Oregon Legislator Who Helped Sponsor Opt Out Bill Addresses State Deputy Superintendent Regarding Implementation
Below are two letters sent by Oregon State Representative Lew Frederick to Oregon's Deputy Superintendent of Education Salam Noor regarding implementation of HB 2655 which Frederick co-sponsored. The first was sent on October 30, as ODE had released their first draft of the document required by the law to provide uniform information to parents across the state of their right to opt their children out of testing.
The second letter was sent to Dr. Noor following the Department's revision of the parent information. Having participated in a parent focus group, I can attest to the fact that the objections brought up by Representative Frederick are identical to those brought up by many parents.
This isn't over. Parent and citizen groups are already planning actions. Stay tuned.
Here are two letters from the Eugene group Community Alliance for Public Education (CAPE) which were sent to Oregon Department of Education officials. The first is from retired Eugene teacher Roscoe Caron, who is currently teaching at the University of Oregon as an adjunct professor.
Ms. Greene, Ms. Koch, and Mr. Brown,
The ODE's recently-released standardized test opt-out form, mandated by HB 2655, is a travesty.
The ODE has turned HB 2655 on its head and has transformed what should have been an objective and clear notification of parent and student rights into a vehicle for exaggerated fear and a marketing job for these expensive and educationally-wasteful high-stakes tests.
The ODE's insertion of the following statement above the parent signature is unacceptable: “"I understand that by signing this form I may lose valuable information about how well child is progressing in English Language Arts and Math. In addition, opting out may impact my school and district’s efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning."
This is a low point in the history of the Oregon Department of Education. Your actions are inexcusable and unethical.
And a second letter from another CAPE member, Jerry Rosiek, who is a parent of a 4th grader as well as an education professor at U of O.
Dr. Salem Noor,
I live in Eugene OR. I have some concerns about the poor implementation of HB2655, a law you are responsible for implementing. I am writing to ask that you follow up on it.
Some background: I am a parent of a 4th grader in an Oregon public school. Your public statements and those of other ODE employees lead me to believe that you think there is a consensus among experts that the use of these standardized tests are supported by research and it is only irrational uninformed suburban parents who are opposed to them. This is not the case. In addition to being a parent I am also a professor of Education at the University of Oregon, so I am more knowledgeable than most about education policy and practice, and it is my informed opinion that the SBAC tests have more pernicious than beneficial effects on our schooling system. Furthermore, my concerns about the effects of these standardized tests are shared by thousands of educational researchers around the country, some with appointments at our nation’s most prestigious Universities (attached please find a letter signed by over 2000 scholars and sent to president Obama and federal legislators regarding the reauthorizatioin of the ESEA—or No Child Left Behind Act—in March of 2015.) The President himself, once a supporter of these testing policies, has recently recanted his support for the current system of testing in our schools—confessing that we are using too much time on testing and that the tests are having the negative effect of narrowing our curriculum offerings.
First, I will offer a positive comment about your implementation of HB2655. I am gratified to see the ODE form for opting out of standardized tests required by HB-2655 has been posted in a timely manner. I have been centrally involved in organizing information sessions for other parents about their opt-out rights in Eugene. This form will be much easier to use. And it has been provided with sufficient time for us to make sure parents know about it. Thank you for that.
I am concerned, however, about misleading statements on the form that seem intended solely to undermine the spirit of the law by intimidating parents out of exercising their opt out rights. I am speaking primarily about the following passage that appears directly above where parents sign to exercise their opt-out rights:
“I understand that by signing this form I may lose valuable information about how well my child is progressing in English Language Arts and Math. In addition, opting out may impact my school and district’s efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning."
This text is misleading to the point of being ethically objectionable. It contradicts the following facts:
• The SBAC tests are not primarily designed to track individual student achievement. The information they provide is not intended to be used to inform instruction (it comes much too late for that). They are designed to assess classes and schools collectively.
