All Delaware Juniors Take The Common Core SAT Today… Can They Opt Out?

Back in December, Governor Markell and Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky announced the Smarter Balanced Assessment was going away for high school juniors.  Because the College Board aligned the SAT with Common Core, why take both tests?  Today is the annual SAT day for the juniors.  The state pays for all of them to take the test.  I am very curious how the scores will be this year with the realignment.  I haven’t heard a peep about any parent wanting to opt their kid out of the SAT.  Or as I like to call it, Smarter Balanced Junior.

I actually heard one district gave all the 9th and 10th graders off tomorrow.  Did others do this as well and why?  Does the testing environment have to be in the right alignment as well for the juniors?  And why not give the seniors off as well?  Only in Delaware!  We are a state that is obsessed from the top down with testing.  We can’t escape from it because our Governor, legislators, and the DOE believe it is essential.  But our hubris comes at a price.  We don’t look at the quality, only the results.

Delaware DOE Breaks Federal Law By Sneaking In Amendment To ESEA Waiver Without Public Notice

The mischievous and law-breaking Delaware Department of Education actually snuck in an amendment to their ESEA Flexibility Waiver without notifying the public at all.  As required by Federal law, any changes to a state’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver MUST have a public announcement indicating the proposed change.  As well, there is a public comment period required where anyone can comment based on the public announcement.  But as usual, the Delaware DOE does as they see fit and continue to break laws with no oversight or accountability…

ESEAFlexibility

ESEAFlexibility2ESEAFlexibility3

I just found this on their website today.  I love how they include in their document to US DOE that they are attaching the pages in their ESEA waiver with red-lined parts where this amendment would change their waiver, but don’t have a link for the public to see this change.  And let’s be honest, this change wasn’t brought forth because of parents clamoring for it.  It was brought forth because the Delaware DOE was wetting their pants over how many juniors opted out last year!  It also references the February 19th, 2016 redline of the US DOE approved ESEA Waiver request, but no document is listed on the page anywhere.  So what does this mysterious document even say?

In regards to the other ESEA waiver the Delaware DOE is asking for public comment on, nothing is listed on the ESEA portion of the Delaware DOE website.  But the ironic part about that ESEA waiver is US DOE told Delaware DOE not to worry about having the DESS Advisory Committee comment on it, even though that is required by law.  So we have US DOE telling us to break the law and don’t worry about it, but they want us to submit this ESEA waiver even though it will be null and void as of August 1, 2017 when ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) goes into effect.  Or will it?  We won’t know until the regulations come out in the coming months.  I see this as a way for US Secretary of Education John King to continue the legacy of Arne Duncan by essentially bribing states with these waiver schemes.  And of course all this comes out after the Senate confirms the snake.

I was at the December State Board of Education where there was an “open discussion”.  Secretary Godowsky said something to the effect of “We are excited to make this change and I think we will have an announcement very soon.”  An “open discussion” would indicate the public was allowed to comment on this during this exchange.  That was not the case.  You can listen to the audio here.  Godowsky did mention many things would need to be ironed out with US DOE during this “open discussion”.  By submitting this ESEA flexibility waiver on March 29th, 2016, three months after Governor Markell and Godowsky announced the switch, how is that ironing things out?

As well, all the prior “stakeholder feedback” was meant to discuss the possibility of the issue.  That should NOT be counted as official public comment required under ESEA law.  But this is the Delaware DOE and the US DOE who bend and shape the laws to their own benefit.  And our Delaware legislators and US legislators just sit back and let it happen.  Wasn’t the whole point of ESSA to stop the US DOE from pulling this kind of crap?  And here we are in Delaware with not one, but two ESEA waivers with very questionable legality issues surrounding both of them.

