NORMAN — Four in 10 of Oklahoma’s lowest-performing students showed little or no improvement in language arts and math last year, raising questions about whether the state and schools are focusing enough attention on students who struggle the most.
In public schools where at least three-fourths of students were from low-income families, about half of test takers made no significant improvement over the previous year, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of state test results in spring 2013.
The results point to one of the biggest challenges facing educators, parents and policymakers in efforts to raise Oklahoma’s relatively low achievement in common education: boosting learning for tens of thousands of students who are in the bottom academic tier. That group is counted by the state as the bottom 25 percent of scorers in the math and reading parts of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test in grades third through eighth and in Algebra I and English II end-of-instruction exams in high school.
“I think it’s an economic issue,” Richard Caram, assistant state superintendent for school turnaround, said of the bottom 25 percent. Those students, whether in urban or rural schools, face many of the same barriers. “If we help students who struggle, their possibility of success later in life is greater.
They’ve learned how to learn. Many more doors are open for them and the barriers are broken.”
Like many other states, Oklahoma has put greater emphasis on using tests to measure not only students’ level of performance, but also their degree of improvement, or “growth.” The belief is that tracking growth will spotlight the ability of schools and teachers to raise achievement regardless of their students’ levels of income or performance. Oklahoma and other states also track growth specifically for the bottom 25 percent at each school, with Oklahoma basing a fourth of its controversial school letter grades on that measure. Schools with fewer than 10 students in the bottom tier are graded only on all students’ growth.