Final Minutes From AFWG Meeting Illuminates Controversy Over Opt-Out Penalties

When you have many district superintendents and administrators saying “Don’t do it!”, you would think the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and Secretary Godowsky would listen.  If you heard folks saying “opt-out is only going to get bigger,” you would think a voice of reason would go off in their heads.  But no, this is Delaware.  The state where King Markell reigns on high, telling all the little minions what they must do.  Below are the minutes from the final (for now) Accountability Framework Working Group meeting last week.  Interesting news about Jeff Klein from Appoquinimink buried in here as well….

An Open Challenge To Governor Markell, Secretary Godowsky & DOE Regarding Opt-Out

I just sent Governor Markell and the DOE an email with a request for the final Accountability Framework Working Group meeting on Tuesday at 10am.  Anything less than this will not be sufficient for myself and the growing number of parents who will exercise their parental rights to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To:
Godowsky Steven (K12) <steven.godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Schwinn Penny <penny.schwinn@doe.k12.de.us>; Reyna Ryan <ryan.reyna@doe.k12.de.us>; Markell Jack <jack.markell@state.de.us>; O’Mara Lindsay (Governor) <lindsay.omara@state.de.us>
Sent:
Friday, November 13, 2015 9:53 AM
Subject:
AFWG Meeting on 11/17

Good Morning Dr. Godowsky, Dr. Schwinn and Mr. Reyna,
I understand there is to be another Accountability Framework Working Group on 11/17/15 at 10am in the Cabinet Room at the Townshend Building in Dover.  I have to admit I was taken aback at Dr. Godowsky’s suggestion last week at the Delaware State Board of Education Retreat that he was not going to accept the AFWG’s recommendations for the Delaware School Success Framework.
What I am asking of the three of you for Tuesday’s meetings is actual documentation, on United States Department of Education letterhead, why Delaware would have to impose the harsh opt-out penalties based on US Congressionally approved laws and regulations.  I’m sorry, but hearing from Dr. Schwinn vocally about what US DOE requires is not enough.  I want to see, in writing, why this is necessary.  Vague letters from an employee no longer at US DOE, and non-regulatory guidance from US DOE is not sufficient.  Not for something this big.  The letter from US DOE provided to then Secretary Murphy places the burden of opt-out on schools, meaning they cannot pick students to opt out.  The law absolutely says nothing in regards to parental opt-out.  While I agree schools should not make that choice as some have done in the past, it is fundamentally, morally, and legally wrong to infer that parents can not opt their child out of the state assessment.
I am writing this on behalf of all the parents who have either already opted their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, those who will be doing so, and those who have intimidation and what amounts to bullying tactics perpetrated on them by schools in Delaware who are not honoring their parental rights which are the underpinnings of our society.  Parents should not live in fear about consequences for a school if they choose to exercise their fundamental and Constitutional rights, as established by the U.S. Supreme Court on many occasions.
If this is a mandate from Delaware Governor Jack Markell, I would challenge him to come to this meeting in person to make clear his justification and reasoning for this. If he is unable to attend, then I would like him to craft a letter on State of Delaware Governor letterhead with a legal basis for this mandate.
To not honor parental rights and to punish schools for a parental decision is a slap in the face to parents and schools.  If the intention is to punish schools for parental decisions, this is abhorrent and a disgrace.
Thank you,
Kevin Ohlandt,
on behalf of the Opt-Out Parents of Delaware

Secretary Godowsky Stabs Schools And Parents In The Back With His Cowardly Move

At the State Board of Education Fall Retreat today in Dewey Beach, Dr. Steven Godowsky made his first big move as Delaware Secretary of Education, and it was not a good one.  I have been writing the past couple months about the Accountability Framework Working Group and the Delaware School Success Framework.  At their last meeting in early October, the group unanimously agreed not to have opt-out penalties where the proficiency rate of a school was multiplied by their participation rate for the school report card.  They agreed to a lesser penalty whereby the school would have to write a report about how to improve the participation rate and no school could earn a status of “reward” school if their participation rate fell below the 95% mark.

