Secretary Godowsky Had No Choice With Opt-Out Penalties

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With the release of the US DOE letter to the Delaware DOE about participation rates, we are getting a better picture of what happened the first week of November on the participation rate multiplier in the Delaware School Success Framework.  On October 21st, the soon to be confirmed Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky appeared before the New Castle County combined school boards at a breakfast.  He announced to the board members and superintendents of the districts that the harsh opt-out penalties most likely would not see the light of day.

The Delaware State Education Association, Delaware Association of School Administrators, Delaware Chief School Officers Association and Delaware School Boards Association all publicly endorsed Godowsky for his Delaware Senate confirmation in a News Journal letter to the editor on October 26th.  Two days later, Godowsky was confirmed by the Senate with only two no votes.  Delaware State Senator Nicole Poore referred to Godowsky as “a breath of fresh air“.  On November 5th, two weeks after his breakfast announcement, Godowsky flipped on his recommendation about opt-out penalties at the Delaware State Board of Education retreat.

Yesterday we found out the US DOE letter to the Delaware DOE was dated 11/2/15.  The timing makes perfect sense.  Perhaps Markell did have a change of heart but was forced to flip back once the US DOE announced their opt-out mandates.  Who am I kidding!  Jack probably gave the US DOE the idea!  It does have his manipulative stench all over it.  I now understand why Godowsky looked like Judas Iscariot at the last Accountability Framework Working Group meeting and the State Board of Education meeting two days after.  His words said one thing, but the look in his eyes said something very different.

This may also shed some light on the bizarre Las Americas Aspiras Academy PTO email about opt-out.  Were they aware of this letter the day it was released?  I question the validity of this since their PTO leader stated ALL federal funding would be cut if 6% of their students were opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  But given the nature of federal funding I can see how someone could misconstrue that.  I’m sure the Delaware DOE sent the letter out to all school leaders and Superintendents in Delaware the first chance they got.

I am seriously questioning why the letters to the twelve states who went below the 95% threshold and the letter sent to all the states announcing definitive cuts if participation rates went below 95% two years in a row were just released to the public yesterday, on December 23rd.  It was weeks after the final Every Student Succeeds Act votes and President Obama signing the legislation.  I have to believe some of these legislators in Congress knew about these letters.  How could they not.  No one can keep a secret that long.  Not in politics.

The smart thing the Delaware DOE and Godowsky could have done was simply tell the public on November 2nd they received these letters.  By doing this they could have taken some of the heat off themselves and shifted it to the US DOE.  Instead, they hid it from the public for over a month and a half.  They duped the public, along with the US DOE and every other state DOE, into thinking the Every Student Succeeds Act and the clauses about opt-out would allow states to decide how to handle opt-out.  They could have said they weren’t sure what they meant, but they had to reconsider the opt-out penalties.  Maybe through collaboration they could have come up with something different.  But this is not how the most unpopular state Department in Delaware operates.  Sunshine is not the best disinfectant at our DOE.  I think we need some good old-fashioned bleach to wipe the slate clean and start over.  We have far too many people involved in education who people like, and believe they have the best intentions.  But when it comes time for them to do the right thing all we hear is “I serve at the pleasure of the Governor,” or “It’s the feds.  We can’t do anything about it.”  For a Department that demands accountability from schools, teachers and students, they sure are hypocritical when it comes to themselves… And the duplicity continues…

Delaware Does Better Than Expected On Smarter Balanced But Much Worse Than DCAS, Opt-Out Rates by District

“Depending on the grade level and subject, students scored between 16 and 45 percentage points lower on the Smarter Balanced than they did on its predecessor, DCAS.”

The above quote by Avi Wolfman-Arent with his article on the Smarter Balanced results for WHYY/Newsworks tells the main story.  The results are in and the numbers are interesting.  Statewide, the proficiency rate was 51.9% for ELA and 38.8% for Math. The highest rated district was Cape Henlopen with an overall proficiency of 57.2% and the lowest was Laurel with 26.3%

Statewide, the opt-out numbers didn’t go below the 95% threshold with the exception of 11th grade English and Math, with 90.5% and 89.3%.  But certain districts did, with Christina at 91.8% in Math and 91.3% in ELA, Gateway Lab School at 94.6% in Math, the recent closed Moyer Academy had 85.9% in English and 87% in Math, another closed charter called Reach Academy for Girls had 89.3% for ELA and 91.3% for Math, and finally, Poly-tech had 94.0% and 92.3% for Math.  For the state, the overall participation rate in ELA was 96.7% and 95.8% for Math.

What hasn’t been announced yet is the  sub-groups, like students with disabilities, African-Americans, Hispanic, low-income, and so forth.  Those are the numbers I really wanted to see, aside from the opt-outs.  By looking at the below chart, found on the Delaware DOE website, it’s obvious schools with higher populations of these “sub-groups” performed worse than the more affluent schools.  And of course, the “Charter Trio” of Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter School and Sussex Academy did the best.  Cherry-picking has its advantages.

Even Eastside Charter School, praised by Governor Markell for their growth rates on DCAS, took a beating on this test.  As did many of the other charters in Wilmington.  The two charters with high populations of special needs students didn’t fare so well either.  I don’t blame any of these schools, I blame the DOE and American Institutes for Research, the creator of the assessment and the DOE’s vendor and distributor.  But the blame game by the DOE and Markell is already beginning, as seen in Governor Markell’s obligatory press release.  Even Secretary of Education Mark Murphy who still seems to be hovering around, said to Matthew Albright in the News Journal coverage:

Murphy said the goal is for parents to use those results to have more informed conversations with their teachers.  If a student scored a one or a two, parents should seek extra help for their kids in the subjects they’re struggling with, for example.

“It’s not like all the answers lie in the Department of Education,” Markell said.  “Many of the best are in the districts.  And, in the end, they have responsibility for their own schools.”

As the accountability gun is pointed at their heads…Sorry Jack and Mark, the test was forced on students by the Delaware DOE and the US DOE.  But the DOE will not take any blame for this test whatsoever.  Instead, they want to point fingers:

 As a governing state in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, Delaware partnered with other states to develop the Smarter Balanced Assessment System. Delaware educators have been integral to many aspects of the new assessment system, including question development, standard setting, report development and the creation of professional learning resources for teachers. In spring 2014, educators and students across Delaware participated in the successful national field test of new assessment items and the accompanying technology.

Now we will see the schools and districts rushing to get all those kids “college and career ready” so they can get the very high growth portion on the upcoming Delaware School Success Framework, otherwise known as the school report card.  But what they may not be counting on is the anger about half the parents in this state will feel that their kids weren’t proficient on this test.  All that time and energy, designed for one test, and their kid is just not good enough.  But don’t despair parents.  Your kid should not be measured based on one test.  You do have a choice: REFUSE THE TEST!

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

This may very well be the most important article I have ever written on Exceptional Delaware.  Parents, teachers, and citizens need to know what is going on and how perceived absolute power corrupts and serves to belittle and demean those who don’t have it.  Those of us who have been fighting for every student’s education in this state can’t do it alone.  You need to TAKE the power from those who would punish our children, teachers, and schools.  You need to let everyone in the state know about THIS article, because the fate of our children’s future depends on it. Continue reading