The leader of the largest school district in Oklahoma criticized the state Education Department on Friday for releasing results of a high-stakes reading test to the news media before anxious parents could be notified.
Nearly 30 percent of third-graders in the Oklahoma City district scored unsatisfactory on the test and are at risk of not being promoted to the fourth grade, according to figures provide by the Education Department. Statewide, 16 percent of students scored unsatisfactory.
Friday morning’s release took the district by surprise since principals had yet to contact parents with the results, Oklahoma City Public Schools interim Superintendent Dave Lopez said.
“We are stunned and disappointed that the Oklahoma State Department of Education prematurely released our district’s results of the third-grade reading assessment to the media,” Lopez said in a statement. “We had hoped to communicate individual results and options to students and their families prior to the public announcement of such preliminary district-wide numbers.”
Education Department spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton defended the department’s decision to release the results, saying school districts “have known all along” they were getting their scores Friday and had them “for about an hour before we released them.”
“It’s not like we could sit on our state results for a week while we waited for districts to notify all of their parents,” Pemberton said. “We knew what our state results were today, and we felt obligated to release those.”
The results were worse than expected for Oklahoma City Public Schools, which had 28.9 percent of 3,608 third-graders score unsatisfactory on the test, according to figures provided by the Education Department. In February, district officials estimated that about 23 percent of third-graders could be retained after performing poorly on district assessments in December and January.
“There is no doubt that we need to do better and to approach this differently than in the past,” Lopez said.
“The heartbreak for me is that this is not about percentages or statistics. It’s about young children.”
For the first time, third-graders who scored unsatisfactory on the state test will not be promoted to the fourth grade unless they meet several “good-cause” exemptions or until they can demonstrate the ability to read at a second-grade level or higher.
Those exemptions include English-language learners who have had less than two years of English and are not proficient; students with disabilities who are assessed differently; or students who demonstrate an acceptable level of performance on an alternative standardized reading test.
Additionally, students who demonstrate through a teacher-developed portfolio that they can read on grade level would be exempt from retention, along with students who have received two or more years of intensive remediation and were previously retained but still demonstrate a reading deficiency.
Oklahoma City, the state’s largest school district, has nearly 12,000 English-language learners among its more than 46,000 students.
Lopez said school leaders and staff will spend the weekend verifying information for students and determining how many qualify for exemptions. Parents, he added, will be notified “as early as possible next week” if their child’s score is satisfactory or unsatisfactory, and individual conferences will be held for the parents of each third-grader beginning Wednesday.
“I want to reassure parents that we will be reaching out to them as soon as we have the individual information about their children,” he said.
Sixteen percent of third-graders statewide scored unsatisfactory on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test. The students will have two additional opportunities to demonstrate basic reading skills through a student portfolio or an alternative reading assessment provided under the state’s Reading Sufficiency Act, Pemberton said.
Of 48,691 Oklahoma third-graders:
•1,120 scored advanced on the reading test
•32,531 scored proficient
•7,070 scored limited knowledge
•7,970 scored unsatisfactory.
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard also criticized the Education Department for releasing the results early, calling the move “highly unethical.”
Nearly 33 percent of third-graders in the Tulsa district scored unsatisfactory on the test.
“Ultimately we think teaching children how to read so they will be able to learn will be in their best interest,” said Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin.
“The governor absolutely supports the idea that a third-grader unable to read on a first-grade level needs to get their reading up before they move to the fourth grade.”
The Reading Sufficiency Act is a 2011 state law that requires school districts to identify children who are significantly behind, notify their parents and work to fix the problem, typically through increased reading instruction.
BY THE NUMBERS
Other metro-area districts
Metro-area third-graders who scored unsatisfactory on state reading test*. Additional results are available at www.ok.gov/sde.
•Crooked Oak: 27 out of 92 (29.3 percent)
•Crutcho: 22 out of 38 (57.9 percent)
•Deer Creek: 21 out of 396 (5.3 percent)
•Edmond: 90 out of 1,686 (5.3 percent)
•El Reno: 32 out of 151 (21.2 percent)
•Guthrie: 56 out of 265 (21.1 percent)
•Midwest City-Del City: 141 out of 1,116 (12.6
•Millwood: 30 out of 78 (38.5 percent)
•Moore: 171 out of 1,788 (9.6 percent)
•Mustang: 100 out of 765 (13.1 percent)
•Norman: 167 out of 1,119 (14.9 percent)
•Oklahoma City: 1,042 out of 3,608 (28.9 percent)
•Putnam City: 325 out of 1,463 (22.2 percent)
•Shawnee: 36 out of 281 (12.8 percent)
•Tuttle: 11 out of 130 (8.5 percent)
•Western Heights: 93 out of 297 (31.3 percent)
•Yukon: 56 out of 614 (9.1 percent)
*Results were not available for all school districts