Testing for Oklahoma high-school diplomas vital, school superintendent tells funding panel
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2012
1/12/12 at 8:33 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - The approaching era of high-stakes graduation testing is necessary to ensure an Oklahoma high school diploma has value, state Superintendent Janet Barresi told lawmakers Wednesday.
"I think this is a minimum requirement for Oklahoma to hand a diploma to a student," Barresi said at a state Senate education appropriations hearing.
The class of 2012 is the first group of students to face state graduation requirements created by lawmakers in 2005.
Each student is required to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams to get a high school diploma. The exams are in Algebra I and II, English II and III, Biology I, geometry and U.S. history.
Democrats in the state House have talked about blocking the mandate, but Barresi said she envisions making the tests more rigorous, not rolling the reform effort back.
The current testing will determine whether students have mastered the curriculum in each course, but it does not determine whether students are prepared to move ahead with more advanced material, she said.
She described future testing to make sure students can write coherently, show their work in math and demonstrate cognitive skills.
"To roll back on these examinations now will put students at a disadvantage," Barresi said.
Some school districts have complained about the mandate, but Barresi said they shouldn't be caught unaware by a law that was passed in 2005.
"Districts have long known this day was coming," she said.
The state Department of Education has asked for $9.2 million in its budget this year to fund remediation for students who do not pass the exams. Barresi termed that figure "generous."
The money will go to school districts according to a formula based on the number of students who fail the exams, she said.
Barresi pointed to a Bartlesville program that tries to identify in advance students who may struggle with the exams and concentrate on preparing them for the tests.
"This is the type of leadership ... that we want to foster and continue to applaud," Barresi said.
Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, questioned Barresi about concerns some teachers have expressed that schools are being required to spend too much time testing. Stanislawski said he wasn't specifically referring to the graduation testing, but to testing throughout the grades.
Barresi said she couldn't imagine the coach of the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder going into the locker room at halftime without statistics to tell him how his team is performing, and school teachers need the same statistical indicators of how students are doing so they can respond before a high school diploma is on the line.
"You need to know where these gaps are in education in the early years," she said.
Barresi told the senators that the department's $2.4 billion budget request is designed to take education funding levels back to fiscal year 2011 levels and fund important reforms passed by the Legislature last year.
The request is an increase of $157 million over the current budget, which is enough to make up a $100 million cut to school aid last year and fund the reforms, Barresi said.
The budget includes full-year funding for the teacher flexible health benefit and $5,000 bonus payments to nationally board certified teachers.
Underfunding those two programs last year brought a storm of protest from teachers and school administrators.
"We feel this budget request is prudent," Barresi said.
Original Print Headline: High-school graduation testing vital, Barresi says
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Janet Barresi: She says districts shouldn't be caught unaware by a law that was passed in 2005.