For An “Education” Governor, Jack Markell Isn’t Too Bright! Exclusive FOIA Emails Show His Incompetency!

When it comes to education, brokering deals isn’t Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s strong suit.  His fumbling could have given the Christina priority schools major headaches larger than the ones they had.

In September, 2014, Governor Markell announced six priority schools in Wilmington, DE.  Three in the Red Clay Consolidated School District and three in the Christina School District.  Each school board had to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for each school.  Red Clay signed their MOU a few months later while Christina fought the Delaware Department of Education every step of the way.  By the end of February of 2015, the Christina School Board refused to sign the MOU and didn’t approve plans for the schools.  When it looked like the Delaware DOE and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy were going to take the schools from the district, Governor Markell brokered a plan between the district and the Delaware DOE.

As a result of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC) and their recommendation to turn the Christina schools in Wilmington to Red Clay, the priority school saga was on hold.  The Christina Board voted in favor of the WEAC idea and Governor Markell brought both sides to the table.  A new MOU detailed the WEAC recommendation and the Christina Board signed it.  The MOU went to Secretary Murphy for signature.  The tension ended.  Or so we thought.

For seven months, the subject of the Christina priority schools was very quiet.  WEAC became the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission through legislation.  The commission started meeting in September of 2015 to craft the plans to eventually fold the Wilmington Christina schools into Red Clay.  At the October meeting of the Delaware Education Support System (DESS), a representative asked about the Christina priority schools and what would happen to them if the redistricting plan fell apart.  Delaware DOE Chief of Accountability and Assessment Penny Schwinn said that was a very good question and one they were hoping to get answers for soon.

The DOE was in transition.  Secretary Murphy announced his resignation at the end of July.  Acting Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky inherited the Christina priority schools.  The DESS meeting was on October 5th.  A month earlier, I wondered what would happen if the WEIC plan didn’t pass the State Board of Education or the Delaware General Assembly.  Everyone assumed the deal Governor Markell brokered in March covered the Christina priority schools up until that point.  But in FOIA’d emails never revealed to the public until now, the Delaware DOE truly didn’t know what Markell’s deal even meant.  Behind the scenes, Schwinn emailed the United States Department of Education to get clarification on what the options were for the three schools seven months after “the deal”.

SchwinnUSDOEChristina1

I find it astonishing Governor Markell never had the Delaware DOE check with the US DOE before the March deal.  This is a man who prides himself on all things education.  Instead, he made an executive decision without checking to see if it was even okay.

SchwinnUSDOEChristina2

Nearly two weeks after Schwinn first posed the question to Julie Glasier, an Education Specialist at the US DOE, she received an answer:

SchwinnUSDOEChristina3

As per the US DOE, the deal brokered by Markell wasn’t good enough.  All of this led to what is known as “The Hissy Fit” at the December meeting of the Delaware State Board of Education meeting.  The board minutes for this meeting tell one story, but reality was far different.

It was pointed out that the Christina School District schools are in the second year of planning as the Department has not received a plan.  Dr. Gray voiced her dismay and concern that the district has failed to respond to the Department’s requests.  Dr. Godowsky stated that it is the Department’s expectation that the district will submit their plan.  It was also noted that the educators in that district are to be commended for helping their students achieve without the additional funding they could be receiving.

State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was visibly upset about the Christina School District priority schools.  She acted as if the district made the deal back in March and just forgot about the schools.  She was so angry she had to excuse herself from the State Board meeting to regain her composure.  The very next day an astonishing revelation came out about what happened, or to be more concise, didn’t happen after the brokered meeting nine months earlier.  Secretary Murphy never signed the MOU between the Christina priority schools and the Delaware DOE.  Christina board members stated they were never told anything more had to be done with the schools during the pending WEIC redistricting proposal.  Now the Delaware DOE wanted the district’s priority school plans.

While never officially confirmed, Murphy’s resignation was rumored to be a “resign now” due to issues with the funding for the three Red Clay priority schools.  Emails released by this blog weeks before the Murphy announcement seemed to be the final straw for his Cabinet position in Delaware.  Was Markell aware of Murphy’s other colossal error concerning the Christina priority schools?

This led to another explosion of sorts at the February State Board of Education meeting.  The State Board voted no on the WEIC redistricting plan due to wording around funding and Christina having no priority school plans turned into the DOE.  State Board member Pat Heffernan went on a tirade of his own about the three schools and how Christina failed them.  At an emergency meeting of WEIC the next week, Christina Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan told State Board President Dr. Gray she should apologize to Christina for the underhanded treatment they received from her.  To date, Dr. Gray has not apologized to Christina.

