Altus Public School parents start receiving students’ reports this week outlining how their children performed on statewide standardized testing called the Oklahoma School Testing Program. But don’t blame Johnny if his test scores appear in a lower level than in previous years. Ditto for Johnny’s teacher.
That’s because the state adopted a more stringent testing system geared to identifying and correcting student weaknesses. The state implemented the new testing system to try to improve ACT and SAT scores of high school students to better prepare them for college. The state estimates that by 2025 only 23 percent of Oklahoma jobs will be available for those with no more than a high school degree. That’s a 50 percent drop from the current job market.
Information provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, states that only 1 percent of jobs created in Oklahoma since 2008 require a minimum of a high school diploma. The other 99 percent require some form of advanced education.
State Superintendent of Instruction Joy Hofmeister said the new assessments represent “a total reset” that is not comparable to previous years.
Cindy Allen, Altus Public Schools director of curriculum, said the results this year will serve as a baseline that will enable teachers to work individually with students to improve their scores. She emphasized the importance of getting elementary school students reading at grade level. For those students who are not reading at grade level, teachers will develop a learning plan with their parents to help bring them up to speed.
Through the testing, Allen said, “we will know where their gaps are and who needs extra instruction.”
Each elementary school student will get individualized lessons to improve reading efficiency through an “Istation,” a computer program designed specifically to improve each student’s skill set in language arts.
The district also has Istation programs for math that offers supplemental math instruction through game-based independent practice, Allen said.
Some junior high students will be selected for classes to help improve their math and English skills. And the district will provide tutors for high school students who want to take advantage of them.
“The change doesn’t reflect negatively on the district,” Allen said. “It gives us information to help improve our services and cultivate a learning environment throughout the district.”
By law, the state must categorize each student performance level as Advanced, Proficient, Limited Knowledge or Unsatisfactory. But the state Department of Education recommends schools change the wording to call Limited Knowledge, “Basic,” and the term “Below Basic” for Unsatisfactory.
Students were tested in the third through eighth grades and 10th grade. All grades tested in English/language arts and mathematics, grades five and 10 added science and the 10th grade also added history.
Altus Public School students’ performance levels mostly align with the state averages, although some grades had significant deviations. For instance, on first glance, it appears the Altus 10th grade students performed poorly on the science test with 93 percent testing in the Unsatisfactory or Limited Knowledge area. In reality, only 136 of the 280 Altus students took that portion of the test. Statewide, 81 percent were in those low-performance categories.
And the fifth-grade class may be the smartest, at least in math. Fifty-three percent of last year’s fourth grade tested in the Proficient or Advanced performance level versus 41 percent in the state.
Allen points out that with each class numbering about 250 students it can skew the scores compared to more than 50,000 students statewide.
In a prepared statement, Hofmeister, the state superintendent of instruction, said comparing this year’s results with prior years is like comparing apples and oranges.
“The numbers in this week’s reports may be startlingly different than what families are accustomed to seeing,” she wrote. “They represent a new beginning and an important baseline for students and school growth and improvement over the next several years.”
Ironically, when Altus Public Schools received the data comparing the district to state numbers, some of the district percentages in the four performance levels didn’t add up to 100 percent. When Allen called Craig Walker, executive director of state assessments for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, and pointed out the error, he said there could be some perceived discrepancies in percentages due to scores being rounded at each performance level.
But don’t blame Johnny or the district.