Today, Dr. Steven Godowsky undid all the work this group did, their 14 months of meetings and discussion, and overrode their recommendations.  That’s right, the same guy who told the New Castle County school boards at their  combined school board breakfast just two weeks ago:

“It’s not a final decision, but it looks like from all levels of the department…that harsh sanctions will not carry the day,” he said. “There will be minimum sanctions that are required.”

So what made him override this?  Looks pretty easy to me: he got confirmed by the Delaware Senate last week.  If I had to guess, if he came across as the tough guy the Senate would have pounded him.  I never thought I would say this, but thank you to Senators Greg Lavelle and Colin Bonini for saying no to this guy getting confirmed.  All his lies about being more transparent and communicating better with the public.  He just gave the middle finger to the public school system and parents in Delaware by doing this.

Godowsky is a water carrier for Governor Markell and his buddies at Rodel.  He is NOT his own man, and he is a coward.  He met with members of the Delaware Senate before his confirmation to talk about the changes he wants in the DOE.  He will make no changes without Jack Markell whispering in his ear, I can guarantee that!  This jacked up move of his assures the State Board of Education will vote on this and pass Regulation 103 which will put this into the books at their November 19th meeting.  And now schools will be coming up with even more nonsense concerning opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Delaware Parents: Just refuse the test now.  Do not lie down and let this happen.  Let’s beat New York’s 20% opt-out rate, and get it up to 50%, or higher!  The only way this cockamamie test is going to go away is unless we MAKE it happen.  That’s right, We The People!  I was starting to believe Godowsky’s line of crap about making things better.  I know he has his defenders, and I’m okay with the heat I’m about to get, but this man is a liar!  He is worse than Mark Murphy, because he does have the experience, and he is still okay with putting the screws to the public school system.  And he used to run a few of them!

If the 148th General Assembly doesn’t override the House Bill 50 veto by the equally cowardly Governor, there is going to be hell to pay for those who say no.  And if the leaders don’t even let it get to a vote, they will NOT be re-elected.  I will make damn sure of that!  We have all been victims of Jack Markell for far too long, and now he is on the cusp of completely destroying parental rights and the voice of educators.  The State Board is in Markell’s pocket just as much as Godowsky.  So we need to strike NOW!

Email your legislators today and start pounding the State Board of Education right away.

Delaware Receives Extension Of Time On ESEA Renewal Waivers

The United States Department of Education granted Delaware an extension on their latest Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Renewal.  The deadline had been October 31st, but the Delaware DOE was granted a reprieve until November 24th.  This will allow the State Board of Education to vote on the Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF) which is the only pending item from Delaware’s ESEA Flexibility Renewal originally approved in July.

The DSSF gained quite a bit of controversy when this blog revealed to the public there were plans to have harsh penalties to Delaware schools if they missed the 95% participation rate based on opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The Accountability Framework Working Group met in September and October and the group opted for the participation rate penalty of no school being a Reward School if they did not meet the 95% threshold.  As well, schools must write a report to the DOE on how they plan to get the participation rate back up.  A high school in Red Clay had 40% participation with high school juniors.  The prior penalty had the proficiency rate of schools multiplied by the participation rate.

This could still happen if the State Board of Education, who has the final say, votes for that part of the school report card.  The State Board of Education meets on November 19th.  Public comment will not be allowed on this due to it being an action item for the meeting.  The new Secretary of Education for Delaware, Dr. Steven Godowsky, said he doesn’t think the multiplier will be approved by the State Board, but he did not come out and say this as a definite.  The DOE claims they MUST have some type of punishment, but this is highly controversial based on the US DOE not having this written as a law or approved regulation.  The US Congress has never approved anything of this sort.

If the State Board does pass the multiplier penalty, look for the DOE and State Board getting a ton of grief.  In the end, the final say is actually Delaware Governor Jack Markell.  The Secretary and the State Board are appointed by Markell, and they “serve at the pleasure of the Governor”.