Christina submitted the priority school plans to Secretary Godowsky and the State Board passed the WEIC redistricting plan last month.  Godowsky notified the State Board the plans were enough for the DOE.

Several questions emerge from this year and a half story though.  During the time of the priority schools announcement and the months following, many assumed the DOE wanted to take the schools.  Myself included.  But the stark reality is the DOE really didn’t have a clue what they were doing.  Neither Governor Markell or the DOE bothered to check to see if the brokered deal was acceptable to the federal agency that mandated the priority schools in the first place.  Granted, Delaware made up their own plans to decide which schools were “priority”, which wasn’t exactly without it’s own controversy.

I don’t believe ANY school should get a label based on standardized test scores.  Period.  Teachers should not fear for their jobs because of bogus tests.   The way the Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Governor Markell treated Christina during the five months after the announcement was shameful.  Even worse was the false treatment from the State Board of Education last fall and this winter.  Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson serves as a liaison of sorts between the State Board of Education and the Delaware Department of Education.  While not knowing for certain, I would have a very hard time believing Johnson was not aware of Schwinn’s emails to the US DOE and the fact that Secretary Murphy never signed the MOU.  She could have cleared that up at the December State Board meeting, but she didn’t.  If she did know of these events, she allowed Dr. Gray to behave the way she did.  Even Godowsky seemed shocked at the appalling actions on Gray’s part.

The Delaware State Board of Education is appointed by the Delaware Governor.  There are no public elections for the seven State Board of Education seats.  Donna Gray sits on the DESS Advisory Committee.  The WEIC redistricting plan awaits action from the Delaware 148th General Assembly.  The three Christina priority schools are still in the district and they began the Smarter Balanced Assessment last month.  The scores on these tests, like so many other Title I schools in Delaware, determine their fates to this day.  Governor Markell believes the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the best test Delaware ever made.

Delaware’s Numerous October Education Meetings

As the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission barrels ahead and the State Board of Education tries to firm up an accountability system for Delaware, look for several meetings this month.  I’m going to try to get them all in, so look for a tab below this blog name going forward.  I will be updating this list through the next couple days.  Keep a close watch on the weather as several of the meetings or events could be canceled or delayed based on Hurricane Joaquin!  If you have an event or meeting you would like included on here, please feel free to leave a comment or email me at kevino3670@yahoo.com but I will be putting the traditional school districts and CBOC meetings up later today, along with the other WEIC meetings and town halls.

10/1: Professional Standards Board, 5pm-9pm, Townshend Building, 2nd Floor Conf. Room, Dover

10/1: Great Oaks Charter School Joel Klein Event, *$100 ticket, $25 for educators*, Community Education Building, Wilmington

10/5: Accountability Framework Working Group (AFWG), 1pm-4pm, Townshend Building, 2nd Floor Conf. Room, Dover

10/5: Charter School Charter Renewal Public Hearing (Campus Community, MOT, Providence Creek), 5pm, Townshend Building, 2nd Floor Conf. Room, Dover

10/5: Charter School Major Modification Public Hearing (Mapleton Charter), 5pm, Townshend Building, 2nd Floor Conf. Room, Dover

10/5: Freire Charter School Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, 5:30pm, Wilmington, Governor Markell and Mayor Williams scheduled to attend

10/5: State Board of Education Workshop on alignment of standards, curriculum, and assessment (Smarter Balanced), 5pm-8:15pm, Grotto’s Pizza-Capitol Room, Dover

10/5: WEIC: Red Clay Town Hall Meeting, 7pm, Warner Elementary School, Wilmington

10/6: Delaware Education Support System (DESS), 1pm-4pm, Government Support Services Blue Hen Conference Room, 100 Enterprise Place, Suite 4, Dover

10/6: WEIC: Funding Student Success, 2pm, Red Clay District Office, Wilmington

10/6: Citizens Budget Oversight Committee Meetings: Delaware College Prep (no time given),

10/7: Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council: Children & Families Committee, 1:30-3:30pm, DDDS Office, Bear

10/8: WEIC: Redistricting Committee, 4:00pm, Red Clay District Office, Wilmington

10/8: SCR22 Educational Technology Task Force, 4:30-7:00pm, Townshend Bldg., 2nd Floor Conf. Room, Dover

10/8: Christina, Q&A with Acting Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski, 7pm, Shue-Medill Middle School, 1500 Capital Trail, Newark

10/8: School Board Meetings: Kuumba Academy (6pm)

10/10: School Board Meetings: Delaware Academy Of Public Safety (6:30pm)

10/12: P-20 Council, 12pm, Buena Vista Conference Room, Buck Library, New Castle

10/13: Charter School Accountability Committee: Charter Renewal (Campus Community, MOT, Providence Creek), 1pm, Townshend Building, 2nd Floor Conf. Room, Dover

