Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

President George Washington, on October 3, 1789, issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as an official holiday of "sincere and humble thanks." The nation then celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

OETA story on status of children in Oklahoma

Click here to link to an OETA Oklahoma News Report story on the challenges facing many children in our state

Lis Exon produced the segment following release of the Kids Count report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The story was originally broadcast on November 15, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NAEP Scores Show Oklahoma Students up in Three Areas, Still Behind Nation

Oklahoma math and reading scores in the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are a mixed bag. While the fourth-grade math scores are the highest in 10 years — and 19 points up from 1992 — state education officials note that other results point to the need for stronger academic rigor that is beginning to take shape.

NAEP is designed to measure what students across the nation know and can do in 10 subject areas, including mathematics, reading, writing, and science. The results of these tests are reported in the Nation's Report Card. The NAEP results were released last week.

Governor Mary Fallin commented on the release last week of Oklahoma’s 2013 NAEP scores.

“Fourth grade math scores are the highest they have been in ten years,” Fallin pointed out. “That’s great news. We have the hard work of Oklahoma teachers, administrators, parents and students to thank for that forward progress. Oklahoma continues, however, to fall below the national and the regional average in every category.”

Oklahoma fourth-graders taking the national assessment earned an average score of 239, up from 229 in 2003 and 220 in 1992. That still placed the state behind this year’s national average of 241.

Eighth-grade math scores also were higher than they were a decade ago — 276 in 2013 as opposed to 272 in 2003. That’s an improvement over the 262 average score earned in 1992, but lower than the 279 earned two years ago and lower than this year’s national average of 284.

In reading, Oklahoma fourth-graders posted an average of 217, up from 214 in 2003 and 215 in 2011. Despite the jump, it remains below the national average of 221 and below the state average score of 220 earned in 1992. From 1992 to 2002, fourth-grade reading scores plummeted to 213 but have been on an upward trend since the mid-2000s.

Oklahoma’s eighth-grade reading score average was 262, better than 260 in 2011 but unchanged from 2003 and down from 265 in 1992. The national average for eighth-grade reading this year is 266. Oklahoma’s reading scores in this grade have been climbing since a low of 259 in 2009.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi commented on the release of Oklahoma’s 2013 NAEP scores.

“The fact that our scores are on the upswing in three areas is exciting,” said Barresi. “Overall, however, the NAEP report confirms what we’ve long known. Oklahoma students lag behind their national counterparts in these key subject areas. This is why we must build on the momentum of the education reforms we’ve enacted in recent years.”

Barresi said reforms such as the end to social promotion for third-graders reading significantly below grade level, Teacher and Leader Effectiveness and the implementation of rigorous Oklahoma Academic Standards will have a significant and positive impact.

“Oklahoma students can be at the top of math and reading scores, but it will take all of us engaging and working together to prepare them for college, career and citizenship,” she said.

Fallin also highlighted the importance of recent education reforms as part of the plan to improve student achievement.

“Moving forward, we must work together to improve our schools,” Fallin said. “That improvement will require increased rigor in the classroom and a greater focus on literacy, which the implementation of the Reading Sufficiency Act will provide. Greater success will demand the kind of accountability and benchmarks of progress represented by the A-F grading system. And it will rely on a sense of cooperation and shared responsibility between lawmakers, educators, parents and students.

“Oklahoma has great teachers,” Fallin said. “It is a supportive community that cares about public education and, most of all, our children. I am confident that we will continue our upward trajectory and deliver the education results our students deserve.”

Barresi said the NAEP results indicate that additional focus is needed on middle school. She said she will gather a task force to examine math scores from sixth grade and higher.

“This will help us knock down college and workforce training remediation rates,” Barresi said.

The NAEP scores also show the wisdom of increasing the rigor of Oklahoma Academic Standards and the Oklahoma College and Career Ready Assessments, both of which will be implemented in schools by the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

“For the first time, we will see state scores that better reflect how our students are actually performing,” Barresi said. “While it might seem painful at this moment, a clear-eyed look at where we are realistically will help us achieve true and meaningful change to best equip our students for the future.”

NAEP reveals that the percentage of Oklahoma students scoring at or above proficiency is 36 percent in fourth-grade math and 25 percent in eighth-grade math.

The national percentage at or above math proficiency is 41 percent for fourth grade and 34 percent for eighth grade.

In reading, the percentage of Oklahoma students scoring at or above proficient is 30 percent in fourth grade and 29 percent in eighth-grade. The national percentage at or above proficiency is 34 percent for both fourth and eighth grade.