AFWG & Penalty For Participation Rates Still Alive While DOE Racks Up More FOIA Violations

Before you read this, you absolutely have to read State Rep. Kim Williams breakdown of their last meeting.  This is essential!

Okay, welcome back.  The Accountability Framework Working Group met last week for their second to last meeting.  Their next meeting will be on October 5th at 1:00pm.  I put all the notes from their first 11 meetings here and they have since updated the DOE website to include the notes from Meetings #12-14, and Agendas for #14 and #15.  Keep in mind the notes were written by the Delaware DOE.

Meeting #12 happened the same day I broke the news about this group and the whole participation rate thing.  I had not delved too deep into it at this point, and it would stand to reason the meeting happened around the same time as my article went up that day.  The key part from this meeting is this:

…as well as ensuring that schools with significant achievement gaps in ELA and Math proficiency and the four-year graduation rate do not receive the state’s highest rating.

Of particular interest is this part about what is required under ESEA and what constitutes a school getting the highest rating.  This will play a huge part later on in this article.  This meeting also had the first mention of Regulation 103 which had already been submitted to the Delaware Register of Regulations at this point.

Meeting #13 was held on September 2nd.  I don’t know how many members of the AFWG were aware of my articles on this group at this point, but I know for a fact at least three of them were.  Nothing was said about participation rate or Regulation 103 at this meeting as per the notes.

Now where things get really interesting, and nobody really knew, was the DOE all of a sudden put out an agenda for the next meeting of the AFWG on September 17th.  By state law, if you are putting out an agenda, it has to be done a week ahead of time if it is a public meeting.  This agenda was NOT on the DOE website as of 9/14/15 because I looked that day.  If you look on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar you can see this listed as a Public Meeting.  However, if you right click on the actual PDF created by Jennifer Roussell at the Delaware DOE on 9/16/15 at 8:36am in the morning, the Delaware Department of Education violated FOIA law by not announcing this a week earlier.

The proverbial stuff hit the fan at Meeting #14 on September 17th.  This was the same day as the State Board of Education meeting and news of Regulation 103 and its implications for Delaware schools spread like wildfire prior to this meeting.

Note that the group unanimously voted down the participation rate against proficiency.  But the AFWG does not have the final say on this.  That is the State Board of Education, who had quite a bit of discussion about this along with members of the public at their meeting that day.

But what the AFWG member who spoke at the State Board of Education meeting did not say was this:

The AFWG members present unanimously recommended removing Participation Rate for the Adjusted Proficiency calculation. Further discussion on the accountability consequence for schools missing the 95% target was requested. Initial feedback supported a rule that no school could receive the highest performance rating on DSSF if they missed the 95% threshold.

Since that meeting, I requested from Dr. Penny Schwinn and Ryan Reyna at the Delaware DOE the exact law, code, or regulation which states participation rate is required to be any part of a state’s accountability system.  As well, Schwinn said at the 9/17 State Board of Education meeting she was going to request this from US DOE.  To date, NOTHING has been presented.  I spent countless hours going through federal laws concerning this and ESEA waiver laws, rules and guidance, and there is absolutely NOTHING in Federal law that states this is a requirement.  NOTHING.  DOE knows this, but they are stalling.  AFWG needs to stop relying on the word of Penny Schwinn and actually research this for themselves.  But please keep in mind this is what the DOE wrote in the notes and may not actually be what was discussed.  If any member of the AFWG wants to contact me about this, please do so.

Last week, on 9/23/15, the AFWG held their 15th meeting.  Again, an agenda was put up, without 7 full days notice.  It is one again on the Public Meeting Calendar and this one even says there can be public comment at the meeting.  If you do the right-click thing again on this PDF and go to document properties, it was created on 9/17/15.  Two public meeting FOIA violations.

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams attended this meeting as I wrote earlier.

