By SEAN ROWLEY
Kris King, lead organizer for Voices Organized In Civic Engagement Action, spoke to teachers, administrators and parents from throughout the county during a meeting Wednesday night to discuss Oklahoma’s A-F public school performance assessment system.
The Cherokee County Parent Legislative Action Committee sponsored the forum at the Indian Capital Technology Center.
VOICE is conducting presentations around Oklahoma to get input from educators and parents about the attributes a high-performing school should possess, and how schools can be effectively assessed by the state.
“We are trying to create a conversation between parents, educators and community members,” King said. “Teachers and administrators live this [grading system] and they don’t have the space to tell the story to parents. Parent can really do something about it if they know.”
King said many have inquired about a possible solution to the grading system, but that VOICE could not produce any “magic” panacea.
“Public school is supposed to be about what the public believes to be the common good,” she said. “We need to talk about this and try to imagine how it could be different. We don’t need another group that thinks it has all the answers. We need conversation to learn what will work for our communities.”
Though there is dissatisfaction with the current state assessment, King said there needs to be a system of accountability in public education.
“However, it needs to make sense and it needs to be fair,” she said. “It shouldn’t put all of the eggs into the one basket of testing.”
During her presentation, King said a public school student could take up to 46 assessment tests between first grade and a diploma.
Penalties for failure can be stiff. Beginning this spring, third-graders who do not test at a third-grade reading level cannot advance to fourth grade.
Eighth-graders who fail assessments can be prevented from getting a drivers license. High school graduates do not receive their diplomas if they fail four of seven subjects on end-of-instruction tests.
Under the A-F system, Oklahoma City Public Schools went from one failing school to 39. Tulsa Public Schools went from eight to 36.
“The school in my neighborhood went from a C to an F in one year, even though they have community support and great programs,” King said.
King said VOICE became interested in education issues when studying the state’s incarceration rate.
“A private prison company referred to Oklahoma as an ‘opportunity state,’ which should alarm us all,” she said.
Schools seemed the natural ally to turn to, and they are. But we found teachers and administrators overwhelmed by the demands and expectations of testing at the expense of teaching and learning.”
Lisa Presley, superintendent of Tahlequah Public Schools, and Billie Jordan, Keys Public Schools superintendent, were in attendance.
“It is great that other people are hearing what teachers and administrators have been hearing for some time,” Jordan said. “A community group is getting the word out and parents are seeing what we see.”
On June 8, VOICE will hold an “accountability session” with candidates for Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, where suggestions from teachers and parents will be presented.
The session is at 3 p.m. in the Henry K. Freede Wellness and Activity Center on the Oklahoma City University campus.
VOICE is a coalition of 28 schools, congregations and nonprofit organizations in the Oklahoma City area. For information about VOICE, visit voiceOKC.org.