• There are many other sources of information on how students are performing academically. Teachers have many other assessments at their disposal and skipping the test does not prevent a teacher from assessing students in these other ways.
• There has never been a case anywhere in the country where a school received less resources because of test opt-outs. Never.
• The promise that these standardized tests enable schools to provide more resources to low performing schools under-performing schools has not proven true. No funds are consistently or sufficiently provided by the state for such assistance. The only incentives for better performance that have been consistently offered are punitive.
In addition to being misleading, the inclusion of these statements on the opt-out form constitutes a breach of the public’s trust in the ODE. Professionals at ODE are entitled to their beliefs about whether these tests serve a constructive purpose. However House Bill 2655 did not authorize ODE to hijack the mandated opt-out form and use it as a platform to advertise their unsubstantiated views on this matter. By doing so, your office is attempting to undermine the spirit of this legislation. This is an over-reach of your authority. The ODE’s responsibility is to *implement* legislative mandates, not modify them. In trying to use the opt out form as an opportunity to intimidate parents and persuade them against exercising their opt out rights, you are exceeding your authority. It is a transparent attempt to sabotage the legislation of democratically elected officials enacted on behalf of the citizens that voted for them.
In my opinion this breach of your responsibility to carry out the law as written is unprofessional and renders you unfit for your current appointment. If this is not corrected immediately, I will be asking my representatives and the Governor to request your resignation.
I ask that you instruct the ODE to amend the form, to remove any and all language designed to persuade parents against exercising their opt out rights. In keeping with the spirit of the law, the form should be simple, easy to use, and make no effort to persuade parents one way or the other.
In the meantime, those of us concerned about the deleterious effects of these tests on school curriculum and student experience plan to use the form as it has been posted. It is easier and clearer than what existed before, so opt-out numbers will rise. And the offending passage on the form will serve no purpose but to undermine the public’s trust in the ODE, the Governor’s office, and the politicians who acquiesce to this perversion of legislative intent.
More later from an Oregon legislator.
Below is the letter sent by Oregon Save Our Schools members to Oregon legislators who sponsored HB 2655 regarding the controversy over the Oregon Department of Education's wording on the form they created for parents across the state to use informing them of their right to opt their children out of standardized testing. More letters to (and from) legislators to come in the next few days!
To: The Legislative Champions of HB2655
From: Oregon Save Our Schools
Re: The Bureaucratic Highjacking of HB2655
We have just learned that the Department of Education intends to require all parents who wish to opt their children out of summative testing to sign the following statement as part of their request to have their child opted out:
"I understand that by signing this form I may lose valuable information about how well my child is progressing in English Language Arts and Math. In addition, opting out may impact my school and district’s efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning."
We believe this to be a flagrant and outrageous perversion of legislative intent in regard to Hb2655, and we seek your support and help in challenging it,and demanding that it be changed.
This act by the Department of Education is the latest in a series of efforts that can only be seen as attempts to weaken and even reverse the intent of HB2655. At the October 22nd, 2015 meeting of the Oregon State Board of Education, Representative Frederick testified against an attempt to interpret HB2655 in a narrow and restrictive manner, saying in part, "And while the law requires the notice to parents to include, 'An explanation of the purpose and value of statewide summative assessments' I do not believe the legislature intended that to read as a marketing tool for he SBAC--" It would seem to follow that the legislature also did not intend that section to include a warning about the potential "damage" that opting out could cause to the student and to the school!
In that same testimony,Representative Frederick also addressed the spurious claim that opting out may result in loss of federal funding, a claim which obviously underlies the false statement (above) that "opting out may impact my school and district's effort to equitably distribute resources and support student learning." To quote Representative Frederick further, he notes, " I have met with members of Congress,and I can tell you that there is less appetite for continuing the participation mandate than there is in the Oregon Department of Education."