The group will meet again on 10/5/15, but you won’t find it on the DOE website.  You have to look in the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar again but at least they got the agenda out more than seven days before the public meeting.  Maybe they were thinking if you add up all the days together for the last three meetings that would be sufficient enough to get a total of twenty-one days.  But that is some fuzzy math, cause that would only be seventeen days…

This will (for now), be the last meeting of the AFWG.  Will you be there?  Of course, it’s on a Monday afternoon, during that oh-so-convenient time for working parents and teachers to come.  But we can’t interfere with the State Board of Education’s Grotto’s Smarter Balanced party at 4pm.  Or the Charter School public hearings beginning at 4pm.

But this has to be the last meeting because it needs to be presented to the Delaware Education Support System group the next day, also during the same hours between 1-4pm.  The group that has no agenda and does not take minutes for their meetings.  Because it is so important to present it to this clandestine group but not parents in a transparent way…

This whole thing has become the biggest debacle in DOE history.  They are breaking the law all over the place.  And yes, I have already submitted two more FOIA complaints for their latest public meeting decisions concerning the AFWG for a grand total of seven pending complaints with the Delaware Department of Justice and two with the federal US DOE.

 

 

Breaking News: Delaware DOE Has NO Contract w/Scoring Vendor for Smarter Balanced…Who Does?

For the past couple days I have been emailing the Delaware Department of Education for simple answers to simple questions:

Why does Delaware Online Checkbook show no payments going out to the scoring vendor for the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  Is it under a different name than Data Recognition Corporation?  If you do not pay them, who does?

I received no responses until I included more names on the email of folks who do not work at the DOE.

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To: Blowman David (K12) <david.blowman@doe.k12.de.us>; Murphy Mark <mark.murphy@doe.k12.de.us>; “sgodow@udel.edu” <sgodow@udel.edu>
Cc: Haberstroh Susan Keene <susan.haberstroh@doe.k12.de.us>; Schwinn Penny <penny.schwinn@doe.k12.de.us>; May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2015 10:38 AM
Subject: Data Recognition Corporation

Good morning all,

I’m not sure who would be able to answer this question, so if none of you are able to could you please forward this to the appropriate party at Delaware DOE to answer this question.

I have looked on Delaware Online Checkbook for any payments sent to the scoring vendor for the Smarter Balanced Assessment, Data Recognition Corporation, and I have seen no payments sent to them which is very unusual.  Are payments sent to them under a different vendor name or does American Institutes for Research send them their payments?

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt


From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:kevino3670@yahoo.com]
Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 10:12 AM
To: Blowman David; Murphy Mark; sgodow@udel.edu
Cc: Haberstroh Susan Keene; Schwinn Penny; May Alison
Subject: Re: Data Recognition Corporation

Hello again,

I am not sure why anybody is responding to this email.  I have found, consistently, when the Delaware DOE does not respond to very specific questions like this, there is something to hide.  I can find the answers other ways, but it will not make the Delaware DOE look good.  Is there another organization paying for Data Recognition Corp’s services?  If so, why?

I’m sure you do not see it this way, but I am actually trying to work with you folks, but when I get no response or vague comments without facts, it speaks volumes.

Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt


From: May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>; Blowman David <david.blowman@DOE.K12.DE.US>; Murphy Mark <Mark.Murphy@DOE.K12.DE.US>; “sgodow@udel.edu” <sgodow@udel.edu>
Cc: Haberstroh Susan Keene <susan.haberstroh@doe.k12.de.us>; Schwinn Penny <Penny.Schwinn@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 12:33 PM
Subject: RE: Data Recognition Corporation

Kevin,

Thank you for your inquiry. To confirm, we received your public information request on Sept. 21. Under the FOIA statute (http://www.doe.k12.de.us/domain/196), the department’s response is due by Oct. 12. 

In this case, we have no records in response to your request. The Delaware Department of Education does not have a contract with nor has it made any payments to Data Recognition Corporation.

Alison


So there we have it, the Delaware Department of Education has no contract with Data Recognition Corporation.  So who does?  While in the area I went to the DOE office in the Townsend Building and spoke with Alison May.  I reiterated the information she conveyed to me in her email, and she advised me AIR has a sub-contract with Data Recognition Corporation.  For those of you who may not be aware, AIR is American Institutes for Research, the actual testing vendor for the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Delaware, along with many other states.  AIR pays Data Recognition Corporation to score the very same test they created.  Nobody knows how much.

