Achieve Says Okla. Sends 'Mixed Signal' on Goals
Oklahoma could greatly improve its efforts to create a strong K-12 education system by devising a more rigorous system of standards and assessments that holds all schools accountable for results, according to an independent evaluation.
While Oklahoma should be lauded for embracing a clear agenda for improving its schools, the state's academic standards sometimes lack specifics, and its hodgepodge of tests sends a "mixed signal" about the importance of those standards, the Washington-based group Achieve, Inc. says in two recent reports.
The reviews, "Aiming Higher" and "Measuring Up," identify several crucial areas state education officials and business leaders should focus on as Oklahoma works to improve its education goals and to comply with new federal education requirements.
Released in their final form last month, the reports make up the latest of 16 state reviews that have been completed or are being worked on by Achieve, which was founded by governors and corporate leaders to work for higher academic standards.
As a way to make Oklahoma's standards clearer, Achieve recommends that the state give teachers suggested reading lists or sample texts for English/language arts, as well as sample problems for mathematics.
Restructuring standards for English/language arts to promote more explicit development of skills from grade to grade also would help strengthen those standards and help teachers identify the most important content, Achieve adds.
The reports found that while Oklahoma's standards in math are stronger than those in English/language arts, education leaders should pay more attention to algebra, probability, statistics, and data analysis.
Oklahoma's state superintendent of public instruction, Sandy Garrett, said education leaders requested the evaluation as part of their own review of state standards and received the reports in March. The state board of education adopted the initial recommendations Aug. 22.
"We feel it was very productive for Oklahoma education reforms," Ms. Garrett said.
Overall, Oklahoma's method of assessing students' skills could be undermining attempts to focus learning around the state's academic standards, the studies found.
Reviewers said that by using a mix of assessments that includes a state standards-based exam, a national norm-referenced exam, and a college-admissions test, Oklahoma "may be sending a mixed signal" about the importance of its standards. The reports recommend developing a coherent set of tests in grades 3-8.
"The goal is to have a set of tests that supply coherent information regarding student performance against state standards over time," the "Aiming Higher" report says. "It thus makes sense for Oklahoma to have a set of grades 3-8 tests deliberately designed to measure performance against the state's standards so essential information can be tracked from year to year."
Achieve also found that Oklahoma needs to do more to provide incentives for low-performing schools. Currently, those schools are identified by the state, but expectations for performance are set so low that the schools most in need are not targeted for extra assistance and resources.
Achieve urges state leaders to establish a data system to track students' performance from grade to grade and to more aggressively intervene in failing schools.
The reports suggest that the current method for reporting achievement results to the public could be improved by replacing separate reports from the state department of education and the governor's office with a single report based on a common set of performance data.
Ms. Garrett, the state's superintendent, said, "Making these changes brings Oklahoma's standards more in line with the best standards nationally and internationally."
Vol. 22, Issue 2, Page 18