Compared to the nation, Oklahoma is:

  • below 30 states, not significantly different from 14 states and above seven states in fourth-grade reading;
  • below 35 states, not significantly different from 10 states and above six states in eight-grade reading;
  • below 31 states, not significantly different from 12 states, and above eight states in fourth-grade math; and
  • below 42 states, not significantly different from five states and above four states in eighth-grade math.

In comparison to regional states, only New Mexico had a lower average score than Oklahoma on all assessments. Texas, Arkansas and Kansas had higher average scores in each assessment in both fourth- and eighth-grades.

In 2011, Oklahoma was the only state in the U.S. to show a low inclusion rate for special education students and English Language Learners. In fourth-grade math, for example, only 49 percent of Oklahoma special education students had been tested as compared to 84 percent nationally.

In the wake of that revelation, Barresi implored districts to look closely at testing children with special needs to assure each child’s needs were being met.Oklahoma increased its inclusion rate this year more than any other state in the nation: 98 percent in fourth-grade reading, 99 percent in eighth-grade reading and 98 percent in fourth- and eighth-grade math. All are well above NAEP parameters.

Federal law requires that states and districts receiving Title I funding participate in the NAEP reading and mathematics assessments every two years. A sample of students representing the entire student population —about 3,000 students per grade and per subject — are tested.

State scores are reported for students in grades four and eight. Scores for students in grade 12 are reported only as part of the national picture. Samples for long-term trend are based on age (9, 13 and 17) rather than grade.

Other NAEP testing is optional and can be used for comparing our state to regions with similar demographics, others states and the nation.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A-F Grades for Oklahoma Public Schools Released Today

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma State Department of Education today released the A-F Report Card for Oklahoma public school districts and schools. Available online at, the annual grades were approved at a special meeting of the State Board of Education.

The grading system is part of a larger, comprehensive effort to heighten accountability and transparency for Oklahoma schools, providing parents and communities with readily understood information about how their local schools are doing.

In the second year of SDE issuing the report cards, 354 schools, or 20 percent, received an overall A, compared to 160 in 2012. There were 499 schools that earned an overall B – 28 percent of all schools – while 472 (26 percent) received C’s. That compares to last year’s total of 842 B’s and 594 C’s.

There was also a significant rise in D’s and F’s, with 263 schools getting the former and 163 schools receiving F’s, a combined 24 percent of schools statewide. In 2012, the report cards recorded 138 D’s and 10 F’s.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said this year’s grade results were expected in light of increasing academic rigor and changes made to the grade calculation. The results, she said, reflect what is occurring in other states as schools shift to stronger standards and the resulting instructional changes.

“Our students do not know less than they did, and teachers are not doing a poor job. Far from it. Classroom teachers are working hard, responding to more rigorous standards that will help children be prepared for successful and happy lives. As I had noted in August at a state Capitol news conference, this is a transformative time for Oklahoma education. The move to higher standards and expectations will be challenging, but the rewards will be generations of young people ready for college, career and citizenship.”

The grading formula underwent changes as the result of House Bill 1658. Signed into law earlier this year, it addressed a number of concerns that had been raised by district administrators.

Several factors utilized in last year’s calculations — such as Advanced Placement classes, dropout rates and the like — are now considered in bonus points that schools can accrue. The revised formula also raised the percentage factored in for student performance and student growth.

“I am proud of Oklahoma’s teachers and the incredible work they do day after day,” Barresi said. “It is a difficult job, but a crucial one in the lives of young people and the future of our great state. I would urge Oklahoma parents to take an active role in supporting our teachers.”

Release of the report card had been scheduled for Oct. 29, but Barresi ordered a delay after several issues surfaced during a 10-day review period. There were initial glitches in grade calculation due to OSDE. Afterward, grades fluctuated as the department fielded more than 1,100 updates from data verification changes.

“Through it all, we kept the grades online for districts to see, believing full transparency was the best course. The department worked to give districts as much time as possible to update the testing files so that the data we used in the report cards could be accurate, said Barresi.

“But as a result, there here has been much sound and fury from a number of quarters. Some district superintendents — knowing that some of their schools would be getting F’s — preemptively tried discrediting the grading criteria. If these administrators put that same degree of energy and enthusiasm into turning around their challenged school sites as they did in criticizing the grades, then I am very optimistic about the future of those schools.”

Used by a growing number of states, A-F school grades are aimed at raising education standards by making school performance clear. In past years, Oklahoma education officials had offered similar data through the Academic Performance Index (API), which evaluated schools through a 0 to 1500 scale. But many parents do not know API scores exist, much less how to interpret them.