10/13: Charter School Accountability Committee: Major Modification (Mapleton), 1pm, Townshend Bldg., 2nd Floor Conf. Room, Dover

10/13: WEIC: Parent, Educator & Community Engagement Committee, 5:30-7:30pm, Highlands Elementary School, Wilmington

10/13: Citizens Budget Oversight Committee Meetings: Kuumba Academy (2:30pm), Odyssey Charter School (7pm)

10/13: School Board Meetings: Appoquinimink (7pm), Christina (7:30pm), Colonial (7pm), Delaware Design Lab High School (6:30pm), Delmar (7pm), Polytech (6:30pm)

10/14: School Board Meetings: Odyssey Charter School (7pm)

10/14: Citizens Budget Oversight Committee Meetings: Brandywine (12pm)

10//15: New Castle County Combined Boards of Education Meeting, 7:30am (Breakfast & Socialization, food not free for non-board affiliates), 8:00am-Meeting begins, Sheraton Wilmington South, 365 Airport Rd., New Castle

10/15: State Board of Education Meeting, 1pm, Townshend Bldg., 2nd Floor Conf. Room, Dover

10/17: Caesar Rodney School District Referendum

10/19: Citizens Budget Oversight Committee Meetings: Delaware Military Academy (4:30-6:00pm), Las Americas Aspiras (6pm)

10/19: School Board Meetings: Brandywine (7pm), Delaware College Prep (6:30pm), Milford (7pm), Seaford (7pm), Sussex Tech (Time Not Listed), Thomas Edison Charter School (6pm)

10/20: Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Regular Meeting, 4pm, Sarah Pyle Academy, Gymnasium, Wilmington

10/20: Citizens Budget Oversight Committee Meetings: Gateway Lab School (5:30pm), Newark Charter School (5:30pm), Sussex Academy (3:30pm)

10/20: School Board Meetings: First State Military Academy (5:30pm), Gateway Lab School (7pm), Newark Charter School (7:30pm), Prestige Academy (6pm)

10/21: Citizens Budget Oversight Committee Meetings: Christina (6:30-8:30pm), Positive Outcomes (5pm)

10/21: School Board Meetings: Capital (7:30pm), Laurel (7pm), Positive Outcomes (5:45pm), Red Clay Consolidated (7pm), Smyrna (7pm), Sussex Academy (3:30pm), Woodbridge (6pm)

10/22: WEIC: Colonial Town Hall Meeting, 6:30-8:00pm, George Read Middle School, New Castle

10/22: Citizens Budget Oversight Committee Meetings: Academy of Dover (5:15pm), Early College High School (4pm)

10/22: School Board Meetings: Academy of Dover (6pm), Cape Henlopen (6pm), Early College High School (5:15pm), First State Montessori (6:30pm), lake Forest (7pm), Las Americas Aspiras (?)

10/26: WEIC: Meeting the Needs of Students in Poverty Committee: 4pm, United Way of Delaware, The Linden Bldg., Third Floor, Wilmington

10/26: WEIC: Christina Town Hall, 7:00-8:30pm, Pulaski Elementary School Auditorium, Wilmington

10/26: School Board Meetings: Delaware Military Academy (5:30pm), Great Oaks (5:30pm), Indian River (7pm), New Castle County Vo-Tech (7pm)

10/27: WEIC: Funding Student Success, 2pm, Red Clay District Office, Wilmington

10/27: DPAS-II Advisory Committee, 4:30-6:30pm, Townshend Bldg., 2nd Floor Conf. Room, Dover

10/27: Citizens Budget Oversight Committee Meetings: Family Foundations Academy (5pm)

10/27: School Board Meetings: Caesar Rodney (7pm), Charter School of Wilmington (5:30pm), Providence Creek Academy (7pm)

10/28: Vision Coalition 8th Annual Conference, 7:45am-2pm, Clayton Hall, University of Delaware, Newark *$30 ticket*

10/28: WEIC: Charter & District Collaboration Committee, 5:30pm, Location TBD

10/28: Citizens Budget Oversight Committee Meetings: Academia Antonia Alonso (5pm), Campus Community (4:30pm), East Side (4pm)

10/28: School Board Meetings: Academia Antonia Alonso (5:30pm), Campus Community (5:30pm), East Side (5pm), Family Foundations Academy (7pm), MOT Charter School (7:30pm)

10/29: WEIC: Redistricting Committee, 4:00pm, Graham Hall, 111 Academy St., Newark

*The Delaware Met & Delaware STEM Academy have no scheduled board meetings on their websites

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.