Oklahoma student proficiency rates are down slightly in almost every grade and subject after a second year of higher academic standards, new state test results show.

The only exception was an unchanged rate of student proficiency on the seventh-grade math test.

Just 33 percent of third-graders and 28 percent of seventh-graders are now considered proficient or better in English/language arts, compared to 39 percent and 34 percent, respectively, in 2017. And sixth-grade math proficiency fell seven points to 28 percent.

With the release of 2018 Oklahoma School Testing Program results to school districts, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister included a letter re-emphasizing that the state’s focus has shifted to measuring student growth year over year, not on simple rates of student proficiency from a single test.

“Assessments, including state tests, are a snapshot of learning and a checkpoint for instructional decisions. Student success is best measured through sustained, long-term learning, not solely by performance on a test or series of tests. The focus now is growth, in establishing deep roots grounded in superior academic standards,” Hofmeister said in the letter, dated July 31.

The state’s highest rates of student proficiency are 41 percent in both third-grade math and fifth-grade science.

For the second year in a row, math proficiency fell off dramatically between the seventh and eighth grades. Thirty-four percent of seventh-graders demonstrated math proficiency in 2017, compared to only 20 percent of eighth-graders in 2018.

Parents should expect reports on their child’s individual state test results some time in September, state officials said, and schools will get their first report cards with student growth factored in by the end of 2018-19.

Maria Harris, assistant director of assessment at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, said early feedback from schools and districts has largely consisted of “How can we do better?” and “What can we do next year?”

Her response? “Make sure they teach to the (new) standards all year.”

It is unknown what impact the widespread, two-week teacher walkout and related school closures had on state testing this spring. The walkout coincided with the start of Oklahoma’s main state testing window for students, forcing the state to extend its testing deadline.

At the walkout’s peak, an estimated 70 percent of the state’s 694,000 public school students were not in class because of the protests of state funding levels for teacher pay and other school operational funds.

Oklahoma’s chronic teacher shortage also continued to worsen in 2017-18, with a record number of teachers in the classroom on emergency certificates from the state, affording them more time to complete requirements for a traditional or alternative teaching certificate.

After Oklahoma abandoned Common Core standards in use by 42 other states, the state had to adopt new academic standards. Those new standards and new tests aligned with them were implemented in 2016-17.

State education leaders warned the public that the initial drop in student performance on state tests will take years to improve upon because teachers are now teaching to a whole new set of higher academic standards than before.

To raise the bar, the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for high school students now are embedded with the same benchmarks of success required on ACT and SAT college entrance exams, and for elementary students and middle schoolers, benchmarks from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAEP.

NAEP, which tests a representative sample of fourth- and eighth-graders for reading and math proficiency in every state, has consistently shown far lower student proficiency levels for Oklahoma than state-issued standardized tests.

Andrea Eger 

918-581-8470

andrea.eger@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @AndreaEger

Staff Writer

Andrea is a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, she has been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470