The number of children living in poverty in Oklahoma rose by 9 percent from 2005-2010, according to the 2012 Kids Count report released Wednesday by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The report says the state’s teenage birthrate was up by 11 percent and low-birth weight babies rose by 5 percent, both from 2005-2009. The report, using the latest figures available, is the 23rd by the foundation on the educational, economic well-being, health and family situation. It ranks Oklahoma 40th among the 50 states, up from 43rd in 2011.
“It tells us that we still have many areas that we must improve,” said Linda Terrell, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, which helped the Casey Foundation compile the Oklahoma numbers for the nationwide report.
“We decreased in almost all areas in health and wellness, as did most of the states in the nation,” Terrell said, “which is not surprising given the recession and the devastating effects of that.”
Areas of improvement
The state showed improvement in three of the four educational areas surveyed
•A 6 percent increase in the number of children attending preschool from 2005 to 2010
•A 3 percent increase in reading proficiency by fourth-graders
•An 8 percent increase in the math proficiency of eighth-graders from the 2005 to the 2011 school years.
The report found a 5 percent decrease from 2005 to 2009 in the number of high school students who graduate on time.
“We have to be focused on accountability and rigor. We have to be focused on transparency so parents know how schools are performing,” Oklahoma Education Department spokesman Damon Gardenhire said. “That’s what Superintendent (Janet) Barresi is focused on doing.”
Gardenhire said educational reforms, including not promoting third-graders to the fourth grade if they do not read at grade level and requiring students pass End of Instruction tests to be awarded a diploma, will improve the educational rankings.
The End of Instruction tests, in which high school seniors must pass four of seven tests in order to receive their diploma, were approved in 2005 and went into effect with the just concluded school year.
It was projected in 2005 that about 78 percent of the seniors would pass the tests, Gardenhire said.
“Now flash forward to where we are in 2012, we’re at 93-plus percent of students who have met the requirements. We’ve well exceeded the expectations the reformers had when the requirements were passed,” he said.
Terrell said she hopes to take the information to elected officials to persuade them to approve programs that will benefit children.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” she said. “I know that our elected officials at all levels care about children.
“We have to, as a state, decide to tackle this situation, to mitigate this situation we have to provide innovative, evidence based public systems to keep children connected to their families,” Terrell said, while acknowledging that such programs cost money during economically depressed times.
“It’s about prioritizing our money,” she said.