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Thompson: OK's Grassroots Revolt Against Testing Continues to Grow

Last week brought more evidence that the voices of students, parents, and teachers are being heard, in many or most places, and we are all fed up with bubble-in accountability. The Daily Oklahoman’s Tim Willert, in Oklahoma City School Leaders Hope Tour Will Give Elected Officials a New Perspective, reported that Superintendent Rob Neu, an eloquent opponent of test, sort, and punish, took newly-elected State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and other governmental leaders on a tour of schools. They visited my old high school, Centennial, hearing from some great student leaders and one of my best former colleagues.

The statement that gained the most attention was that of an elementary student who criticized high-stakes exams.  He said, “We’re just 10 years old, and we’re getting stressed out in the fourth grade.”

The Oklahoma PTA, which has also criticized stakes attached to standardized tests, encouraged parents to Opt Out of field tests. Moreover, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association responded to this parental pushback by issuing a reference guide on opting out. The Tulsa World’s Nour Habib, in OSSBA Issues Guidance to Opt-Out Requests by Parents, reports that veteran Superintendent Lloyd Snow said that the PTA’s call to parents to opt-out is “pretty telling.” He noted, “It’s a pretty strong message to policy makers that parents don’t like this environment.”

The week’s third big story is a “stinging new report” from the Southern Regional Education Board about opposition to value-added evaluations. The SREB conducted focus groups in 58 Oklahoma school districts and found a “lack of buy-in and trust in the system.” It found “a remarkable portion of teachers and principals interviewed in focus groups” question the validity of Oklahoma’s standardized test data. There was even more distrust of the metrics for teachers of non-tested classes. Tulsa, which is focused on its Gates Foundation teacher quality grant, didn't participate in the process.

The Tulsa World's Andrea Eger, in Commission Hears Report Critical of Oklahoma's Handling of Teacher Evaluations,  reported that State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister “shares some of those concerns and questions.”

As the SREB’s Andy Baxter explained, “If the theory is to help people get better in a rigorous way, people have to believe in it.” The quantitative portion of the evaluation system, especially, is on course to  "just blow up."

I would only add that when my school was the lowest ranked high school in Oklahoma, our good and great teachers were equal to the best in the “A” ranked schools. Value-added metrics are inherently biased against teachers in high-challenge schools like Centennial, however. This reality was clear to everyone except to the theorists who somehow believed that test score growth could become a reliable accountability metric for individuals or, worse, that test-driven accountability would not foist teach-to-the-test malpractice on teachers and students.-JT(@drjohnthompson)

Update: Monday night, after a closed door selection process, the Tulsa Public Schools hired Chief for Change Deborah Gist as superintendent. Two or three dozen teachers and parents walked out in protest.

Never mind!

Seriously, Oklahoma opponents to high-stakes testing aren't going away. 


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