Finding Fact in the Figures

“Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating and former state Treasurer Scott Meacham argued in NewsOK that Oklahoma schools are failing, but they said we should not have a serious discussion about increasing funding until we change teacher tenure and compensation, create higher curriculum standards, and hold back more students.” (OK Policy Institute, 12-1-14).

Whoa! This is one of those “Where should I begin?” moments. The Keating/Meacham article begins by quoting the old saying, “the numbers don’t lie.” They don’t lie, but they can certainly be distorted. In the article, Keating and Meacham use 2013 NAEP data to say only 29% of Oklahoma eight graders are proficient in reading, giving the illusion “…that more than 70% don’t read adequately .”

NAEP uses four levels of placement – Advanced, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic. In her book “Reign of Error,” Diane Ravitch, education historian, talks about the NAEP scores and their uses. Since she was on the National Assessment Governing board for seven years, I feel this makes her very qualified to say what the NAEP scores actually represent. Two things need to be noted about NAEP statistics. One, according to Ravitch, NAEP is “administered to samples of students … no one takes the whole test.” Secondly, if not read correctly, the data can “create the expectation that all students ought to be proficient.”

Some folks, however, still need to equate the four levels of placement with a letter grade. Once again quoting Ravitch, the levels would be as follows:

Advanced = A+

Proficient = A or B+

Basic = B or C

Below Basic = D or below

Keating and Meacham stated, “…that more than 70% (of Oklahoma’s eighth grade students) don’t read adequately.” They tried to label students as failing based on only those scoring advanced or proficient, completely ignoring the group who scored on the basic level. What about those students whose scores equate to a B or C? If a student is reading on a B or C level it can hardly be said they are “reading inadequately.”

When you look up Oklahoma’s 2013 NAEP scores, here’s what you’ll find:

Advanced (A+) 2%

Proficient (A or B+) 27%

Basic (B or C) 46%

Below Basic (D or below) 25%

When you look at all of the data, it shows 75% of Oklahoma students are reading adequately or above. Additionally, out of that 25% scoring below basic, some are Ds, not failures. That’s far different than the 70% the article would have you believe are failing. So, yes, numbers don’t lie, but you should certainly use all the data rather than labeling students as failures to try to convince folks that public education shouldn’t be adequately funded.


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