About 5,400 high school seniors in Oklahoma still need to pass at least one state exam before they can graduate in May, according to numbers released by the state Education Department this week.
That means about 84 percent of high school seniors are on track to get their diplomas.
“I have a problem with that,” said Karl Springer, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools. “These are people who have been in school for 13 or 14 years, and they're now a senior, and 16 percent of the kids in this state are being told that they aren't going to graduate.”
Current seniors have two chances remaining to pass four end-of-instruction exams so they can walk across the stage with their classmates for a handshake and diploma. There are also alternative tests and projects the seniors can use to meet the requirements.
The graduating class of 2012 is the first group of students to face state graduation requirements created by lawmakers in 2005 as part of Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) legislation.
Springer said in Oklahoma City schools about 40 percent of the district's 1,300 seniors still need to pass at least one exam before they can graduate.
“We're not going to give up on these kids,” Springer said. “We will work with them so they can
In Tulsa Public Schools — the second-largest school district in the state — about 67 percent of the 1,666 seniors have met the graduation requirements.
“We are looking at each individual student and determining what the issue is,” said Sharolyn Sorrels, director of education indicators for Tulsa Public Schools. “We're making a concerted effort to make sure that each student has a plan. ... We anticipate these students graduating in May.”
Educators, students and parents have known for seven years that to graduate this school year students would have to pass at least four of the seven exams. Last legislative session there was a push to postpone implementation of ACE. House Bill 1585 would have delayed the graduation requirements. The bill passed the education committee but was never taken up by the House or the Senate for a vote.
“I'm proud of the students who have met these requirements. This is an impressive percentage,” state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi said in a statement released with the numbers. “I want to urge all students who have not yet completed the requirements to persevere and explore all options available to them that will lead to success and a diploma.”
The 5,400 students not on track to graduate can retake the state exams once this winter and once in the spring.
Kerri White, assistant state superintendent of student support, said for either testing window there will be adequate time for students to get results back and graduate with their class.
“If they take the test online they will get their results immediately,” White said. “Those results are official results, and the schools can use those for the student to be able to graduate.”
Students can also graduate if they have acceptable scores on a slew of alternative tests accepted in place of state exams. For example, if a student scores an 18 on the math portion of the ACT, that will fulfill the Algebra I end-of-instruction exam requirement. For the required English II end-of-instruction exam, a student could instead score a 2 on the Advanced Placement Language and Composition exam, which is an optional test taken by some students to earn college credit.
The state also will accept a number of projects in place of passing the state exams. Those projects have been developed and are on the state department's website.
Both Springer and Sorrels said getting the results back in time from the spring testing window is a concern.
“I think that is a concern of all the districts in the state,” Sorrels said.
Oklahoma City Public Schools are focusing on remediation opportunities for students that include after school tutoring, extra school days during fall, winter and spring breaks and online courses.
The four-year graduation rate for Oklahoma was 78.5 percent in the 2009-10 school year. That number — as reported to the U.S. Department of Education — accounts for students who drop out anytime between their freshman and senior years.
It's unknown how many students drop out or fail to graduate their senior year, but with about one semester left, 84 percent of the seniors are on track to graduate. That may cause the state's four-year graduation rate to decline.
“In 2005, when Achieve Inc. worked with the state, they made some predictions that in the first year we could anticipate that there would be more seniors who would not graduate,” White said.
“We believe that we are really on target with these additional opportunities that are coming to allow the majority of students to graduate who would have graduated without the additional graduation requirements.”
White said she encourages parents who don't know the status of their child's end-of-instruction exams to contact the school and find out if they are on track to graduate.
Oklahoma is in the process of switching to a nationally developed curriculum, and in two years the state's end-of-instruction exams will significantly change and be based on the new curriculum. Those exams are expected to become more difficult to pass.
“There is a sense of urgency here unlike anything that public school students have had in the past 20 years,” Springer said. “This is going to be a good thing. It's troubling, and it causes you to have a stomach