by Joy Hofmeister, OK State Superintendent of Public Instruction
By now, most Oklahomans are aware that public schools have received test scores from the spring 2017 Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP) assessments – and the results are significantly different than in past years.
In recent weeks, we have been meeting with a host of education stakeholders – including educators, the business community, legislators and nonprofits, members of the media and others — to provide the context for the test results. Our children, teachers and schools have not changed; what has changed are our expectations, which now align with important national benchmarks to ensure our students are ready for college and career. As a result, these results represent a new beginning and a total reset as we establish a new, more meaningful baseline for student and school performance. They cannot and must not be compared to previous years.
We are doing this work to reverse an alarming trend: Nearly 40 percent of seniors who flip the tassels on their mortarboards in May require remedial coursework in our public universities their freshman year. The estimated costs to families of this non-credit bearing coursework? More than $22 million a year.
As a state, we literally cannot afford to let this trend continue — and we will not. Oklahoma has taken bold steps to ensure our students have a competitive edge and are better prepared for life after high school.
This process began a few years ago. In the 2016-17 schoolyear, Oklahoma began teaching more comprehensive academic standards in English language arts and mathematics, on the heels of new standards for science implemented two years earlier. These are true Oklahoma standards, written by and for Oklahomans with input from more than 2,000 teachers. New standards require new assessments that measure how effectively they are being taught and understood. Because the standards are now more comprehensive, the tests that measure them must reflect the increased levels of complexity of the learning tasks within each standard.
Oklahoma’s standards are now embedded with national benchmarks — SAT, ACT and, for younger students, NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” The old definition of proficiency as “on grade level” is gone; proficiency now means on track for college or career.
I am thankful to the thousands of educators in Oklahoma who have driven every stage of this recalibration process. We shared a belief that our students are just as capable and talented as others across the country. Our commitment is to ensure all students are equipped for college, careers and life after high school.
It is no longer enough to compare Oklahoma students solely to their in-state peers or chase a test score at the end of a course or grade. Instead, we must refocus on building a deeper foundation for students as they prepare for their postsecondary education. By starting earlier to identify learning or readiness gaps we can give Oklahoma students a competitive edge and put them on a trajectory for the high-skill jobs, required technical skills, and innovative careers that lie ahead. Nothing less than the future of our state depends on it.