And what exactly is going on with the DESS Advisory Committee?  Did they cancel them as a group since ESEA was going to be eliminated soon anyways?  But based on that line of thought we shouldn’t be submitting anything regarding ESEA.  Or is this just another way to try to get the feds to approve Delaware’s cockamamie opt out penalty into the Delaware School Success Framework?  Since they didn’t approve that based on their  November resubmission of the ESEA waiver request as a condition of their July approval of the ESEA waiver request because of ESSA.  Are you as confused as I am?  My head is spinning…

WTH

Governor Markell Gives Godowsky Authority To Replace SBAC With SAT Without General Assembly Approval Or An Executive Order

It took a lot of work for the General Assembly to implement the Smarter Balanced Assessment into Delaware State Code.  Now Governor Markell has granted Secretary of Education Godowsky the authority to remove the Smarter Balanced Assessment from the lives of high school juniors and replace it with the SAT.  Here’s the problem, the SAT is not considered to be a state assessment as defined in Delaware law.  Funding for the SAT to be provided to all Delaware students was part of a Race To The Top grant, and now that funding is gone.  Is Delaware going to pick up the cost for this?  As well, Markell did not issue an executive order to make this happen.  Are we now entering a stage in Delaware where the Governor can do whatever he wants as long as ten members of his own party write a letter to him?

This is clearly Markell’s strategy to once again thwart those who support the opt-out movement.  And he is doing this while at the same time spitting in the face of the General Assembly.  With the override of his House Bill 50 veto possibly coming up as early as January 14th, Markell is not pulling any punches to fight this.  I really hope the legislators who side with him on this issue think long and hard about his circumvention of the legislative process when it comes to Delaware education.  This is just another in a long series of moves the Governor made in the last eight years to make his corporate friends happy.

From the DOE press release:

SAT to replace Smarter in 11th grade

The SAT will replace the Smarter Assessment as the state test for high school juniors beginning this spring.

The change comes at the request of legislators and as the state continues to look for ways to reduce testing, particularly for 11th graders who already were taking both exams as part of Delaware’s state-funded School Day SAT program.

The College Board, the nonprofit that administers the college entrance exam, is launching a redesigned SAT this spring that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards, the academic expectations for what Delaware students should know and be able to do at the completion of each grade level. The changes to the SAT also include a move away from obscure “SAT vocabulary words” to the use of relevant vocabulary words in context, an in-depth focus on essential areas of math and the elimination of the guessing penalty.

“Our students deserve an exam that helps them gauge their college and career readiness, and our teachers deserve an exam that provides them with the information they need to guide their instruction. This is one example of how we are reducing the testing burden on our students and teachers,” Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky said. “This is a smart solution that ensures our educators, students and families get the information they need while mitigating the over-testing concern many share.

The state will continue to administer the Smarter Assessment in grades 3 to 8.

Delaware has been administering a school-day SAT to all public school juniors at no cost to students since 2011. Godowsky said making the transition to use the SAT as the accountability test this year is based on the feedback of elected leaders, educators and families. Last week, 10 legislators sent a letter to Gov. Jack Markell asking to replace the 11th grade Smarter exam with the SAT.

“Our community was clear that this was in the best interest of our high school juniors and the sooner we could make the switch the better,” Godowsky said. “This decision is in response to that feedback.”

Gov. Jack Markell, who launched a statewide assessment inventory process last spring, said, “We believe that the concerns about the testing burden on our juniors are well founded.  We also agree that this move is a smart, commonsense way to reduce the testing burden significantly without sacrificing our ability to understand whether we are serving our students well and whether they are making the progress they need to be successful.  I have asked Secretary Godowsky to immediately designate the SAT as our 11th grade assessment and take all necessary steps to implement the change so that, beginning this year, juniors will no longer take Smarter Balanced.  The department will seek federal approval for this change in our state assessment as quickly as possible and otherwise ensure that the transition goes smoothly in schools across the state.”

