State leaders see low education assessment scores as a starting point for the state to close the achievement gap 

Last week, the Oklahoma Department of Education released student proficiency rates on last spring’s state testing. (file)
  • file
  • Last week, the Oklahoma Department of Education released student proficiency rates on last spring’s state testing.

One of the many takeaways from Shannon Ashong’s 10 years as a classroom teacher was her students always wanted to please her. No matter the classroom assignment, Ashong’s students rose to her level of expectations. Her encouragement left students feeling capable and ready to tackle the next assignment, even when it was more challenging than the last.

The 2016-17 school year marked a big change for Oklahoma school districts as they ushered in new state-mandated curriculum under the new Oklahoma Academic Standards, which were embedded with the same benchmarks for success required on the ACT and SAT college entrance exams and the benchmarks of the National Assessment for Educational Progress for elementary and middle schools students. In the spring, students were tested through newly developed exams aligned with those standards.

This past summer, Ashong, who serves as the elementary math curriculum coordinator for Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS), joined one of the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s 18 standards-setting committees to review student tests. With fellow educators and experts hired by the state, Ashong went through the test question-by-question, reviewing the state’s curriculum and discussing what the state’s students could have learned and what they should have retained. Perhaps just as important, the educators asked what teachers should have expected their students to learn.

The end result was implementation of a more rigorous academic assessment of student performance. Student scores now reflect a more realistic scoring based on national proficiency standards, which old standards failed to do.

“Yes, [students] can do this, but we need to set our bar higher,” Ashong said. “We can push our students and expect them to do more. If we want them to be college- and career-ready, teachers have to stop giving excuses and encourage them to do better.”

“Total reset”

Last week, the Oklahoma State Department of Education released initial student proficiency rates on last spring’s state testing. As the department predicted, the results were grim.

For example, fewer than 31 percent of third-graders scored at proficient levels in English and language arts and 27.17 percent were proficient in math. At the eighth-grade level, fewer than 23 percent of students were proficient in math and 34.53 percent in English and language arts. At the 10th grade level, fewer than 17 percent were proficient in math and 25.96 percent in English and language arts.

The results should jolt parents and communities, but the results should be reviewed with the proper context, said Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.

“As school districts begin to study their scores, every stakeholder must understand that our new assessment system is not only a total reset but a testament to the commitment and hard work of our teachers,” Hofmeister said. “From the development of stronger academic standards to the setting of challenging, nationally aligned scores, the entire process has been driven by educators who understand the importance of providing an opportunity to all children.”

The Oklahoma Academic Standards and its assessments were created to improve instruction and student learning to help students become college- and career-ready. In the past, Oklahoma’s test score system for proficiency was lower than the National Assessment for Educational Progress Standards, a nationally recognized organization that assesses student knowledge in various subject areas.

In 2015, just over 40 percent of college freshmen who graduated from Oklahoma’s public high schools enrolled in a remedial college classes, according to Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

“We are asking our students and our schools to focus on learning for the long run, acquiring a foundation that they can build, sustain and persist into the next step of learning,” Hofmeister told reporters on Oct. 10, a day before statewide results of the Oklahoma School Testing Program for grade levels and subjects were released.

Individual school district data was not made available, as districts began to receive initial data late last week. Districts are expected to share individual student performance to parents in mid-November.

Since the state switched to new assessments, first-year results can’t be used to compare achievement to that of previous years, said Jeanene Barnett, the state’s deputy superintendent of assessment and accountability.

“This year is a total reset,” said Barnett, a former superintendent of Bristow Public Schools. “The end goal is for students to become great thinkers, problem solvers and innovators.”

Hofmeister said the new assessments help schools identify achievement gaps earlier in students’ academic careers, thus providing remedial opportunities to help students close such gaps. Over time, Hofmeister believes the scores will rise and students will graduate better prepared for the changing workforce and demands of college.

At Oklahoma City schools, Ashong believes that as teachers become more familiar with the new standards and increase the complexity of what is required of students, they will begin to see student success and rising test scores.

“I have seen areas where our teachers can grow,” Ashong said, suggesting that teachers work to create engaging lessons for students. “If provided with the resources and more modeling, they are capable [of teaching the standards].”

Print headline: Honest study;  State leaders see low education assessment scores as a starting point for the state to close achievement gap.

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