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Barresi email: Districts fail to do job regarding testing
[March 17, 2012]

Barresi email: Districts fail to do job regarding testing

Mar 17, 2012 (Tulsa World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- State Superintendent Janet Barresi identified northeastern Oklahoma school districts as the "usual" group of complainers regarding high-stakes testing for high school graduation and accused the districts of failing to do their jobs, according to a March 9 internal email obtained by the Tulsa World.

"In not one case that I have answered has the student in question been offered or even been made aware of alternative opportunities to show mastery of content," she wrote in an email to staff. "I will no longer take the heat for districts failing to do their job!" Barresi meant to send the email to internal staff only but unintentionally sent it to Janet Dunlop, chief academic officer at Broken Arrow Public Schools.

"I could have been more diplomatic in my language, but I stand by the email," Barresi told the Tulsa World by telephone Friday.

Her email was in response to a Broken Arrow parent's emotionally charged letter about her daughter's difficulty in passing the final of four tests required. The parent's letter to the school had been forwarded to Barresi by Dunlop.

In her emailed letter, the mother said her daughter has been offered a full scholarship to college but won't be able to accept it because she likely won't graduate from high school.

"She feels damaged, dumb and defeated," the mother wrote.

The class of 2012 is the first group of students to face the state graduation requirement created by lawmakers in 2005 as part of Achieving Classroom Excellence -- or ACE -- legislation. To receive a high school diploma, students are now required to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams.

"We need to let these parents know that they have not been advised of alternatives and at the same time let their districts know that we are aware that those alternatives have not been offered," Barresi wrote in her email.

In her conversation with the Tulsa World on Friday, Barresi said she did not imply in her email specifically that northeastern Oklahoma school districts were not doing their jobs, but she said she was referring to any district in the state that isn't offering the multiple test alternatives available to students.

"In this letter, what I tried to discern from her letter, ... and I'm not positive, but what I interpreted from it is her daughter had not been offered the chance to do a project," she said.

But Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall told the Tulsa World his district has disclosed every alternative available to students and parents. Of the district's 1,037 seniors, 97 percent of them have passed the required tests.

As the largest high school in the state, the school has seven counselors who have kept close watch on each student's progress, he said.

"I felt like we were blamed wrongly for not helping kids. That's not what we do.

"I think that was the thing I was really surprised at in her email," he said. "I felt, 'Wow, I wonder if she really believes that we don't know what alternatives are out there.' " He said district superintendents aren't complaining but are asking for collaboration and acknowledgement.

"We've not been really asked to come to the table and spend time talking about something that is this huge," Mendenhall said.

He said he isn't against high-stakes testing but he believes that Oklahoma isn't yet ready for it. And he said he doesn't believe the state is testing the right way or that the right test is being used.

In his March 12 response to Barresi, Mendenhall wrote, "I have heard many of our state leaders say that a diploma 'should mean something.' I agree, but I would argue that 13 years of education by highly qualified teachers means something, and is of greater value than the outcomes of the state's standardized EOI tests." Barresi said she strongly believes that the ACE testing mandate is critical to ensuring that Oklahoma students are prepared for the work force.

"There are a lot of good things these districts are doing. However, this is a sticking point," she said. "It is something that has been on the books for seven years in this state. Districts have had a lot of time to prepare for this." When asked if she had responded to or planned to respond to Mendenhall's email, Barresi said she would use an alternative method.

"You know, I read his letter, and he invited me to come and talk to him, and it was very kind of him," she said. "I thought it would be better to do a face-to-face meeting or a phone call." Kim Archer 918-581-8315 [email protected] ___ (c)2012 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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