According to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 29 percent of Oklahoma students are reading proficient in fourth grade. This year, 46 percent of Oklahoma students didn’t meet a single ACT benchmark. In addition, 33 percent of schools saw a decrease of a letter grade on their school report card this year.
These statistics are incredibly troubling, especially when you know that each number represents a child with a bright future that gets dimmer by the day. No matter what numbers or measurements you use, it’s obvious our children are not learning the skills necessary to successfully enter the workforce, making it more difficult for them to lead a fulfilling life.
That’s why recent attacks on the Oklahoma School Report Cards are so disheartening. Instead of working to change the numbers, many would rather break the measuring stick. Despite the criticism from naysayers, the reality is that the school report cards are a vital accountability tool, providing families and communities insight into how their local school is performing and a comparison to others around the state.
Although many knock the simplicity of the school report cards, it’s the conciseness that makes them such an effective tool. While multiple factors go into the tabulation of any grade, the end result is a clear and universal moniker that’s readily understood. Additionally, the Oklahoma State Department of Education includes a detailed breakdown of how schools received their overall score and an online parent portal to get a specific report on a child’s progress.
But perhaps most important, school report cards measuring growth and achievement are especially imperative for students living in poverty. This is because the school report cards provide us with case studies on what works and what doesn’t.
Take, for example, Edmond Doyle Elementary in McAlester or Salina Middle School. The schools have free and reduced lunch populations of 91 percent and 82 percent, respectively. Both also have an A on their school report card. These schools have found ways to excel despite having a large portion of their population living in poverty, and they should be viewed by others as case studies from which to learn.
We need to recognize schools that show exceptional student growth for all students, and especially those living in poverty. Without some form of common assessment, we cannot measure both the scope and depth of achievement.
The school report cards make it possible to identify underperforming schools that need to change course. How will our education system be able to make significant forward progress if we are not able to identify schools that excel and schools that need improvement?
Transparency is tantamount to improving the quality of Oklahoma’s education system and the academic future of our students. We should always be looking for ways to improve upon actionable data that allows school leaders, teachers, and communities to make the best decisions for students. While some take issue with the school report cards, they mirror other academic indicators, like NAEP and ACT, which show a decline in student performance.
The Oklahoma School Report Cards are the latest in a slew of indicators that show major action must be taken to improve our schools. Our students deserve the best chance at success in life, and all Oklahomans should be able to see how our schools are measuring up.
Ryan Walters is executive director of Oklahoma Achieves, an education initiative at the State Chamber of Oklahoma.