By contrast, the A-F Report Cards use a time-tested grading system that has long served the needs of educators and students.

“The A to F grades are not a punitive tool. They are a tool of empowerment for parents and students,” said Barresi. “The report cards help us see which schools are having success so that we can provide best-practices for their peer institutions. Similarly, the grades identify the low-performing schools that need help.”

Barresi acknowledged that the A-F grades have met resistance from some administrators with a stake in defending the status quo.

“Change can be painful and sometimes scary. Nothing worth achieving is easy, but nothing is more worth it than the future of our children,” she said. “We can do better, and we will do better. Oklahoma’s teachers are too talented, too driven and too dedicated to do otherwise. Oklahoma’s students are too filled with promise to accept less.”

Statement by Governor Mary Fallin

Governor Mary Fallin released the following statement regarding the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s release of A-F grades for public schools. 

"Delivering high quality public education is one of the most important things we can do in Oklahoma to increase prosperity in our state. Good schools teach children the skills they need to succeed when they enter the workforce or pursue post-secondary education. They also help to produce the highly skilled workforce that we need to retain and attract businesses and jobs to Oklahoma.

"We have many great teachers and schools that are helping to produce positive outcomes and improve student performance. Those teachers and schools deserve recognition. Unfortunately, we know we are also falling short in many areas. Historically below average NAEP scores in reading, writing and math; as well as college remediation rates higher than 40% indicate that in many instances we are failing to prepare our students for life beyond high school.

"These are problems that need to be addressed—cooperatively and with a shared sense of urgency—by lawmakers, administrators, teachers and parents. But before we can improve education, we need a system that accurately measures success and failure.

"The A-F grades delivered today provide that system. They give parents an accurate, easily understood method of measuring the quality of education their children are receiving. They also give teachers and administrators a benchmark to measure progress.

"The grades issued today, as expected, paint a mixed picture. The majority of our schools are performing adequately. Many are operating at a very high level, thanks largely to dedicated and skilled teachers.

"Some schools, however, are clearly in need of immediate improvement. The superintendents and teachers of schools receiving a D or an F must remember: a bad grade is not a punishment; it is a call to action. Parents should also understand that we are absolutely committed to helping these schools succeed.

"Oklahoma has great teachers. We have a supportive community of parents who want to play an active role in their child's education. And we have state resources committed to delivering assistance as we work to move these schools in the right direction.

"Working together, we will succeed in better preparing our kids for college and the workforce. Nothing is more important for our children or for Oklahoma's sustained prosperity."

Statement by Dr. Robert Sommers

Dr. Robert Sommers
Oklahoma’s secretary of education and workforce, Dr. Robert Sommers, today issued the following statement regarding the release of the State Department of Education’s A-F grades for Oklahoma Public Schools. In addition to serving on Governor Mary Fallin’s cabinet, Sommers also serves as the director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education. Previously, he served as the superintendent of Butler Technology and Career Development Schools in Ohio.

“As a superintendent, I championed the use of data to reform my school district.  In 2001, the data showed my district was doing poorly. We were ranked 42nd out of 49 Ohio tech centers.

“In response to that ranking, which revealed that our students were underperforming, our staff and student body committed ourselves to improvement. After a lot of hard work, we were eventually ranked first in student performance for three years in a row.

“We didn't see the data as a negative. We saw it as an opportunity to measure success. Most importantly, we saw it as a motivator for change and improvement.

“The A-F grading system in Oklahoma offers the same opportunity today. Reporting school performance in a transparent and understandable way is a valuable tool for educational improvement.  Educators who embrace this information and engage their students, parents, and faculty in maintaining high performance or improving low performance are best serving Oklahoma’s children.”

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Updated with Agenda: Special State Board of Eduction Meeting Set Wednesday

**Media Alert**

WHO: State Board of Education
WHAT: Special Board meeting
WHEN: 1 p.m., Nov. 6, 2013
WHERE: Room 1-20 of the Oliver Hodge Education Building, 2500 North Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City.