At that same meeting, Dr. Rex Hagans, one of the founders of Oregon Save Our Schools also testified, saying in part:
"Oregon Save Our Schools is dismayed by the extent to which the ODE continues to behave as if the misguided policies and methods set in motion by the so-called reformers are the correct ones. We find the tactics in use to be far too similar to those long used nationally in order to prop up a fatally flawed strategy.
· Explicitly discouraging parents from opting their children out of testing in direct contradiction of the intent of HB2655 to make parents aware that they have the right to opt out and should feel free to use it. We have seen this in the wording of Dr. Noor’s Executive Order, and in drafts of proposed parent
information. Making false and/or unsubstantiated claims about the value and usefulness of the SBAC
· Usurping the power to interpret the intent of the legislature in regard to which tests are actually subject to HB2655, and attempting to severely limit the rights of parents."
We directly question the accuracy in this shameful statement which parents are being forced to sign that "I" (meaning the parent) may lose valuable information about how well my child is progressing in English Language Arts and Math." We assert that there is no useful information about the students progress which is given to any parent and also assert that the totality of the information garnered from SBAC is essentially worthless to teachers and other educators in improving instruction of the student.
We intend to demand a hearing on this matter at the next meeting of the State Board of Education on December 10th. We ask that you support our demand for that hearing and join us in testifying there. We also seek your advice as to other avenues that we might pursue to stop this disgraceful behavior on the part of our top education officials.
On Monday, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) released the form it was required by law to produce under HB 2655 in order to provide a uniform process for parents to opt their children out of the increasingly onerous system of high stakes standardized testing. While the form that was released was a bit improved from the original one shared with many parents in focus groups, the most controversial part (at least in some focus groups) remained. Found right above the parent signature, in bold print, is this:
“I understand that by signing this form I may lose valuable information about how well my child is progressing in English Language Arts and Math. In addition, opting out may impact my school and district’s efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning.”
Why did parents in the focus groups react strongly to this? There are a few reasons. First, people object to the inference that they don’t care about “valuable” information regarding their child’s progress and secondly, because they know that a system which uses one or two standardized test scores to determine how to distribute resources and support student learning is a failed system.
Most concerning though, is that ODE appears to have bought into the narrative that SBAC is a new and wonderful test of the magical Common Core Standards which can prove “college and career readiness” (presumably for any and all colleges or careers) as early as third grade for any and all students. This is not a story that most parents are buying. They are frustrated that the education agency is not listening to the increasing dissatisfaction of those who use our public schools (students, parents and teachers) with what has happened since the implementation of the Common Core and the testing regime that accompanied it; apparently even when that dissatisfaction finds its way into legislation, as it did in HB 2555.
There have always been a handful of parents who opt their children out things at school: sex education, social studies courses, science classes, music, you name it. Some even choose to school their children at home completely. It is a right that parents clearly have. So what is it that has recently, in just the last two years, caused thousands to opt out in Oregon and across the country with as many as 200,000 opt outs in New York? Have parents suddenly changed? Are students being tested for the first time in history? Are parents really just afraid that they will find out their kids aren’t as smart as they think, as Arne Duncan suggested a couple years ago? Or do parents know that this has nothing to do with what’s good for their kids? As noted in Indiana , this is not a left vs. right issue. It is an issue which find parents on both sides of the political spectrum questioning these polices. I like to call it the “everyone knows poop stinks” theory of populism.
One thing I have found odd is that here in Portland, some portray the opt out movement as something that only someone with privilege would engage in and say that opt out damages underserved communities because goodness me, how would we know which communities are underserved without the new tests? The fact is, we have known for quite some time where students need more resource. Perhaps those in Portland who portray it in as a movement of the privileged are unaware of the opt out movement in places like Philadelphia, where parents of English Learners know that it’s not fair for their kids to take a test in a language they are still learning; or in Seattle, where the King County NAACP has spoken against the tests and leader of testing resistance Jesse Hagopian has reminded people of the legacy of standardized tests as tools used to exclude people of color and deny them their basic rights as citizens.
