Jeff Downs, the Oklahoma Department of Education's executive director of science, technology, engineering and math, said it's important for education officials to make sure students are learning what they'll need to succeed in the workforce.
The state is headed for a situation in which the graduates it produces don't have the necessary skills for the jobs that exist in the world. To change that, he said, the state needs to focus on science and math instruction not just at the higher education level, but from the students start kindergarten.
Today, students tend to have a large amount of science instruction in 4th and 5th grades, but less in middle school, he said. By the time students reach high school, the students are again exposed to science after several years without learning it.
The education system also needs to place greater emphasis on thinking and innovating rather than test-taking ability, Downs said. For students to succeed after they graduate, they'll need critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that tests don't reflect.
“We are actually trying to educate a group of people to solve problems that aren't even invented yet,” he said.