Thursday, July 22, 2010

New study compares Florida's academic boom with Oklahoma's drop

Oklahoma not only is trailing most states in fourth-grade reading scores, but when compared with one state’s students its results look even worse, according to a new study released yesterday by the Foundation for Educational Choice, the Oklahoma Business & Education Coalition, and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

The study, Reforms With Results: What Oklahoma Can Learn from Florida’s K-12 Education Revolution, compares the educational gains made by Florida students over the past 10 years with the progress of Oklahoma students. Examining data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s (NAEP) fourth-grade reading test, the study finds that Florida, and 35 other states, are outperforming Oklahoma. In addition, Florida’s Hispanic students, who for years were lagging in academic performance, are now scoring higher than the average of all Oklahoma students on NAEP’s fourth-grade reading exam.

“Fourth-grade reading is a critical measurement of student performance and a great predictor of students’ futures,” said Dr. Matthew Ladner, the study’s author. “If students can’t learn to read how then can we expect them to read to learn in their later years? Florida understands this, and so should other states.”

In 1998, Oklahoma students outscored Florida students, on average, by 13 points on NAEP’s fourth-grade reading exam. In 2009, however, on the same test, Florida students scored 9 points higher than Oklahoma students, almost a grade level ahead according to NAEP. In addition, between 1998 and 2009, Oklahoma’s Hispanic students improved their average score by 3 points on NAEP’s fourth-grade reading test. Florida’s Hispanic students, meanwhile, increased their average score by 25 points.

“Contrary to what some might think, Florida’s progress is not a product of more money but rather the result of an aggressive series of educational reforms,” said Bill Price, chairman of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition. “Recently, Oklahoma has adopted some of these reforms, and if Florida is any indication it would be wise to expand them.”

Price is referring to several recent reforms including an alternative teacher certification path that will enlarge the potential pool of quality teachers in Oklahoma, which the legislature enacted in 2009. In addition, the state improved its charter school law and created a private school choice program in 2010—the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program—for students with special needs. However, according to the study, Oklahoma’s state testing, school choice opportunities, and accountability measures still need to be strengthened.

“Florida’s experience shows that a number of strategies must be employed to raise student achievement levels, especially among disadvantaged youth,” said Phyllis Hudecki, executive director of the Oklahoma Business & Education Coalition. “Just as Florida did, we must look at our own areas in need of improvement and make necessary changes to ensure our students are receiving educations that prepare them for life.”

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