Ray Carter | March 19, 2020
State could suspend student testing, school grades
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister has announced that the state will seek a federal waiver to suspend both state testing for the 2019-20 school year and school report cards, two major transparency measures that have allowed officials to track the trajectory of public education in Oklahoma.
Hofmeister cited coronavirus concerns as justification for the change. State schools have been ordered closed through April 6.
“Our educators and district leaders need to shift their focus from assessments to essential services, including child nutrition and planning to continue student learning through alternative delivery methods,” Hofmeister said. “Their priority cannot be with assessments that would be of questionable validity in the wake of a global pandemic. Assessments are very important tools, but they do not outweigh other considerations during this time of uncertainty.”
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires each state to administer academic assessments in English language arts, mathematics, and science in grades 3-8 as well as once in high school.
Hofmeister said the waiver request will also seek suspension of the Oklahoma School Report Card for the current school year. If approved, this will not be the first time school report cards are not released during Hofmeister’s tenure. She previously declined to issue report cards in 2017, citing changes to state academic standards as justification. When school grades were again released in 2018, officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) argued the grades should not be compared to prior grades on the 2016 version due to changes in the grading system.
Both state testing and school report cards have been considered important public measurements of school quality in Oklahoma—and both have been a source of embarrassment for the public-school system at times.
When the most recent school report cards were released in November, they showed that for every Oklahoma school that achieved a higher grade compared to the prior year, more than two schools saw their state letter grade fall. Of 1,494 school sites, 234 received a higher grade than the prior year, but 493 received a lower grade.
Just 54 school sites in Oklahoma received an overall grade of A, compared to 111 that received an F. Another 292 received a B, 579 received a C, and 458 received a D.
In the “Academic Achievement” subcategory, there were nearly five schools that performed worse for every school that did notably better on the report cards.
Due to the disruption caused by a teacher walkout in 2018, state officials largely dismissed the results of state testing that year. But when state testing results were released for 2019, the results still showed that academic achievement was lower in 2019 than in 2017. In no grade or subject tested did a majority of Oklahoma students score proficient (at grade level).
A downward trend was noted in math and fifth-grade science and a “steeper downward trend in English language arts (ELA) performance from 2017 to 2019.” Multi-year tracking of some student cohort groups showed “a meaningful decrease in both ELA and math performance.”
Declining academic performance has occurred even as education spending has increased. In the 2018 and 2019 legislative sessions, lawmakers increased K-12 school appropriations by a combined 20 percent.
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.