Common Core & $140 Million?


Feds warn Oregon not to let students easily skip Common Core

…Statesman Journal – June 9, 2015…

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon schools stand to lose $140 million a year or more in federal funding if state lawmakers vote to enable parents to opt out of standardized testing more easily, a top U.S. education official is warning.

Legislation headed for Oregon Senate approval as soon as Wednesday could trigger serious sanctions that include the loss of federal funding, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle said in a May 27 email and letter to Oregon schools chief Rob Saxton.

The House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 2655 in April. Backers want schools to inform Oregon parents twice a year of their rights to exempt children from state reading and math tests for any reason. Supporters also want schools where a lot of students go untested to be protected from the normal consequence of having the school’s performance rating downgraded a notch or two.

But Obama administration officials say testing all students promotes civil rights. Schools need to give an honest accounting of how well they prepare students of all backgrounds to meet state academic benchmarks, they argue, and incomplete testing blurs those determinations.

Saxton believes the risk of losing federal dollars is real, state Department of Education spokeswoman Meg Koch told The Oregonian.

Gov. Kate Brown, through a spokesman, declined to reveal her position on the bill.

Beginning in 2002, the federal No Child Behind law required schools to test at least 95 percent of students in every group, including low-income, minority and special education students. The law also required states to report the results.

In Oregon, the testing requirement spurred schools to pay more attention to special education students and those learning English as a second language. Most schools had not expected those students to perform at grade level, and most schools worked harder to get them there after they were called out for poor results with those learners.

To receive federal education dollars, the Oregon Department of Education had to test every student in grades three through eight, plus grade 11, in reading and math every year. The state also had to create and follow a plan to downgrade performance ratings of schools if they didn’t test at least 95 percent of students in every demographic category.

Rep. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, has led the effort to make opting students out of tests easier for parents and less onerous for schools.

Oregon this year switched to a new set of tests known as Smarter Balanced, which about 15 states used this school year. Frederick thinks the Smarter Balanced tests are suspect. He wants all parents to be sent more information about them and guaranteed the right to exempt their children. If the HB 2655 passes, parents would not have to cite any basis for opting out of tests, ending the requirement that parents cite a religious justification.

Frederick said he thinks the Obama administration is just blowing smoke about withholding federal funds from states that permit students to skip tests and fail to penalize schools that don’t test enough students.

“Sanctioning a state for making reasonable public school policy would not be good for the long-term credibility of the federal role” in education, he said.

The Smarter Balanced tests have been studied and approved by a larger, more highly qualified panel of testing experts than the ones that approved Oregon’s previous state reading and math test.

But Smarter Balanced has proved to be much more controversial with parents and teachers, in part because the tests are much more demanding. Oregon’s previous tests, known as Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or OAKS, were exclusively multiple-choice and computer-scored. Smarter Balanced tests require students to read more demanding passages, synthesize the findings, make arguments and cite evidence to support them. In math, students are expected to show advanced skills at younger ages.

HB 2655, which would take effect in 2016 and run for six years, would require schools to notify parents at the outset of the school year of any standardized testing their child will face. Then 30 days before the tests, parents would be sent another round of information and told how to opt their child out if they wish.

Under the bill, the state would generate two performance ratings for schools with high opt-outs: One low rating generated under the current rules, and a second, higher rating calculated without the penalties for testing too few students.


Federal Education Carrots Turn into Sticks

…Oregon Catalyst: Daily Update — June 9, 2015…

The debate over Common Core educational standards and the new Smarter Balanced high-stakes tests is heating up in the state capitol. The carrot of better educational outcomes is being overshadowed by the stick of losing lots of federal cash.

Critics of the federal role in education have warned that the new Common Core standards are simply a way for the federal government to wrest control of K-12 education from the states. Standards supporters say No—the standards are voluntary and emerged from states collaborating to improve educational outcomes.

But now, Oregon and other states are being required to administer high-stakes tests that have teachers unions, parents, and many legislators concerned. These tests are supposed to hold schools and teachers more accountable for results in their classrooms. Many parents see them as simply “teaching to the test” on steroids, requiring many hours of preparation and test taking that may actually take away from learning, not enhance it.

The Oregon House passed a bill, HB 2655, to let parents opt their kids out of the Smarter Balanced tests. But now, a top U.S. education official is warning that if the state lets this happen, we risk losing $140 million a year from the feds because these tests somehow promote civil rights.

A key sponsor of the bill, Portland Representative Lew Frederick (D), doesn’t believe the Obama Administration’s threat. He said, “Sanctioning a state for making reasonable public school policy would not be good for the long-term credibility of the federal role” in education.

Hopefully, Rep. Frederick and other legislators will come to realize that the federal government shouldn’t have any role in education policy to begin with. We wouldn’t risk losing any federal cash if those dollars weren’t taken from Oregon taxpayers in the first place.


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