Under Delaware’s former state test, the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS), 9th and 10th graders were tested. When the state moved to Smarter in Spring 2015, 11th grade became the singular testing year for high school. But many said that proved overwhelming for juniors, who also take Advanced Placement exams, the SAT, SAT subject tests, the ACT and other tests during their 11th grade year.

New Castle County Vo-Tech Superintendent Vicki Gehrt, president of the Delaware Chief School Officers Association, said superintendents in the state are in support of substituting the SAT in lieu of the Smarter Assessment as the required assessment for high school students.  This shift both gives teachers more time to provide necessary instruction and eases the load on our high school students with respect to the annual assessments they already must take.

State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray said students and families value the SAT.

“The redesigned SAT provides important information students, parents and educators want and need to understand students’ college, career and civic readiness. For that reason, it is already valued by parents and students.  In addition, by using this test as the high school assessment for English language arts and math, we will reduce the amount of required testing and costs to the state,” Gray said.

Last spring, the General Assembly passed and Governor Markell signed into law Senate Joint Resolution 2, requiring an inventory and review of all assessments currently administered at the state, district and school level “with the goal of decreasing the testing burden on students and teachers and increasing time available for teaching.”

This work continues. Districts and charter schools, which were eligible for supporting state grants, submitted their assessment inventories, recommendations, and impact information to the state at the end of December. The department has convened an assessment inventory committee with representatives from the House and Senate education committees, Delaware State Education Association, state superintendents, civil rights community and parents to make recommendations. The state’s final report must be published by June 2016.

Sen. David Sokola, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Rep. Earl Jaques, chair of the House Education Committee, lauded today’s announcement.

“This is the kind of change legislators were seeking when we approved SJR 2 to create a task force to fully review our student testing,” Sokola said. “This is a good first step toward removing burdens on our students and increasing instruction time for teachers, while also providing them with the important metrics needed to gauge student progress.”

Jaques agreed, “This decision eliminates duplicative testing and reduces over-testing while helping to ease student stress and parental concerns.”

The department has posted information and will continue updating its website with information, including resources for districts/charters and the public, regularly. Educators or families with questions may email assessment@doe.k12.de.us or call (302) 857-3391.

As students prepare for the spring SAT, they also have some extra help this year. A partnership with Khan Academy and the College Board offers personalized SAT preparation based on students’ PSAT results. Delaware also provides the PSAT free to all public school 10th graders.

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Senator Bryan Townsend

Senator Bryan Townsend had a big year!  Not only did he introduce tons of legislation that actually passed, he also announced his run for Congress.  He has many running against him, but the slot John Carney filled as the US House Representative will have a new person come January 2017.  Will it be Townsend?  This is really a guess at this point.  His main opponent appears to be State Rep. Byron Short, also a Democrat.  This will be one hot primary!

On the education side, Townsend introduced legislation that would increase the requirements of the Delaware Secretary of Education.  This was done as a result of former Secretary Mark Murphy’s severe shortcomings in the Delaware Department of Education.  On the data side, Townsend sponsored a few bills that would protect student data.  He did vote yes for the controversial opt-out bill, House Bill 50, but not without a introducing a potential stumbling block along the way.

When House Bill 50 hit the Delaware Senate the first time, Townsend introduced a legislation to allow high school juniors to opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  By the time it went back to the House of Representatives, many Republicans felt this could cause a slew of problems with parents who might want their teenager to take the test.  Eventually, the House voted the amendment down and House Bill 50 passed the House again, and then the Senate again.  As we all know, Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill, but it may come up for an override when the legislators come back in January.  How will Townsend vote if that happens?

Recently, Townsend has been supporting Governor Markell’s decision to allow Syrian refugees into Delaware.  Following the Paris attacks and the recent shooting in San Bernardino, California, many folks in Delaware oppose this.  Will Townsend be able to overcome this on Election Day?  It will be interesting to watch.  What do you think?  Does the newer Senator have what it takes to beat the established State Rep?  Or will one of the Republicans running come from behind and do the unthinkable?