To add insult to injury, Data Recognition Corporation was part of my FOIA request to the Delaware DOE last March.  The one where they overcharged nearly $7000.00 based on a legal opinion generated by the Delaware Attorney General’s office when I filed a complaint.  At no time during the constant email exchanges between the DOE and myself, and to my knowledge, since it is mentioned nowhere in the response to my FOIA complaint, did they convey this to the Attorney General’s office as well.  Six months later we are just now finding out this information.

Stay tuned, because I have a lot more to say about this and the many connections with Data Recognition Corporation and American Institutes for Research.  In the meantime, just put American Institutes for Research in the search box on this blog, and tell if you think it is right that this company which has made $38,000,000.00, just in Delaware alone, hires the scorer for their own assessment.  The plot thickens…

Interesting FYI: When I went to speak with Alison May, in the Cabinet Room next door there was a meeting.  It was the Accountability Framework Working Group.  To be a fly in the wall during that meeting…

 

The Oxymoron At The State Board of Education Retreat Today **UPDATED**

The hardest part about writing this article was coming up with the title.  There were so many things I could have named it.  Such as “It could have been worse, it could have been rocket ships.”  Or “Vermont and Connecticut are really going to hate Delaware soon.”  Or “We gotta grow them.”  Or “Is it still an embargo if they reveal it at a public meeting?”  In any event, I attended part of the State Board of Education retreat today.  I arrived at 1:30pm, and I was the ONLY member of the public there.  I received some stares.  All but two members of the State Board of Education were present.  Those that were there were President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Vice-President Jorge Melendez, Gregory Coverdale, Pat Heffernan, and Nina Bunting.

When I got there, head of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit Christopher Ruszkowski was giving a presentation on, what else, teacher effectiveness.  There was a slide up which said TEF- 5 charters, TEF- 6 charters, Freire, Colonial, Aspira.  If I had to guess, these are schools or “collaboratives” that have or will have their own teacher evaluation system.    The Rus Man (sorry, spelling his last name is a huge pain!) said Lake Forest School District believes DPAS-II is more equitable.  Rus said “Districts not using the new evaluation methods are not as successful.”  He explained how some districts get “caught up in the structure” and “the rules”.  He said principals want more high-quality data, and they are having better conversations about Measure B in the DPAS-II system.

This was followed with a presentation by Dr. Shana Ricketts.  She explained how that state trained 125 principals over the summer, and there will be training sessions over the next two weeks, and DSEA will be holding workshops over the changes in the DPAS-II.  The Rus Man explained how Delaware has the “most decentralized system in the country for teacher evaluations and goals are different across the board.”  A question came up about assessments.  Discussion was had about reducing assessments even more.  “If we standardize chemistry exams why have teacher ones as well,” Rus Man asked.  “But some are teacher-created, which is good cause it shows growth.”  Dr. Gray responded with “Gotta grow them!”  Rus man explained how “teachers need to be empowered”, “our obligation to be world-class is students have to be proficient when they graduate”, and “We are trying to ask the right questions.”  Rus man also said “There is not enough rigor.”

At this point, Dr. Penny Schwinn came in, followed shortly by Ryan Reyna, who works under Schwinn.  Actually, I should say next to her as they are both easily the two tallest employees at the DOE.  While I was distracted, Rus Man said something about “Commitment to proficiency…mindblocks….set the target, work my way back” followed by something about the “culture of the building”.  To which board member Pat Heffernan responded with “We can’t put blinders on and have no idea.”  Gray responded with “We want growth AND proficiency!” followed by “We don’t set the goal based on average, we set it on growth.”  Rus Man responded by saying “We are to be compared to everyone.  Not Delaware, not other states, but everyone in the world.”  He stated our principals are aware of this.  Someone asked if our principals understand this.  He explained how the alternative is the “same way we’ve done for 100 years, mastery of standards to grade book…”  Gray burst out that “It should be proficiency based!”  Board member Nina Bunting thanked Rus Man for the presentation and said “It was very informative.”  Heffernan said we need to “encourage principals to encourage good data entry.”