In fact, many parents of color are tired of waiting for the system to do something other than measure the inequality in the system and to actually address their concerns and are beginning to talk of opting out of the entire system. This is not something that has been typical in these communities historically, but the reform parents are seeking, and have been seeking for decades, does not involve more gatekeeping via linguistically and culturally biased standardized tests. Some parents are growing tired of waiting for real reform. Just like the “white suburban moms” Duncan spoke of, mothers of children in traditionally underserved and marginalized communities also want a say in their kids’ education. And parents with the resources to do so will leave the system at some point, no matter what their ethnicity. Sadly, this is what those who wish to privatize our schools want to see happen. It will be so much easier to slide in a cheap McEducation when only those with little power or engagement are left in our public schools. Money earned from private charter chains, taxes cut for public schools: it’s a double win for the 1%.
There are many parents of color and "white suburban moms" who stand together and seek real reform. Instead, what parents of color have been getting for decades is underfunding and de facto segregation followed more recently by school closures based on test scores. Parents in Chicago have experienced this. Parents in New Orleans are living with the system of privatization. Parents don’t want their kids labeled failures or their neighborhood schools closed. They want them improved, and they want a say in how. Some parents have even been willing to risk their lives and health to keep their schools open and to retain local control. Here in Oregon, in spite of what some are trying to convince us of, African American students opted out at a rate of 7%, according to ODE. Thus the attempt of some to divide us by race is dissolved. There are a whole lot of all kinds of people who do not like this system.
And we know ODE is keeping close tabs on who does and doesn’t test, as they have stated repeatedly that are afraid we will lose federal money; even though any legal challenge would likely find that the federal government has no authorization to withhold money on this basis; even though it didn’t happen in New York; and even though there appears to be no appetite for withholding money in either the House or Senate bill seeking to finally reauthorize ESEA and get us out of the clearly failed test and punish system brought to you by No Child Left Behind beginning 15 years ago.
By the way, can we really still call something we’ve been doing at least 15 years “reform”?
So when you see an article like this, or an even more poorly researched article like this, fellow Oregonians, use the critical thinking skills I know you have EVEN THOUGH you were never exposed to the magic Common Core and required to take an average total of 8 hours of standardized testing beginning in third grade. Well informed parents, parents who pay attention to their children and what’s happening not only at their neighborhood school but also at schools across the country, have good reason to want to opt their children out. It’s not about a hard test and dumb kids with overprotective parents, or lazy teachers who don’t want to be evaluated, and parent and education activists’ reaction to the language in the Oregon Opt Out form is not “whining”. Those who insinuate these things are not only insulting, they are constructing a straw man. This is a national movement to end the corruption of our school system by an undemocratic process wherein billionaires spread their money around get what they want without ever having to have the messy discussions that democracy demands. And we want our state education department on our side, not shilling for the snake oil salesmen who promise that the new standards are the Common Cure for every ill in education and for every struggle faced by every child.
The state has admitted that so far Smarter Balanced is costing us $27 million per biennium (more than double what the previously and also flawed OAKS test cost) and that’s just in contract and administration costs alone. We may never get a total accounting of all the professional development time for teachers and the materials purchased to conform to the new standards, nor the class time lost and disruption of school schedules for months.
Isn’t it time for our state to do what Vermont did recently and tell the parents the truth? Or at the very least, if they fear the wrath of Big Brother, remain more neutral, as they chose to do in Albuquerque?
This is the issue: What is our state government’s duty to parents and families? What quality of information are we entitled to?
Maybe it’s time for us to return to an elected office for the State Superintendent.
I have been teaching for 28 years in a variety of settings but primarily in Title I schools and bilingual programs.
Thank you, Susan DuFresne, for allowing me to use your photo of the Vashon Island Opt Out Bus on my blog pages!