WHEN lawmakers voted in 2005 to require Oklahoma high school seniors to pass end-of-instruction exams in order to graduate, supporters argued a diploma should be more than a certificate of attendance. We agreed, believing that raising the bar benefits children.
The early results are now in. Students and teachers are meeting the challenge.
Although this was the first year students were required to pass four of seven EOIs to graduate, they've been taking the tests for several years now. In 2008, just 53 percent of students passed the Algebra II exam. This year, 74 percent did. The pass rate for geometry surged from 68 percent to 82 percent over those four years. The pass rate for English III jumped from 75 percent to 85 percent and the percentage passing Algebra I also increased.
That's a remarkable improvement showing the benefit of higher standards. This year's seniors were the first to go all the way through high school knowing they'd have to pass the tests to graduate — and that knowledge clearly made a big difference.
Administrators at several northeastern Oklahoma schools loudly protested the graduation standards, yet the Tulsa World reports a high percentage of students at many of those schools passed. Kudos to the teachers who worked with struggling students even as their local administrators acted as if they were wasting their time!
Most of all, thanks to the vast majority of educators and administrators at Oklahoma's 522 school districts who didn't bellyache about standards, but instead focused on helping children learn. Lawmakers did the right thing by resisting calls to repeal or delay graduation standards this year; they should hold their ground in the future.
Moving ahead, officials must continue apace with similar reforms. Last year, lawmakers voted to end social promotion and require third-graders to demonstrate basic reading mastery before advancing. That law will impact students starting in the 2013-14 school year. Test results show 72 percent of Oklahoma third-graders were proficient in reading in 2012, up slightly from 2011. We're pleased to see improvement, but the state should continue to aim higher.
As with graduation standards, the reading requirement will cause students and teachers to strive and reach the goals set before them. That's crucial, since the ability to read after third grade impacts students' ability to learn other subjects in future years.
Oklahoma's education system is moving in the right direction. This is essential because the state still has a lot of ground to make up. A study by Education Next and Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance ranked the United States 25th out of 49 nations in fourth- and eighth-grade test score gains in math, reading and science over the period of 1995-2009. The study found Oklahoma's rate of test score gains ranked third-lowest in the nation between 1992 and 2011.
The implementation of EOIs was a watershed in Oklahoma, but policymakers shouldn't be content. Much work remains. Too many Oklahoma students, particularly those in the urban core, continue to struggle.
Even so, Oklahomans should take a moment to savor this important victory. When lawmakers enhanced graduation standards in our school system, critics said the goal was unrealistic, if not impossible.
Oklahoma's teachers and students just proved the critics wrong.