The DIBELS Debacle

DIBELS stands for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills and is composed of six measures that function as indicators of the essential skills that every child must master to become a proficient reader.

Though not all Alabama school systems use DIBELS, many do.  And in past years the state department has furnished all the materials needed by local schools to use the test.

But not this year.

And the reason why is a classic example of the lack of attentive management by the folks Mike Sentance has running ALSDE.

On July 28, just days before school was to open, all superintendents received a letter from Sentance’s chief of staff telling them this year they will have to pay for their own materials.  Normally, these materials are printed by the state print shop and distributed to school systems.  But the letter stated “the state print shop closed abruptly before the DIBELS Next materials could be printed.”

OK.  These things happen from time to time.  But in this case, the “abrupt” closing happened the first of June, nearly two months before the letter went out to superintendents.  And all users of the shop were notified in late May that it was about to close.  Someone at ALSDE was asleep at the wheel.  (Will we hire another consultant to find how who didn’t do what and when?)

Compounding the matter is that the company that has copyright privileges for DIBELS will not allow a third-party to print material.  So ALSDE could not use another printer and instead, would have to buy materials from the company with the copyright.  But superintendents were told this would cost six times what ALSDE had budgeted and they could not afford to do this.

But the same rules appliy to local systems.  Either they printed DIBELS in-house, or paiythe company at the same rate the state would pay them.

I contacted a number of systems to find out what this meant to them.  They were not happy.  Especially given the fact that all they seem to see is a state department that has recently hired an abundance of six-figure administrators and is now saying they can’t afford to help local schools.

It’s just another unfunded mandate.” said one system administrator.  This system has 9,000 K-3 students.and will buy what they need.  The invoice is for $15,596.  One superintendent told me, “We would be better off if there was not an ALSDE.  All they do is get in the way.”  Another superintendent said it will cost them $450 and a three-week delay in testing.

It”s sad that the state department can’t handle a simply assignment like this.  And then the staff spends multiple days and send multiple emails trying to defend/explain what happened.  If they can’t print booklets, how are they ever going to be able to manage the real issues we have?” said another superintendent.

A rural system would have had to print 5,551 pages on special paper and then fold and staple books.  At the beginning of the school year they simply did not have the manpower to do the job.  So they spent $640 to buy.  Another rural system needs 1,500 testing booklets.  Each elementary school will print and assemble what they need.  “Not really what a principal wants to hear with school beginning,” said the superintendent.

In life it is often the little things such as this that leave a lasting impression.  While the folks on the fifth floor of the Gordon Persons building in Montgomery (where ALSDE leadership works) get all caught up in strategic plans, they would be wise to remember that the principal and secretary in a small school who are busy printing and assembling materials ALSDE was supposed to pay for and supply have more important things to do.

Like working with their students.

 

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