OKLAHOMA CITY -- The latest "Quality Counts" report ranks Oklahoma 48th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the quality of education it provides students.
The report issued Thursday focuses on educational outcomes while looking at academic achievement, school funding and the chance for success students have when they grow up.
Oklahoma received a D+, which placed it ahead of Mississippi, Nevada and New Mexico. Massachusetts led the nation with a B.
Outgoing state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi issued a statement saying Oklahoma teachers are not adequately prepared for the classroom.
Spokesman Alex Weintz for Gov. Mary Fallin said Fallin is working with educators, parents, lawmakers and the business community to find ways to improve the education outcome for students in the state.
Oh, my! Where do I start?
I began by reading about the history of the “Quality Counts” report and the information collected for the state report cards.
Then I read the 12-page report specifically for Oklahoma.
Then I read more about Janet Barresi’s statement. Let’s start there. It appears that her statement about teacher training was actually made in December in response to the National Council of Teacher Equality report that “Oklahoma’s teacher preparation policies fail to ensure that new teachers are ready to help students to the high levels necessary for college and careers.” Her response was “Our teacher preparation colleges need to have more method classes. The focus needs to be on helping teachers develop more classroom management strategies. Classroom teachers graduating from institutions of higher learning are good, well-intentioned people who are not being adequately prepared.” Unless she said the same thing about the Quality Counts report, we’ll cut her some slack on that. She did, however, make one statement that I refuse to ignore and I will address that tomorrow. I also agree with many of the state-specific recommendations made by the NCTE, but they have little to do with today’s topic. And while Oklahoma’s “grade” on teacher preparation was a C, the average grade for ALL states was a C. FL, IN, and RI got a B+ and MT and AL got an F.
Now let’s take a brief overview of the information collected for Quality Counts, which is done by Education Week. Three broad categories are reported (average state score in parentheses): Chance for Success (C+), k-12 Achievement (C), School Finance (C-). The EW research team makes the statement that “most states post a strong showing in at least one area. This suggests that while broad evaluations of state rankings and performance can be useful, a deeper reading of the results presented in this State Highlights Report will provide a more nuanced perspective on the educational condition of the nation and states.”
In addition to the broad categories mentioned, the states are graded on early education. So we are ranked 48 in overall quality of education, but 12 in early education- clearly our area of strength. The national average for early education is D+ and we got C-.
The data collected for the early education grade included preschool enrollment, preschool poverty gap, Head Start enrollment, kindergarten enrollment and whether kindergarten was full or half day. EW states that “Preschool participation is heavily influenced by a range of socioeconomic factors, including household income, parental education levels, and race and ethnicity.” The national average for preschool enrollment is 47.3%. Oklahoma’s is 41.3%. 83.2% of our kindergarten students attend a full-day program. The national average is 75%.
The Chance-for-Success Index is the most complicated one and includes factors that influence a person’s success from “cradle to career”. It “provides information that could be used to target the efforts of public education systems in ways that better serve students of all ages”. The information collected includes family income, parent education, parental employment, and linguistic integration (parents fluent in English). It also takes a look at whether the state provides sufficient employment for those who do complete their education. For the school years it collected data on enrollment, reading and math proficiency on NAEP, and high school graduation. Even a casual reading of those lists tells you that many of those factors have nothing to do with teachers and are hardly within our control. Oklahoma’s ranking in this index ranges from 3 (adults in labor force working full time and year round) to 48 (children from families with incomes at least 200% of poverty level). Oklahoma’s Chance ranking is 43 with a grade of C-. National average is C+.
So now we get to the index that really matters to us: The K-12 Achievement Index. This includes achievement levels (4th and 8th grade reading and math), achievement gains (4th and 8th grade reading and math), poverty gap, achieving excellence, high school graduation, and advanced placement. Oklahoma’s rankings for achievement run the gamut from 4 (8th grade math gap) to 46 (change in math excellence), with an overall rank of 41 and a grade of D. The national average was C-. I have to confess that my gut reaction to this is apathy at best. There is very little difference between the state scores, and the national average is just that…average. On a 100-point scale Massachusetts, the highest, scored 83.7, the national average was 70.2, Oklahoma scored 64.2, and Mississippi, the lowest, scored 57.1. Those of you familiar with statistics know there aren’t any big gaps between the scores of the other 47 states in the middle.
I’ve been in education long enough to know that testing children is MUCH more complicated than most people understand or are willing to admit. Of course we want to know if our students have learned anything during their year with us. We need some measure of their skills and knowledge. We want to see annual progress throughout the educational process. We accept testing as a necessary evil.
However…testing has many variable conditions:
Who was tested?
What was tested?
How was it tested?
When was it tested?
Who gave the test?
Where was the test given?
Was the test given in the student’s primary language?
Was the student feeling well the day the test was given?
Did the teacher give the instructions clearly and correctly?
Was the method of testing (computer) familiar to the student?
The danger of testing lies in giving too much importance to any one test or method of testing. We give three major reading/language tests to our kindergarten students. In addition to those, we give half a dozen different tests in our classroom, we grade daily work, and we observe our students as they work and play. Last week I got the results from one of our “standardized” tests and the score summary stated that one of my students is “reading simple words like ‘mat’ and making progress toward reading with understanding”. Sounds good for a kindergarten student…except for one little glitch. That particular student can read at a first grade level! Just to reassure myself that I hadn’t overlooked something, I reached into my files and pulled out a 7-page little reader that included the words “building, making, hooray, right, catching, friend, fort, snowman, mittens, and warm”. My student had never seen it, but read it without a single error! Obviously the test results from that test on that day are not accurate and I’ll compare his scores on other tests before I make an assessment of his skills.
I have another student who has enough knowledge and skill to “test well”, but is unmotivated, disinterested in education, and a constant behavior problem. How will he and thousands like him factor into “chance of success” and “academic achievement” in years to come?
I just have to grit my teeth when I get to the next report. School Finance is the “make or break” index for so many states, including Oklahoma. School financing determines the size, age, and quality of your school buildings. School financing affects teacher-to-pupil ratios. School financing determines whether a district can offer art and/or music. School financing means one school has an amazing computer lab and the one down the road is lucky to have one computer per classroom.
I have to admit that I don’t even understand some of the data gathered for this report. State grades are based on their wealth-neutrality score, McLoone Index, coefficient of variation, restricted range, adjusted PPE, students funded at or above national average, spending index, and spending on education. The one thing I do understand is dollars- per pupil spending. Ours was $8,624 (2012) and the national average was $11,735. New York spent $19, 522 per student. Our rank in this category is 45.
So what’s my conclusion? We’re doing the best we can where we are with what we have. That’s not meant to be the least bit superficial or sarcastic. It’s actually my personal objective each and every day. We’re constantly changing our curriculum and teaching methods in an attempt to improve the outcomes for our students. We’re trying to improve the way we train, certify, and evaluate teachers. We’re exploring different ways to generate funding. What more can we do?
We tell our students to work hard, do their best, study for the test, and then graciously accept the grade they earn. We support them when they don’t do quite as well as they wanted and we encourage them to keep striving to do a little better next time. I think our teachers and even some of our administrators deserve the same encouragement.