Owasso and Bixby led Tulsa-area school districts in student proficiency for 2018, while the Tulsa and Liberty districts came in the furthest off state averages on most tests.
Still, a Tulsa World analysis of just-released results for the 2018 Oklahoma School Testing Program shows most local schools’ results reflect the state’s downward trend in the second year of higher academic standards.
Amy Fichtner, who just became Owasso’s superintendent after three years as assistant superintendent there, said the state has adopted a growth model for how to measure student achievement rather than a punitive one and teachers and schools need to adjust.
“We have really focused on not focusing on the test,” she said. “We have talked more about the new standards. We have asked our teachers to determine the main objectives that need to be accomplished during the year and we have let our teachers relax and focus on the standards.”
This was the second year that public school students across the state took new state tests aligned with Oklahoma’s new, higher academic standards, which were implemented in 2016-17.
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.
“As a teacher over 20 years ago, I taught before the era of high-stakes testing. The culture that I taught in was, I had a set of standards, I had resources. And we had a test at the end of the year, but I never worried about that test in my 175 days of instruction,” Fichtner said. “My challenge as a leader is to replicate what I know was a joy of teaching environment. I think our state is leading us in that direction as well.”
Across the full spectrum of 14 state tests, either Owasso or Bixby posted the highest student proficiency rates on 10 of those tests, including a tie at 53 percent proficient in fifth grade English/language arts.
Still, many districts saw declines in student proficiency rates, compared to 2017’s test results, including Bixby, where proficiency rates were down across the board. Jenks was down in everything but seventh grade math, in which proficiency increased 5 points to 50 percent.
Meanwhile, Broken Arrow and Owasso saw a mix of gains and losses in a year-over-year comparison.
Bixby did post the highest rate of student proficiency by any local school at 66 percent in third grade math — 25 points higher than the state’s average.
Rob Miller, who just became that district’s superintendent after years of working in school administration in Sand Springs and Jenks, has long been a an outspoken critic of the state’s almost sole reliance on one-time student testing for accountability purposes.
He said Bixby has a singular focus on the quality and constant improvement of classroom instruction. And, he said the district’s high-standing among area schools is also attributable to the material support Bixby teachers get from their community that the school district could not otherwise afford.
“Really it does come back to high-quality teaching and obviously, we have a community that gives us a lot of support as well,” said Miller. “Whether it is through our educational foundation or community partners, if we have a teacher who needs classroom materials or supplies, our community will step up and do that. So even the last few years amid dramatic budget cuts, our teachers have had what they need.”
Fifth grade scores are still not finalized for Tulsa Public Schools, but either TPS or Liberty Public Schools, trailed the state averages by the most on every other single test except eighth grade science. On that test, Oologah-Talala posted the lowest student proficiency rate at 25 percent.
The lowest posted student proficiency rates across the area were Liberty’s 9 percent in eighth grade math and 11 percent in both fifth grade math and seventh grade English/language arts.
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.
But Miller in Bixby, for one, scoffs at the very idea that the walkout could have submarined student performance.
“My response to that is if that’s true, then that’s a shameful reflection of the state of where we are in education across the board,” he said. “We missed 10 days of school – I mean, we just came off of 90 days off school. Kids should be ready for those tests because we’ve taught well all year long. If our kids are forgetting skills and knowledge that quickly, we need to look at foundational issues.”