Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Status quo decides to stick with the status quo

The state's largest newspaper is rightly concerned that "the new director of a panel charged with setting the passing grade for state tests has opposed efforts to raise the academic bar in Oklahoma." The Commission for Educational Quality and Accountability recently announced that Duncan superintendent Sherry Labyer has been hired as its executive director. "Labyer has been a vocal critic of education reform in Oklahoma," the paper notes, "opposing many transparency and accountability measures."
Labyer cheered lawmakers when they overrode Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a reading proficiency bill this year. Thanks to the override, schools can now socially promote third-grade students shown to be illiterate on multiple measurements over several months. Nearly one-third of third-graders in Labyer’s district weren’t reading at grade level. Labyer also opposed A-F grades for school sites. Of seven graded schools in her district, none got an A. Two received Bs, four got Cs and one got an F.

Perhaps most troubling is that Labyer criticized state officials for increasing cut scores on state tests. To pass the Biology I end-of-instruction test, high school students previously had to answer just 52 percent of questions correctly. That’s been raised to 70 percent, which is hardly unreasonable. Labyer’s objection to such minimal standards is worrisome: She will have a major role in setting future cut scores.

For years, Oklahoma was notorious for having a state testing system so lax that it produced wildly inflated results. In 2009, a study funded by the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition noted a gap in student achievement on state tests compared with National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, saying the gap was “particularly large in Oklahoma, compared to other states.”

Although 94 percent of fourth-grade students in Oklahoma were graded proficient on the reading and English portion of the state test in 2007, NAEP tests found that just 27 percent of students were truly proficient. For eighth-grade math, 77 percent were graded as “proficient and above” on state tests, compared with 21 percent on NAEP.

One major cause of the gap was that state officials set cut scores extremely low to inflate “proficiency” rates. There’s still a significant gap today, making the case for education reform even more compelling.

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