• Author Deb Mayer

Oregon's new assessment plan

Because my vocal cords were damaged in a car accident, I wasn't able to teach until they healed. It was1998 when I accepted a full time position as a writer for Agency for Instructional Technology (AIT) in Bloomington, Indiana. Presumably, I would be developing the science portion of an online curriculum, The Learning Odyssey (TLO), for the parents of homeschoolers. The goal of the project seemed harmless enough. Some parents were were always going to homeschool, so they might as well have a quality curriculum. The project was the brainchild of MIT graduate Walter Koetke and developed in collaboration with Scholastic, Inc.

Once the project was well underway, AIT canceled the firm's profit-sharing program that awarded employees with bonuses based on the company's success. When business was good, bonuses could exceed an hourly worker's annual income. Bonuses were important and compensated for low wages. Writers were devastated when the program was canceled.

Within a year of TLO's launch, Koetke was hyping it at the South x Southwest conference as a cutting-edge education tool, not for homeschoolers, but for public schools. Shortly after that, AIT sold The Learning Odyssey project to Knowledge Universe, a mega education corporation based on the west coast. TLO writers in Indiana lost their jobs. Soon after that, the project morphed into Compass Learning Odyssey, a key component of the first publicly traded virtual school, K-12, Inc. This marked the first time I was exploited by the corporatists who have made millions off my work.

It wasn't the first time a teacher was duped into doing something she would not normally do because she needed to work. I mention my AIT experience because since that time I have witnessed teachers facing the dilemma of participating in programs that at the onset seem to benefit students and be in the best interest of education only to see those programs transformed into something totally different -- programs that harm children and benefit corporations. A new program is emerging in Oregon that smells like such an endeavor. According to Matt Chapman, a guest columnist for the Oregonian in an editorial that reads more like a commercial for Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) where he is an employee, "A state assessment plan that is less abusive than Smarter Balanced (Opinion)," on January 2, 2015: (Emphasis mine.)

It is the Oregon Assessment Plan and it was developed collaboratively by teachers, state and local education officials and highly respected education thought leaders, led by Dr. Rick Stiggins, an Oregonian who is arguably the nation's leading authority on assessments as a tool for learning.

First of all, the title of the editorial is suspect. Only months ago, Governor Kate Brown signed the Opt Out bill into law while at the same time urging parents not to. The law gives parents the option to opt their children out of high stakes tests. Was or is the Governor in favor of the abusive SBAC or not? Will the new plan replace SBAC? The new plan, the OAP, according to Chapman, is less abusive than SBAC. What does that message convey? The new system harms children but not as much as the old system? So, what does the new Oregon Assessment Plan look like? There is no link to it in Chapman's article, nor is there any other information about where the plan can be accessed.

Funny thing. The Oregon Assessment Plan doesn't seem to exist. A cursory Google search produces one result -- the article cited above. A quick call to Matt Chapman at Northwest Evaluation Association later resulted in a call back from Julie Newport at Collaborative Communications in Washington, D.C., a public relations firm specializing in education and learning. She said Matt would be out of his Portland office until sometime next week. She had no information for me but was very interested in finding out about me. I quickly diverted the conversation back to Matt and NWEA. I recognized that Matt wasn't available, but perhaps someone in his office could connect me with information on the Oregon Assessment Plan. After all, my request was a simple one. Matt Moore at the Oregonian has promised further investigation into the matter. Editor Erik Lukens is on the case. So far though, no news on the Oregon Assessment Plan.

I could speculate about what is meant by the new Oregon Assessment Plan, a plan the state has magically produced just in time to collect federal funds allocated in ESSA for innovative ways to test kids, but I'd rather actually know what I'm talking about. Also, could there be a connection between the the new Oregon Assessment Plan and the $602,521 awarded to NWEA by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in September? There appears to be, but I'd rather not rush to judgement. At any rate, we should be cautious to promote a plan before we see it.

I'm sure teachers would like to know about this new plan on which they presumably collaborated and what the state plans to do with their work.

More to follow.

#OregonAssessmentPlan #NorthwestEvaluationAssociation #TheLearningOdyssey

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