The Norman Transcript

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March 9, 2014

Looking to the academic horizon

NORMAN — Third grade reading, new education standards, teacher pay and the arts were among key issues addressed by superintendents from Oklahoma’s two largest public school systems during an education forum Thursday.

Dave Lopez, interim superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, and Keith Ballard, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, fielded questions from an audience of more than 50 during the forum, held at Kamp’s 1910 Café in Oklahoma City. The forum was sponsored by Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit journalism organization.

The questions gave visitors a chance to learn about the superintendents’ stances on education issues and about some of the programs going on inside the districts.

Read-or-Fail Law: Ballard was a vocal opponent of the state’s third grade read-or-fail provision that kicks in this year.

Oklahoma third-graders could be forced to repeat the grade if they score at the lowest level on the state’s reading assessment and don’t qualify for one of six exemptions. The reading portion of the state’s standardized test is in April.

Ballard said the biggest challenge in getting students to read better is that many do not have someone who reads or talks with them at home before entering school. Students who lack that experience at an early age often come to school academically lagging their peers.

“It may not be until fourth or fifth grade we see results,” Ballard said of efforts to help students catch up with peers.

Any decision to hold those students back a grade needs to be made by teachers, principals and parents, not the state, Ballard said. Legislation has been proposed that would eliminate being able to use the test alone to decide to hold back a student. Asked about Florida’s increase in test scores a decade ago after it introduced a third grade retention law, Ballard replied that Florida spent tens of millions of dollars on intervention.

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