Student career-preparedness measure gets narrow approval

February 21, 2022

Ray Carter

Legislation that would require public schools to provide remediation to students who do not meet college-readiness benchmarks has cleared a state House subcommittee by a relatively narrow margin.

“Whenever we have a student who doesn’t meet one of these benchmarks, or we have a student who doesn’t pass high school, that is an equal problem for every single Oklahoman,” said Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin.

House Bill 4044, by Hasenbeck, would require public schools to “provide remediation for high school students who score below the benchmarks on subject-area portions of the American College Testing (ACT) exam or below equivalent scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) exam in the most recent year for which student performance data is available.”

Students who meet an ACT Benchmark have at least a 50-percent chance of earning a B or higher grade and approximately a 75-percent chance of earning a C or higher grade in the corresponding college course or courses.

Under HB 4044, required remediation for students who do not achieve those benchmark scores may include extended instructional time during the school day, a summer academy, tutoring, online coursework, repetition of any course in which the student has demonstrated academic deficiency, or any course designed to address areas of deficiency.

Hasenbeck noted reports indicate anywhere between 27 precent and 39 percent of Oklahoma students do not meet college-readiness benchmarks for the ACT or SAT. All students nearing graduation in public schools are now provided one of those tests each year.

It’s estimated Oklahoma families spend $22 million annually on college-remediation courses that don’t count towards degree completion, Hasenbeck noted. Those courses reteach material students were supposed to master before graduating high school.

“We’ve got to change the conversation on this,” Hasenbeck said.

While a high-school diploma once indicated that a youth was prepared for the workforce or college, that is no longer the case, and at least one Oklahoma school district has publicly said so in a court filing.

In December 2020, the family of Kolton Ellis, a recent high-school graduate in the Lone Grove district, filed a lawsuit requesting the student be allowed to reenroll as a fifth-year senior.

Among other things, Ellis’ lawsuit said Lone Grove officials gave him between a semester and a full year’s worth of credit for several classes based on as little as 43.5 minutes of online instruction per course. Ellis’ legal filings showed he was awarded 2.5 total credits for Biology I, English II, Mathematics and World History based on “less than five hours of online instruction from the District.”

In a brief requesting dismissal of the lawsuit, the Lone Grove school district declared Ellis was asking the court “to adopt a graduation criterion that does not exist under Oklahoma law—namely mastery of state-mandated courses.”

“Nowhere within the Oklahoma statutes or applicable administrative regulations does there exist a requirement that a student achieve some undefined level of successful mastery of state-mandated courses in order to earn a credit that applies towards graduation,” the Lone Grove district argued.

The school district response continued, saying that “successful mastery of state-mandated core courses is not currently, and never has been, the graduation standard for students in Oklahoma public schools.”

Lone Grove also cited Ellis’ score on the ACT college-admission test in its defense, saying Ellis received a composite score of 18 on the ACT. However, that score indicated Ellis was not college-ready in several core subjects. The benchmark scores for the ACT at that time were English, 18; Mathematics, 22; Reading, 22; and Science, 23.

Lone Grove officials also tacitly noted other Lone Grove students fared worse, since Ellis ranked 54th out of 78 students in his senior class.

However, Hasenbeck’s bill received pushback from some committee members.

Rep. Dick Lowe, R-Amber, was among the lawmakers who objected to Hasenbeck’s legislation.

“There are some students that are not good test-takers,” Lowe said.

He said the legislation could “force” those students to remediate.

Hasenbeck, who taught school prior to serving in the Legislature, said each year she discussed with students why tests mattered.

“Every third week of school, this is the conversation I had with kids,” Hasenbeck said. “‘Look, let’s think of any job in the world that you can have that you don’t have to take a test.’ And everybody talks, everybody talks, everybody talks. Nobody can come up with a job that we can get that we don’t have to take some type of test or achieve some type of certification. So, when we know that as second graders or third graders or high-school students, then we need to understand we’ve got to put these kids in a position where they either take the test and they make it, or they do something else to achieve that same level of understanding.”

In some instances, she said educators may need to build up students’ confidence, which can be done with simple training over a few weeks. In other instances, students will need more in-depth instruction. But she said students must be able to demonstrate knowledge and skill when they leave school and enter the workforce.

“As far as we go in life, we’re going to have to take tests,” Hasenbeck said. “You have to take a test to be a food-service worker. You have to take driver’s test. You have to do a lot of these things.”

HB 4044 passed the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education on an 8-5 vote.