WE are among those who support a state law requiring high school seniors to pass tests proving that they've mastered high school content in math, science and English subjects before they can receive a diploma.
That law sets an academic floor in Oklahoma schools. A high school diploma should indicate its bearer has a minimum level of high school learning. Previously, grade inflation and lax standards allowed students to get a diploma they may not have truly earned. Unmerited diplomas do nothing to help kids succeed as adults.
One downside of the testing system — which we have previously noted — is that the bar was still set very low. Students could miss close to half the questions on state tests and be declared proficient. Now, state education officials are raising the bar.
This move deserves our support even if it means more students must retake high school content.
Last week state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi announced that the “cut score,” the grade required to pass a test, has been raised for the most recent Biology I end-of-instruction test. Previously, students had to score only a 52 to be declared proficient. That's an F in any other setting. Now, students will be expected to answer 70 percent of questions correctly. It's not unreasonable to expect Oklahoma high school seniors to manage a C when tested on core subjects. Also, the test now requires greater application of content knowledge.
At the same time, state officials have upgraded fifth- and eighth-grade science and writing tests to include more rigorous questions in conjunction with higher standards.
These changes mean fewer students will pass the tests in the short term. Oklahomans shouldn't be discouraged if the pass rate declines. An emphasis on continual improvement generates far greater results than complacency.
This effort has the support of Gov. Mary Fallin; Robert Sommers, state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education; state higher education Chancellor Glen Johnson, and The State Chamber.
Politically, the easy move for state leaders would be to maintain the lower cut score to preserve pass rates in advance of an election year. That they are instead raising standards shows this decision was driven by what's best for Oklahoma kids, not what is easiest for political careers.
No doubt many will be surprised that previous cut scores were so low. But it was a battle to establish and preserve even those standards. In 2012, some school administrators joined Democratic lawmakers to call for repeal of graduation standards because a relative handful of students couldn't meet them.
Furthermore, even the easier testing system incentivized struggling students to do better. Students have been taking the end-of-instructions tests for several years in preparation for implementation of the graduation requirement. From 2008 to 2012, the pass rate for the Algebra II exam rose from 53 percent to 74 percent. The pass rate for Geometry rose from 68 percent to 82 percent and the pass rate for English III jumped from 75 percent to 85 percent. The percentage passing Algebra I also increased.
In short, when the bar was raised, student performance increased. This will happen again as students are required to correctly answer 70 percent of questions.
Oklahomans have high expectations for their local high school football teams. Now the same mindset is being applied to classroom performance.