Lawmakers in Oklahoma Move to Establish Office on Data Systems, Testing

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Oklahoma lawmakers have sent the governor a measure that would move the office that analyzes student test scores out of the state education department to make it independent from the agency responsible for student instruction.

The bill’s author, Rep. Lee Denney, a Republican, said the change is an attempt to improve student performance and test scores, which historically have been low in the state, and would help bring transparency and accountability to the public education system.

"We won’t have the fox guarding the hen house," she said.

The House of Representatives approved the Senate-passed measure 58-39 and sent it to Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, on April 22 for his signature.

Opponents argued that poverty and low per-pupil spending on education, not the bureaucratic makeup of the education department, are primarily responsible for Oklahoma’s low student test scores.

Oklahoma ranked 46th nationally in per-pupil spending in December, according to the National Education Association. Per-pupil spending in the state totaled $7,615, compared with a regional average of $8,870 and a national average of $9,963, the NEA said.

"We’ve just got a magic act going on," said House Democratic Leader Danny Morgan, who added that 54.5 percent of Oklahoma students are considered to be living in poverty. “We’ve got a solution looking for a problem. We’re just shuffling the deck."

"I realize we’re a poverty state,” Ms. Denny said. "But we can’t sit down there in the muck and mire of mediocrity. We are better than being in the lower 10 percent."

New Office

The bill would move the existing Office of Accountability and rename it the Education Quality and Accountability Office, making it independent of the department of education. Under the bill, the office would handle both the education data system and testing and accountability functions.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a study called “Leaders and Laggards” in 2007 that gave Oklahoma a score of F in accountability. Despite receiving an A for a 21st-century teaching force, the state received an F in academic achievement and “truth in advertising” about student proficiency. Oklahoma also received a D in data quality.

Opponents of the legislation said there is no guarantee that making the Office of Accountability a separate agency would have any effect on test scores.

"Change is not necessarily improvement," said Rep. Jerry McPeak, a Democrat.

Mr. Morgan said students in Oklahoma take 44 standardized tests during their 12 years of elementary and secondary school.

"Those tests teach them nothing," Mr. McPeak said.

But Rep. Harold Wright, a Republican, said it makes sense to separate the office that analyzes student test scores from the agency that develops the instructional plan.

"Let’s stop the insanity," said Rep. Jabar Shumate, a Democrat. "Let’s not keep doing the same thing and expect a different result."

"Change is never comfortable," Ms. Denney said. "When we expect more from students, we’ll get more from students."

Vol. 28, Issue 30, Pages 18-19

Published in Print: April 29, 2009, as Lawmakers in Oklahoma Move to Establish Office On Data Systems, Testing
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