State Education Leaders Meet to Address High Stakes Testing Problems

A cross-section of the public education community met at OEA Headquarters earlier this week to discuss high stakes testing in Oklahoma’s schools. In response to increasing concerns from parents and teachers that Oklahoma is over-testing its K-12 students, the Oklahoma Education Association hosted the “High Stakes Testing Summit: Building Legislative Consensus.”

The sixty-person summit was attended by students, parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, tribal leaders, community members, and representatives from higher education and the legislature. After an initial greeting by State Superintendent-elect Joy Hofmeister, the participants set to work brainstorming ideas to improve testing in three areas: Reading Sufficiency Act and Third Grade Retention, Testing Students with Disabilities, and State and Federal Testing Requirements.

“We chose to focus on these topics because our first priority is finding solutions that will most directly, and most immediately, benefit our students,” said Putnam City Special Education Instructional Coach Katherine Bishop, who helped organize the event and facilitated the discussion around Testing Students with Disabilities.

Andrea McCall, a Tribal Education Advocate for the Osage Nation, said the Summit gave her hope for public education. “I left teaching a year ago due to some of the current testing policies. I wanted to help students and what we were doing wasn’t helping. Today made me feel like education is headed in a much brighter direction, like teachers may be valued again.”

McCall took part in the Reading Sufficiency Act and Third Grade Retention session. That group’s top recommendation of the day was to make permanent the “Student Reading Proficiency Team” created in law by the legislature last spring. The law allowed a student’s parent, teacher, counselor and administrator to have input into whether a third grader who scored insufficient on a reading exam would be retained or promoted to the fourth grade, but the law only applied until the end of the 2014-15 school year.

Tahlequah High School Senior and participant in the State and Federal Testing Requirements session, Amy Hembree, said that since she’s taken most of the tests required of high school students, it was nice to have the opportunity to have some input into what our testing system should look like.

“Also,” said Hembree, “I have a little brother who is about to go through all of these tests and I’d like things to be a little better for him.”

All three sessions came up with preliminary recommendations for changes in law and policy for 2015. Participants will now take those recommendations to their colleagues and Boards of Directors to discuss them and garner support. At a second Summit scheduled for next month, the group will vote on which of the changes should be a part of next session’s legislative agenda. Participants in the second Summit will also tackle issues relating to the current teacher and administrator evaluation system, as well as the A - F Grading system currently used to rate school sites and districts.

At the end of the day, 2015 Teacher of the Year Jason Proctor summed up the motivation of many of today’s participants, “Nobody really likes the climate of public education right now. So we know we’re going to move in some direction, but to move without thought could lead us somewhere just as scary as where we’ve been. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of thinking and collaborating about what direction public education should go in the future?”


 

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