The State Board took about a ten minute break at this point.  Dr. Gray asked how I was doing, and I proceeded to tell her all about my hernia and my operation.  She explained how her brother had that done.  I asked if it was stomach or groin.  She said stomach. I told her mine was groin.  She just kind of stared at me for a few seconds, unsure of what to say.

At this point the accountability trio of Dr. Penny Schwinn, Ryan Reyna, and Dr. Carolyn Lazar began to give a presentation on Smarter Balanced.  I actually asked if this meeting had any embargoed information I shouldn’t know about.  Donna Johnson, Executive Director of the State Board of Education, explained this is a public meeting.  Most of the information was already on the state DOE website.  Lazar explained how 21 states took the field test, and 17 Delaware districts participated.  All told, 4 million students took the field test in the USA.  Schwinn explained how elementary schools outperformed middle schools and high schools in both math and ELA.  Heffernan asked if this included charters on the data they were seeing, but Schwinn explained the charters were on a separate slide.  Lazar said there was a 15 point gap between Math and ELA, but the “claim area” was only 10 points.  At this point, Dr. Gray asked what the proficiency level was.  For the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Lazar explained it is the students who score proficient or above.  That is good to know!  Next they went over slides showing how close or how far districts were between Math and ELA scores.  Donna Johnson commented how Capital School District’s proficiency lines attached which is very unique.  Schwinn responded that this “speaks to the rigor of assessment.”  Schwinn brought up the student survey and said that 7,000 students self-selected to perform the survey at the end of the test.  Dr. Gray said that isn’t statistically normed.  Schwinn explained it was not, but the survey will become automatic next year, like how it was on DCAS.

Michael Watson, the teacher and learning chief at the DOE, presented next on Smarter Balanced in relation to teaching and instruction.  He explained how we need international assessments so we can compare against India and China.  He explained how Delaware had “strong positive indicators with National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) trends.”  Watson proceeded to show the board a chart showing how Delaware compared to nine other Smarter Balanced Assessment states that released their data.  Delaware came ahead for literacy in third to fifth grade, but much lower in ELA for 8th grade.  Next, Watson gave a long talk about comparing Delaware to Connecticut with Smarter Balanced results and the two states NAEP results.  He found that Delaware trailed behind Connecticut in NAEP, but we were closer to their scores with Smarter Balanced.  I wanted to burst out “That’s cause SBAC sucks so I would expect most states to suck equally on it”, but I bit my tongue.  But as I thought about it, comparing two different states NAEP scores to SBAC is like comparing a clothing store to Chuck-E-Cheese.  There really isn’t a comparison as they are two different entities.  In talking about the states Delaware scored near the same as on SBAC, Watson actually said “Either Connecticut and Vermont didn’t take SBAC seriously or we are working harder.”  Bunting explained how in Indian River, “when state says jump we say how high!”

**At this point, Watson looked over at me and said the next slide is embargoed information but he presented it anyways.  So I can’t write about the embargoed information presented to me at a public meeting about a survey done showing that in Delaware, 88% of Superintendents feel we have implemented Common Core, followed by 87% of principals and 67% of teachers.  For some reason, this is top-secret embargoed information that won’t be released until next month or something like that. (**SEE UPDATE ON BOTTOM)

I had to leave to pick up my son from school.  I brought him home and checked my email real quick.  I did get an email from Yvette Smallwood who works for the state on the Delaware Register of Regulations.  She informed me, in response to my request they remove Regulation 103 from their September publication due to issues of non-transparency surrounding it, that they couldn’t remove it but the DOE did agree to extend the public comment period until October 8th, which would be 30 days after Regulation 103 was put on this blog!  I drove back to the State Board retreat and as I walked in I heard Dr. Gray talking loudly about parents needing to understand.  At which point Reyna pointed to a chair for me to sit in and Dr. Gray stopped talking about whatever parent thing she was talking about.