Link to Agenda

Wednesday, November 6, 2013
  1. Call to order and roll call – 1:00 p.m. 
  2. Pledge of Allegiance, Salute to the Oklahoma State Flag, and Moment of Silence
    (I salute the flag of the State of Oklahoma. Its symbols of peace unite all people.) 
(a) Information from the State Superintendent
    The State Board of Education shall hear public comment on any Action item listed on the current Board of Education meeting agenda. Public comments will be limited to only those subject matters covered in the current meeting agenda. Public comment will not be taken on issues relating to: (1) pending litigation against OSDE, OSBE, or agency employees; (2) a pending grievance; (3) an employee complaint; (4) complaints against OSDE employees; or (5) disciplinary action, suspension or termination of an OSDE employee. A sign-up sheet will be posted at least fifteen (15) minutes prior to the scheduled start time of the Board Meeting. Sign up must be completed prior to the scheduled start time of the meeting. The individual signing in must select one of the two public comment periods on the agenda to participate in. Only individuals who have signed up to speak will be recognized during the Public Comment period and will be recognized in the order in which they have signed in. Each speaker will be allocated three (3) minutes for presentation. The Board Chairperson may interrupt and/or terminate any presentation during public comment, which does not conform to the procedures outlined under this Section. The Board Chairperson reserves and retains the right to interrupt, terminate, or postpone public comment as necessary to effectuate the management of the public meeting. 
    Office of Accountability and Assessments – Maridyth McBee, Assistant State Superintendent 
  1. Presentation on the test results for 2012-2013 for the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test Grades 3-8 and End-of-Instruction and Oklahoma Modified Alternate Assessment Program Grades 3-8 and End-of-Instruction
  2. (Action) Discussion and possible action to issue annual reports (A-F Report Cards) pursuant to 70 O.S. § 1210.545 and State Board of Education rules – OAC 210:10-13-22
  3. (Action) Discussion and possible action to make a recommendation to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to award a bid pursuant to 74 O.S. § 85.5 for the Oklahoma College and Career Readiness Assessment (OCCRA) testing contract for Math and English/Language Arts in grades 3- 8, RFP# 2650000262 – 70 O.S. § 1210.508
The State Board of Education shall hear public comment on any item listed on the current Board of Education meeting agenda. Public comments will be limited to only those subject matters covered in the current meeting agenda. Public comment will not be taken on issues relating to: (1) pending litigation against OSDE, OSBE, or agency employees; (2) a pending grievance; (3) an employee complaint; (4) complaints against OSDE employees; or (5) disciplinary action, suspension or termination of an OSDE employee. A sign-up sheet will be posted at least fifteen (15) minutes prior to the scheduled start time of the Board Meeting. Sign up must be completed prior to the scheduled start time of the meeting. The individual signing in must select one of the two public comment periods on the agenda to participate in. Only individuals who have signed up to speak will be recognized during the Public Comment period and will be recognized in the order in which they have signed in. Each speaker will be allocated three (3) minutes for presentation. The Board Chairperson may interrupt and/or terminate any presentation during public comment, which does not conform to the procedures outlined under this Section. The Board Chairperson reserves and retains the right to interrupt, terminate, or postpone public comment as necessary to effectuate the management of the public meeting.


Fallin Clarifies Position on School Funding and A-F Grading

OKLAHOMA CITY – On Sunday, the Tulsa World reported that Governor Mary Fallin's spokesman Alex Weintz criticized a report issued by professors from OU and OSU that attacked the substance of the A-F public school grading system. The World reports:

Weintz said the governor is "dismayed" to see groups representing the education community touting a report issued by researchers at University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University as a way to wage a campaign against A-F.

Weintz cited a portion of the report that he said indicates the authors believe that schools are only responsible for 20 to 30 percent of student achievement. In that portion, the authors question whether school performance should be based solely on student standardized test results.

Weintz said Fallin believes test scores are an adequate way to measure student performance and she does not support the findings in the report.

"The governor believes that increased resources — if allocated appropriately — can help improve the quality of schools and improve student performance," he said. "She is an advocate, if we have extra funds, of trying to funnel those into education.

"It is crippling her ability to make that case to the public and to other lawmakers if the education community itself is touting a report which in essence says schools can have very little effect on student performance."

Some have misconstrued Weintz’s comments as a "threat" to educators to halt criticism of the A-F grading system. 

Fallin's Communications Director, Alex Weintz, responded today, arguing that nothing could be further from the truth. 

"Governor Fallin, school superintendents and teachers are all on the same side: the side that argues that public education is important, that it can make a difference in the lives of our children, and that additional funding can improve our schools," Weintz said. "That's why she signed a budget this year that appropriates $90 million of new money for K-12 education.

"Unfortunately, the OU/OSU report being touted by some superintendents sends a different message to the public. The authors write: '...multiple examinations of the sources of variation in student test performance reveal that more than 70 percent is due to non-school causes. Of course, schools do affect test results, but the effect size is routinely found to be between 20 and 30 percent.'

