The Oklahoman Newspaper, Monday October 9, 2017
Academic proficiency rates for Oklahoma students are expected to be significantly lower when released later this year, not because of a change in student performance, but simply because of a change in how the state defines proficiency, or a student's comprehension of a subject.
For example, in 2015 in both fourth-grade reading and math, around 70 percent of Oklahoma students were defined as proficient on the state test. However, when using proficiency standards from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which were adopted by the state this year, less than 40 percent of Oklahoma fourth-graders are considered proficient in each subject.
In eighth-grade reading the state's 2015 proficiency rate was 75 percent. Under the new academic standards it would have been just 29 percent.
“When kids take the Oklahoma test, overall they were doing pretty well,” said Aurora Lora, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, speaking at a board meeting last month. “But when we take the national test compared to the other states, our kids were not doing very well at all.”
Districts will receive scores from last school year's test in the coming week, with school-level scores expected to become public a few weeks later. Individual student scores will be delivered to families in late November.
Preparing for shocked parents
As the new proficiency rates are released, education leaders across the state are prepared for public concern, especially as some students who had previously scored proficient in a subject may find their new score labeling them as limited knowledge, meaning the state does not consider them to have the necessary level of comprehension.
State and local education leaders say the rate change will help close the “honesty gap,” which is the discrepancy in how academic proficiency is defined in Oklahoma compared to other states. But they also acknowledged the change in proficiency rates could be
shocking, even showing struggles at once high-performing schools.
The new rates will make comparing this year's scores with previous years a faulty exercise, but it will make comparisons with other states more accurate. Like in previous years, the scores will be based on a student's performance on a single test and by the time families get their own student's scores in November, it will be several months after the test was taken.
“Overall, we believe this is good for kids,” Lora said. The state Department of Education is expected to increase efforts in the coming weeks to educate parents about the change.
Many local education groups supported the change and called it a step in the right direction for Oklahoma schools.
"We weren't being truthful about Oklahoma students for a long time," said Jennifer Monies, executive director of the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative.
Not ready for careers, college
With nearly 40 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates requiring math and English remediation in college, Monies said too many students are not college- or career-ready.
Remediation courses cost Oklahomans more than $22.1 million annually, according to the state Department of Education.
"In the past, we have just been lying and telling students that they were college- and career-ready and they weren't," Monies said. "It will be a very stark wake-up call. It will be a shock to the system."
The change in proficiency is part of the state's new education plan, which was submitted last month for final review by the U.S. Department of Education.
The new proficiency rates were lauded in the new plan as an example of the state's improved efforts to reach more underperforming students. Oklahoma's plan includes a goal to become one of the 20 highest-performing states on NAEP in fourth and eighth grade. The new proficiency rates also come at a time when the state has decreased and changed its required testing.
This year, third- through eighth-grade students only will take a math and English language arts test. Students in fifth and eighth grade will take an additional science test.
Also beginning this year, high school students will be required to take a college- or career-ready exam — either the ACT or SAT — instead of the seven exams that were required up until last year.
While the number of tests in Oklahoma is decreasing, the exams are getting tougher in order to meet new college- and career-readiness
©2017 Produced by The Oklahoman.