Tahlequah Daily Press

January 28, 2014

Locals think Oklahoma schools are doing better than assessment shows

By SEAN ROWLEY
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Another evaluation of education in the U.S. has been released, and Oklahoma finished behind more than three dozen other states in the rankings. But area education officials aren’t putting a lot of stock into the assessment.

In Education Week’s recent 2014 Quality Counts assessment, Oklahoma was listed at 41st in kindergarten through 12th grade academic achievement.

“I recently saw another ranking where Oklahoma was 10th worst,” said Lisa Presley, superintendent for Tahlequah Public Schools. “Two factors were funding and a low graduation rate.”

Oklahoma ranked higher in some parts of the assessment, but the academic achievement portion received the most attention from education publications around the country.

Some believe little stock should be placed in surveys and assessments by journals or think tanks.

“My children attend school at Briggs and are doing well, considering they are on [individual education programs],” Darla Carloss-Hall wrote to the Daily Press on Facebook. “I know a couple of young ladies that graduated there a couple of years ago, and now go to Tahlequah [and] are doing wonderfully. This testing is crazy. Some kids just don’t do well on tests….”

Though she may disagree with some facets of the Education Week report, Presley believes it does have value.

“It can be informative,” she said. “It can offer perspective. You can see how the rest of the nation values education, and how it is supported elsewhere versus how it is supported in your state. You look at it and you learn from it.”

Presley said funding can mitigate many problems in the education of the state’s children.

“If you have the funding, you can provide the resources,” she said. “We have a grant-funded position and a federally funded position to meet the needs of at-risk students. Our graduation rate is above 80 percent. There are a lot of superheroes in the district who make that happen. Resources help us help the kids.”  

A general correlation in the rankings can be drawn between academic achievement and funding. The five top achievement states all rank in the top 15 in per-pupil expenditure. Just one of the 10 worst states was in the top 15 in spending per student. Oklahoma ranked 44th in per-pupil spending, doling out $9,075 per student against a national average of $11,864.

Claiming that her daughter did more advanced schoolwork in Pennsylvania - which ranked eighth in academic achievement - Katherine Grasshopper said schools need more funding.

“The so-called elected leaders of this state should make our children and their futures more of a focus,” she wrote.

Peggy Willson said she believed TPS is doing good work and that many factors affect academic achievement.

“That doesn’t mean there is not room for improvement,” she wrote. “There are things that the schools and teachers can not control that affect a student’s performance in the classroom. Students will not do well if there is turmoil ... or financial problems at home. Kids who come to school hungry will not do well.”

There was little correlation between achievement and “educational alignment policies” deemed important by Education Week. Half of the top 10 in achievement ranked among the worst in policies such as defining school readiness, assessments and college preparation. Oklahoma ranked ninth in such policies. Louisiana and West Virginia ranked second and third in policy, respectively, but were in the bottom five for achievement.

Poverty gap, high school graduation were factors

To rank Oklahoma in K-12 achievement, Education Week compared achievement levels and gains in math and reading in the fourth and eighth grades. A “poverty gap” was measured with the National School Lunch Program, and scores of those eligible were compared with those not eligible.

Other yardsticks included the percentage of eighth-graders who scored “advanced” in math, high scores on advanced placement tests and the high school graduation rate.

Oklahoma’s test scores and gains were below national averages, except in fourth-grade math gains, where Oklahoma scored plus-9.8 against a national improvement of plus-7.2. The state also ranked low in the math excellence and advanced placement categories. However, the state’s “poverty gap” was deemed narrow, indicating less variance of achievement between students on either side of eligibility for reduced school lunches.

The report listed Oklahoma’s high school graduation rate at 73.9 percent in 2010, which ranked 30th among the states and below the national average of 74.7 percent.

Education Week analyzed six components of the education system: K-12 achievement; standards, assessment and accountability; the teaching profession; school finance; students’ chances for long-term success; and transitions and alignment.

K-12 achievement measured test scores and graduation rates. Standards, assessment and accountability determined whether schools measure student achievement through standardized testing, and rewarded and penalized schools based on performance.

The teaching profession category measured whether schools hold teachers accountable to high standards and provide performance incentives. School finance measured whether a state spends money on students and identifies funding inequality.

Student chances for long-term success were measured through family background and employment opportunities. Transitions and alignment measured measured student transitions between school systems and secondary education or employment.

Ranking below Oklahoma in achievement at 42 to 50, respectively, were Michigan, South Dakota, Alaska, South Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The top 11 states were Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, Florida, Pennsylvania and Washington, with Virginia and Colorado tying for 10th.

LEARN MORE

Education Week’s report on Oklahoma is available at: www.edweek.org/media/ew/qc/2014/shr/16shr.ok.h33.pdf.

srowley@tahlequahdailypress.com