Jenks educator says lack of testing oversight leaves state exposed
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2012
4/19/12 at 4:56 AM
Related story: Fallin signs school appeals bill.
JENKS - The state has left itself exposed to "potentially embarrassing and costly litigation" by implementing high-stakes testing without the oversight required under a 3-year-old state law, a Jenks educator said in a letter to Senate leaders.
"Why do I say this?" Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller wrote. "Because of the fact that the state has not followed its own laws relative to oversight and governance of the Oklahoma State Testing Program - the very program that now threatens to withhold a diploma from many students across the state of Oklahoma."
In 2009, former Gov. Brad Henry signed into law a measure that established the Educational Quality and Accountability Board. The law required the independent audit entity for the state testing program to meet quarterly.
Miller was appointed to the board that year by former Speaker of the House Chris Benge.
Under the law, the board was charged with oversight of state testing, including setting cut scores, reviewing tests and making recommendations for improvement, and reviewing contracts with test vendors, he said.
"Gentlemen, would it be a surprise to you that in nearly three years, this board has never met?" Miller wrote to Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, and Senate Floor Leader Mike Schulz, R-Altus.
The class of 2012 is the first group of students to face the state graduation requirement passed by lawmakers in 2005 as part of Achieving Classroom Excellence - or ACE - legislation.
To receive a high school diploma this year, students must have passed at least four of seven end-of-instruction - or EOI - exams. Algebra I and English II are mandatory. Students also must pass two other exams from among Algebra II, geometry, English III, biology or U.S. history.
Miller told the Tulsa World that he is a strong supporter of high standards and rigorous coursework for all students.
"I'm not advocating that we lower the cut scores so the kids pass," he said. "But if a big piece of our oversight of our state testing program has not been active for three years - and now we're holding kids responsible for not passing tests that we haven't provided the legal oversight of - to me, if I'm the parent of an 18-year-old, I'm going at that."
Among other functions, Miller said the board was established to provide independent oversight to ensure cut scores (passing scores) are properly calibrated and are not manipulated.
"If that's not happening, then could a student fail a test by one point or two points, one question or two questions, and therefore not graduate? But if this board had been in place, then maybe those cut scores would have been different," he said.
After numerous inquiries to several senators over the years regarding the board's status, one Senate staffer told Miller that Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, had put the board "on hold," he wrote.
However, Jolley told the Tulsa World in an email that he did no such thing.
"A senator doesn't have that authority and as the author of the legislation, why would I want to stop my own bill from being implemented?" he said.
Jolley said he shares Miller's agitation over the failure to implement the law.
"Frankly, I was fairly upset that Gov. Henry and I worked together to put (the board) in place as an oversight, and in response, both the state Department of Education and the superintendent pretty much ignored the law and entered into a contract with a vendor without regard to what we passed in SB 222," he said.
Jolley noted that took place under the prior administration at the Education Department.
Miller also urged lawmakers to pass House Bill 2970, which would establish an appeals process for students denied a diploma because they did not pass the tests. Gov. Mary Fallin signed that bill into law Wednesday.
Miller acknowledged he doesn't support the diploma testing requirement at all.
Students who have demonstrated the character and perseverance to continue in school, pass all required courses and model good citizenship deserve to earn a diploma, Miller said.
"Over the past 20 years, I have seen firsthand the many challenges that our students endure," he said. "In particular, issues of poverty, neglect, abuse, divorce and mobility are sometimes so daunting that it is a miracle that some students even make it to school."
Educational Quality and Accountability Board duties
1. Review all functions related to the determination of adequate yearly progress as required under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, P.L. No. 107-110;
2. Review processes for selection and approval of contracts and bid specifications for contracts by the State Department of Education with vendors for administration of testing and approval of test specifications and test blueprints necessary for the administration of the Oklahoma School Testing Program Act;
3. Review all tests administered by the State Department of Education and make recommendations to realign, recal-ibrate and improve the tests with a particular emphasis on grades three through eight and End-of-Instruction (EOI) tests;
4. Review processes for the establishment of cut scores for the Oklahoma School Testing Program Act;
5. Study the process by which student performance levels and the corresponding cut scores pursuant to the Oklahoma School Testing Program Act are determined and adopted, including the timing of cut score adoption;
6. Study the feasibility of ensuring that the cut scores are tied to the rigor of the tests and the rate and method by which scheduled increases in cut scores shall occur, including any link to national assessments;
7. Serve as an independent auditing entity for the purpose of evaluating the systems and processes by which the Oklahoma School Testing Program Act is implemented, ascertaining the validity and reliability of information or the deficiencies thereof; and
8. Make recommendations to the Legislature and the Governor on the Board's findings.
Source: SB 222
Original Print Headline: Educator: Test mandate lacks needed oversight
Kim Archer 918-581-8315