"In other words, the report argues schools can't substantially effect student performance or test scores," said Weintz. "Rather, 'non-school' factors like poverty control student outcomes. 

"The governor finds this conclusion to be alarming for a number of reasons. It sends a message to teachers that what they do doesn't matter. It sends the same message to parents and students: schools can't help you if you are poor or face other challenging circumstances. And it broadcasts to the general public that K-12 education is not worth investing in if it cannot make significant improvements to student performance. 

"Governor Fallin rejects that argument. She believes that all children have the ability to learn given the opportunity. Great schools and teachers can successfully boost student performance and help even our least-advantaged children improve. Oklahoma has many examples of schools and students that perform extremely well despite challenging circumstances. 

"Governor Fallin has not and will not threaten funding for schools based on opposition to the A-F grading system. She is asking that groups representing superintendents reconsider their endorsement of a report that argues that education cannot make a significant impact in student performance. That argument undermines the advocates of public education who believe it is worth investing in and improving, including our teachers and superintendents. 

"Governor Fallin continues to ask educators, lawmakers and parents to work together to make sure the A-F grading system succeeds as a tool to improve education and help our kids."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fallin: A-F Grades for Schools will Help Improve Public Education

By Gov. Mary Fallin

Oklahoma has great teachers and great schools. No one deserves more respect or thanks than our teachers, who are doing difficult and important jobs for modest salaries. Many teachers make a profound difference in the lives of their students, instilling them with academic passions that lead to successful careers and fulfilling lives.

These successes should be applauded and celebrated. But just as we should not ignore our many successes, nor should we turn a blind eye to our system's shortcomings. Those shortcomings are real: data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for instance, shows that 73 percent of Oklahoma fourth graders are below proficient in reading and 66 percent are below proficient in Math. Furthermore, when our high school graduates reach college, they are often doing so without the skill-sets needed to succeed in college courses. More than two in every five Oklahoma college students must take remedial courses, adding time and expense to their education, and making it more likely they will dropout without acquiring a degree.

These are problems that can only be addressed by improving K-12 education. Shedding light on school performance - lifting up the hood and seeing what is working and what is not - is absolutely essential to achieving that improvement. We cannot boost student performance if we do not first have a method of identifying schools that are exceeding expectations and those that are falling behind.

 The A-F public school grading system delivers that tool of measurement. It gives parents, administrators and teachers an easily understood way of evaluating school success.

The letter grades assigned to schools are based on student performance. Fifty percent of the grade is based on the average score students receive on standardized tests in subjects like English and Math. The other half of the grade is based on student improvement on these tests – meaning a school with relatively low scores can still receive a decent grade if student performance is moving in the right direction.

The roll-out of this new system has been difficult. There have been glitches and setbacks. But the system as it stands today is simple to understand and fair. There should be little doubt in anyone’s mind that a school scored as an “A” is outstanding; an “F” school is failing and in need of immediate help.

This is an accountability and transparency measure the education community can and should support. As a state, we should recognize and reward success. We should also find and correct problem spots.

Identifying problem areas is not about blaming teachers. No one has ever argued that a school with an “F” or a “D” is plagued by bad teachers. A grade of "F" is not a punishment; it is a call to action. Schools that receive poor grades need help, attention and a change in strategy so that they can get back on track.

This week, the State Department of Education will release the final letter grades assigned for all Oklahoma schools.

As these results come in, there will be some educators and school districts that are justifiably thrilled with a recognition of their success. To them, I offer my congratulations.

There will also be educators that are disappointed, even angry, at a grade which they feel is too low.

Here is my message to these individuals: Work with me, with each other, with parents and with students to improve our schools.

The A-F grading system is not going away. It was authored and passed by democratically elected legislators, signed by me, and is now being implemented by an elected superintendent of public instruction.

It is not a new or untested idea. It is being adopted in more than a dozen states, where it is supported by Democrat and Republican lawmakers.

The full-fledged effort by some to sabotage the goals of the A-F system has created the kind of distasteful and unproductive atmosphere of obstruction and gridlock we are used to seeing in Washington, D.C. It has turned a conversation about improving our schools into a partisan spectacle that is not becoming of Oklahoma.

Worst of all, it has taken the focus off our children and what we can do to help them.

Let's put a stop to that.

This week, we will finally be given a system that allows us to accurately evaluate the quality of our schools. We know the results will be mixed. Oklahoma has good schools. Like all states, it has schools that are desperately in need of help.

Let's work together — as educators, lawmakers, parents and citizens — to deliver that help, to improve education and to take care of our kids.
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