Oklahoma praised for reading test standards, but not results


Ray Carter | June 21, 2021

Oklahoma praised for reading test standards, but not results

Ray Carter

Statewide tests are required in schools nationwide to measure academic performance, but many states declare “proficiency” has been achieved for scores that are far below the level set in national standards. As a result, parents are often informed their children are proficient in reading according to state tests when national measurements show the same students are performing below grade level.

A new report shows Oklahoma is one of only a handful of states defying that trend. But that same national organization’s data shows that Oklahoma’s embrace of more truthful reporting has not yet led to improved public-school performance and that student achievement continues to slide.

The new report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card, shows Oklahoma has set higher expectations for student academic proficiency than most states, ranking second in the nation in expectations for fourth-grade reading and seventh for eighth-grade reading in 2019.

That was an improvement from 2017 when NAEP ranked Oklahoma 15th and 14th in those categories, respectively.

Only 13% of Oklahoma’s black fourth-grade students are proficient or better in reading.

“We are narrowing the gap for national comparability in expectations for student performance,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said in a release. “We have made extraordinary progress in the last four years, rising from 41st to second in the country.”

The report showed that Oklahoma, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Tennessee were the only states that set the proficiency scores on their state tests at levels comparable to the score required to achieve proficiency on the NAEP test. “Proficiency” is typically used to designate that a child is performing at grade level.

The report found that most states’ tests declared a child to be proficient at levels that would be considered below grade level by NAEP.

While Oklahoma is receiving credit from NAEP for higher expectations, the state is not being singled out for achieving higher results.

According to the results of NAEP’s 2019 Reading State Snapshot Report for Oklahoma, the most recent available, just 29 percent of Oklahoma fourth-grade students read at grade-level or better that year. The remainder were below grade level, with 37 percent more than a year below grade level.

“We have a long way to go towards making education in Oklahoma the best in the nation.” —Secretary of Education Ryan Walters

Oklahoma’s average fourth-grade reading score was below the national average.

Among subgroups, the results were worse with just 13 percent of black fourth-grade students proficient or better in reading in Oklahoma, 19 percent of Hispanics, 27 percent of American Indians, and 20 percent of low-income students eligible for the federal free-or-reduced lunch program.

A document produced in 2019 by Oklahoma Achieves noted that Oklahoma’s fourth grade reading NAEP score had been slightly above the national average as recently as 2015, and Oklahoma students had “improved by almost one grade level” between 2002 and 2015. But in 2017, the fourth-grade reading score plummeted, and it declined again in 2019 despite a massive increase in state school funding during those years. (NAEP is administered every two years.)

To address the poor reading performance of students, Hofmeister stressed in her release that the Oklahoma State Department of Education will soon offer no-cost professional development in early childhood literacy to 10,000 teachers over the next three years.

Gov. Kevin Stitt and members of the Legislature took several significant steps to address education challenges this year, including reforms that tie school funding more closely to the actual number of students served, easing “open transfer” between public schools, designating new facilities funding to public charter schools, and increasing private-school opportunities for low-income students through expansion of the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program, which helps children attend private schools by providing tax credits for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

At the end of the 2021 legislative session, Stitt and lawmakers declared 2021 the “Year of Oklahoma’s Education Turnaround.”

Secretary of Education Ryan Walters said the gap between expectations and academic performance provides motivation for continued efforts.

“From day one, Governor Stitt and our team have put kids first. We're proud of the progress Oklahoma has made in terms of standards,” Walters said. “However, we must make progress to make education better for all Oklahoma students. We have a long way to go towards making education in Oklahoma the best in the nation.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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