Norman Public School officials on Friday were notified by the state Department of Education (SDE) that nearly 15 percent of all tested third graders performed unsatisfactorily on the state’s 3rd grade language arts exam this spring.
Officials said that, based on preliminary test results generated by the state’s testing vendor, 167 of its 1,119 third graders performed unsatisfactorily.
Other local districts and the percent unsatisfactory are Noble, 8.7 percent; Moore, 9.6 percent, Little Axe, 13.3 percent and Oklahoma City, 28.9 percent. Statewide, 4,937 out of 42,598 tested unsatisfactorily for a 11.6 percent failure rate.
Of those Norman third graders identified by the state, 65 percent were either English language learners and/or special education students, district officials said.
The higher number of NPS third graders performing unsatisfactory this spring directly corresponds to the SDE eliminating the option of special education students taking a modified state exam if their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team of teachers, counselors and parents deemed it appropriate because of the nature of their special learning needs. Last year, only 6.7 percent of NPS third graders performed unsatisfactory on the state language arts exam, yet 48 special education students took a modified state exam.
A new state law requires third graders who perform unsatisfactory on the 3rd grade language arts exam to be retained in the third grade unless they qualify for an exemption.
“However, which of these students will be retained in the third grade because of this law cannot be determined until this summer,” said Dr. Joe Siano. “Our principals now are in the process of reviewing the accuracy of the information provided to us by the state today, analyzing exemptions, and will be making phone calls Monday to parents of students who may be impacted by this law.“
All NPS students who scored unsatisfactory will be offered summer school, alternate exams and/or compile portfolios so they may have the opportunity to advance to the fourth grade. According to state law, to advance to the fourth grade, students who don’t qualify for exemptions must retest and perform above unsatisfactory on the state exam or an approved alternate exam and/or compile a portfolio for the state to consider.
Prior to the law, NPS based its retention recommendations on numerous factors, including district/classroom assessments, classroom performance, IEPs, and teachers’ knowledge of their students’ demonstrated abilities. Parents were always involved in the collaborative effort of retention decisions and retentions were never based on a singular exam.
If passed, House Bill 2625, sponsored by state Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, and state Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, would return retention decisions to schools and parents. The state House will vote on the Senate’s version of the bill on Monday afternoon. It would also need to be signed by the governor.
Norman parents who believe retention should remain a collaborative, analytical process made by those who have the most direct knowledge of individual students' abilities – parents and teachers – can make their voices known to state lawmakers and the governor prior to Monday afternoon's vote. As the law stands now, 3rd grade parents have no say in whether their students are retained, Siano said.
Oklahoma Education Association president called the process unfair and disappointing.
"As an educator, the emphasis our state has placed on a single test, on a single day to determine whether or not our eight and nine-year-olds are prepared for the next grade level is unfair and disappointing," said Linda Hampton, OEA President.
Gov. Mary Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz commented on the results.
“The governor's belief is that it's immoral to send a child, a third-grader that cannot read at grade appropriate level onto fourth grade because you're setting them up for failure," Weintz said.
"It's especially important to remember that the tests they're taking actually tests to see if they're reading at a first-grade level. It's very difficult to imaging a fourth grader who can't read at a first grade level succeeding. So our goal now that we've identified those students that are falling behind is to get them up to where they need to be as quickly as possible."
Weintz said for some students that means summer school, remediation, appeals or being retained in the third grade next school year with a focus on literacy.
As to what it means that statewide about 20 percent of third grade students can't read at a first-grade level?
"It means we've got work to do," he said. "We're going to buckle down and do that work."
To whether the governor was surprised by the results:
"We knew we had work to do. The results show that," he said. "With the challenges, it also shows successes as well. There are a lot of kids who are reading, who are performing very well and we're proud of that. We just need to get that number closer to 100 percent."