buccaneer Tomorrow PAC but also spoke at each and every public event and presentation on behalf of the District.  If this is not election misconduct I don’t know what is and it should not be allowed to continue.  This type of behavior is shameful and there should be consequences for it – at the very least removal of the elected candidate and a new election.  I ask that you publish the attached letter from the Attorney General’s office in its entirety and let the people of Milford decide.  I continue to fight for fair, honest reporting and elections.  The people have a right to know the truth.  
Thank you,
Jenn Cinelli-Miller, Milford

It sounds like Cinelli-Miller isn’t willing to throw in the towel quite yet on this issue, nor do I think she should.  What say you Delaware?