Walters announces effort to improve low-performing schools

Ray Carter | November 30, 2023

Under a proposal unveiled by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, schools in which a majority of students are at least one year below grade level in reading and math will receive additional resources to improve outcomes.

But, in addition to directing additional funds and resources to those schools, Walters’ plan will also allow for schools that show no improvement in student achievement over a period of years to have their state accreditation lowered.

“When we see schools that are struggling, that are not meeting the needs of parents and kids, we will act,” Walters told members of the State Board of Education. “We will identify those schools and we will move to make resources available.”

The initiative will focus on Oklahoma schools where more than half of students test below the “basic” threshold in either English Language Arts or Mathematics on state tests. Students testing below “basic” are generally understood to be performing at least a year below grade level, if not more.

Currently, 105 of Oklahoma’s 537 public school districts, or nearly 20 percent, have at least half of their students performing below “basic” in reading and math.

Under Walters’ proposal, those schools will receive additional focus and support.

That support will include access to roughly $500,000 in federal Title II funds to train teachers at low-performing schools in effective instruction in reading and math.

There will also be a designated school-support coordinator to act as a liaison between the district and the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) who can advise districts on best practices to improve academic outcomes.

Low-performing districts will also be given priority consideration when they or their community partners apply for competitive grants for after-school funds through Title IV, Part B 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

OSDE will also aid those schools in mobilizing local organizations to increase community involvement through tutoring and other academically focused programs.

And OSDE will allocate additional funding to those schools to cover the cost of high-dosage tutoring.

If those schools fail to improve student outcomes after receiving that additional funding and support, they will face a potential downgrade in their state accreditation under proposed new agency rules. Schools that fail to improve for multiple years could face probation.

However, districts that increase their absolute scores by at least 5 percent year over year in math and reading would not receive a downgrade in accreditation under the proposal.

Walters noted state law requires school-accreditation standards to “exceed or be equal to standards that are consistent” with an “academic, result-oriented approach.”

Yet the current accreditation process does not take account of student outcomes at any point.

“We have got to do things different in education, and I think one of the key things we have to do different is focus on outcomes,” Walters said. “The more that we align what we’re doing, process-wise, to student outcomes, the better off our kids are going to be, the better off our schools are going to be, and the better off the individual student is going to be, because we are creating an education system that is targeted towards making sure that students are ready for what comes next in their lives.”

The proposed accreditation changes will be contained in a proposed rule change that will receive public comment and feedback before the State Board of Education votes on it at a future meeting.

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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