The infamous “toolkit” has been fully released on the Smarter Balanced website.  It includes a link to the DelExcels website, some other “very informative” websites called Great Kids and Be A Learning Hero.  The DOE is working with DSEA to get information out for parents to understand the Smarter Balanced results.  According to Donna Johnson, many districts are excited to get the information to parents, and are aligning curriculum and professional development in an effort to gain more awareness.  The DOE is working with superintendents, principals, social media, and their partners (Rodel).  The test results won’t be mailed out from the DOE until Friday, September 18th and Monday, September 21st.  Which is probably their way of screwing up my well-designed article from earlier today about education events this week…  But I digress.  Schwinn said the resutls will come out earlier in future years, but this is a transition year.  Johnson said “some districts are excited to dig in” with releasing data.  Lazar explained how teachers are getting “claim spreads” which are tied to “anchor data”.  At this point, it’s all Greek to me when they start speaking in that language.  The DOE is working with journalists (no one asked me, and I had already received embargoed information at a public meeting) to write articles on how to educate parents on “how to read reports and grade spreads”.  Because parents don’t know how to do that.  I don’t think parents are confused about the data.  They will be confused why Johnny is doing awesome with grades but he tanked the SBAC.  And no one will be able to present this to them in a way they will clearly understand so hopefully they will come up with the same conclusion as many parents already have: Smarter Balanced sucks!

At this point, Johnson wanted to play one of the new videos, just released Friday in an email blast to anyone the DOE has worked with (which didn’t include me, but I got it forwarded to me on Friday).  So here it is, the world premiere (if you haven’t been so blessed to be included in the email blast), of the Delaware DOE Smarter Balanced Guide For Parents Video 2015:

http://www.doe.k12.de.us/cms/lib09/DE01922744/Centricity/Domain/4/DE_REPORT_VIDEO_REVISED_MIX_1.mp4?_=1

*video may not be working, I will work on it…

This won’t be the last time you hear this video, because apparently some districts want to put this on their morning announcement! I kid you not…

This next part is actually somewhat frightening.  When asked how many hits the DOE website is getting for this, Johnson was unable to answer, but they can track the hits or work with partners on sites they don’t own to get that information.  Tracking plays a LARGE part later on in this retreat…

The final part of the presentation was my whole reason for coming: The Delaware School Success Framework.  A slide came up from the State Board of Education agenda for Thursday’s meeting, but it had attachments that said “embargoed”.  These links don’t appear on the public agenda.  There was a lot of whispering between Penny Schwinn, Shana Young, and Donna Johnson at this point, as if they could be discussing something they didn’t want me to hear.  I don’t obviously know this for sure, just a hunch! 😉

She went over the state’s new accountability system called the Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF).  I covered most of this last week in my Regulation 103 article and how much of a game-changer this system is, but I found out quite a bit of information on it today.  The DSSF will go live next month with what they are calling the “paper framework” until the full online system launches by June 2nd (a must date according to Penny Schwinn).  Schwinn said the reason they are including 4, 5, and 6 year graduation rates is because of special education students who may not graduate in four years.  She proudly said “Delaware is the first state to have college and career preparation” as part of the state report card (which is what the US DOE calls state accountability systems).  When talking about the Accountability Framework Working Group (AFWG), Schwinn stated Ryan Reyna is leading this group.  She said there is a lot of opinions in this group, and not everyone is going to agree, which makes it a good group.  She said no accountability system is going to have 100% agreement, so it took some compromising.

“Delaware has the most aggressive rate in the country for growth,” Schwinn said.  This was her explanation for the VERY high portion of the DSSF which has growth.  She said it “feels more appropriate with Smarter Balanced to set the bar high.”  She acknowledged they are “pushing it with US DOE” but feels they will be approved.  How this all works with the DSSF is this.  There is a Part A, which counts toward a school’s accountability rating, and Part B which will show on the DOE website and is informative in nature but has no weight on a school’s grade.  Part A includes proficiency (multiplied by the school’s participation rate on SBAC), growth to proficiency, college and career prep (for high schools), average daily attendance, and so forth.  The numbers have changed somewhat since I last reported on the weights of each category.  For elementary and middle schools, 30% of the weight will be proficiency, and high schools will be 25%.  For growth, in elementary and middle schools this will be 45%, and high schools 40%.  So in essence, 75% of a school’s accountability rating will be based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment in elementary and middle schools, and 65% for high schools.  The bulk of the rating system that will determine reward, recognition, action, focus, focus plus and priority status will be based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Schwinn said this is very aggressive and is “not comfortable backing down on it.”  Not one word was said about the participation rate or Regulation 103 during this presentation.  The categories were presented for the ESEA Flex Waiver last March but the weights have to be submitted to the US DOE by 10/31/15.  So the State Board has to make a decision on it by their 10/15 meeting.

Reyna talked about proficiency and growth with some scatter graphs.  “We’re really valuing schools that are showing growth with students” he said out of thin air.  Schwinn talked about the school survey parents will receive (school report card).  They are going with the “5 Essentials Survey” for the non-accountability rated Part B.  The DOE is creating a survey working group which will start next month and will include the “usual stakeholders”.  They sent emails to all the superintendents to participate, just like they did with the AFWG.  The state is holding itself accountable as well, but there was no discussion about what they are measuring themselves against.  Schwinn explained that on the survey last fall, parents liked the idea of letter grades on the school report and teachers hated it.  So they won’t have that on the report.  In news I know many will like, THERE WILL BE NO ROCKET SHIPS, TRAFFIC LIGHTS OR TROPHIES on the Delaware School Success Report sent to parents.  There was a lot of discussion about design and different ideas.  Heffernan said DOE can tell parents “It could have been worse, it could have been rocket ships.”

Schwinn explained on the online report, parents will be able to map and graph data.  As an example, Dr. Gray said if a parent is looking for a school that has choir, they will be able to find that, to which Schwinn agreed.  Schwinn said “accountability is intended to be a judgment on a school.  But we want to make sure parents see other data as well.”  Schwinn said they WILL TRACK THE INFORMATION PARENTS SEARCH FOR ON SCHOOLS to see if they can let schools or districts know about needs in their area.  Or at least that’s what she said.

Schwinn had to leave to “feed her family” and Reyna took over.  They are resetting assessment targets for the state and each subgroup which must be done by 1/31/16.  At this point, the next slide Reyna presented had embargoed information at a public meeting (just love saying that!).  So I cannot, by threat of force or violence, tell you that the overall state proficiency for SBAC was a little over 51% and for the overall subgroups, it was 38.8% for SBAC.  But here is the real kicker.  Delaware has to pick their choice to hold the state accountable.  With a six year plan, the state must close the proficiency gap between the overall sub-groups (including low-income, students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and minorities) by 50% in six years.  This is what Delaware DOE wants.  Other choices were all schools are 100% proficient by 2019-2020, or “any other method proposed by state that is educationally sound and results in ambitious but achievable Annual Measurable Objectives for all schools and subgroups.”

Pat Heffernan was not a fan of DOE’s choice because of the impact on students with disabilities.  He even made a comment about how they won’t reach this goal either.  It was discussed how ALL students will be included in this state accountability rating.  The infamous “n” number won’t apply (when students are below 15 at a school in a sub-group, they are NOT counted towards the individual school’s accountability) on this state system since ALL students that are in a sub-group will be included in the state’s rating.  But students will not be double-counted.  So for example, an African-American student with disabilities will only count towards one of those sub-groups.  The DOE must increase the 38.8% for the sub-groups to 45% in six years to meet the state rating with the US DOE.

And with that, the meeting ended since they had already run over time for the meeting, and they used a room at the Duncan Center in Dover.

UPDATED, 9/17/15, 9:34pm: Michael Watson from the Delaware DOE spoke with me at the State Board of Education meeting during a break.  He informed me the slide he presented to me at the State Board Retreat was NOT embargoed information, but the name of the upcoming report is.  Since I didn’t remember it, it’s a non-issue but I do appreciate him letting me know.  As for Ryan Reyna, that’s another story.

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:

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.