Overall statewide scores for Oklahoma's lineup of core curriculum and end-of-instruction tests saw modest gains in a report released to the State Board of Education Thursday, with ACE (Achieving Classroom Excellence) end-of-instruction tests in critical math subjects showing the most significant gains.
“Educators, students and parents across the state are to be commended for the hard work these improvements demonstrate. This shows Oklahoma is moving in the right direction, but we must stay the course with reforms,” State Superintendent Janet Barresi said. “I am especially encouraged by our ACE test results. Educators are focusing on key material to ensure their students are graduating with mastery of core subject matter. The dedication teachers are showing in these areas will pay off with students who graduate prepared for the demands of real life in the 21st century.”
Algebra II scores on ACE end-of-instruction tests — one of the most important indicators for college readiness — were up 21 percentage points compared to 2008. Algebra II results saw a gain of 8 percent compared to last year for the percentage of students who demonstrated proficiency, with 74 percent of students taking the test demonstrating proficiency in 2012. There has been a steady increase from the 54 percent of students who passed that exam in 2008. Students also showed gains in Algebra I, Geometry and English III. Geometry and English III have both demonstrated noteworthy increases since the tests were first implemented in 2008, with Geometry gaining 14 percent and English III posting a 10 percent increase.
Additionally, 2012 OCCT (Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests) math results for grades 3-8 and OCCT reading results for grades 3-8 saw modest gains. Meanwhile, third-graders showed no improvement in math while fourth-graders' results remained flatline in reading. OCCT science results for fifth and eighth-graders also saw slight declines, while the overall level of proficiency in this area remained high.
"This shows the need to press forward with our new third-grade graduation reading requirements next year, as well as our emphasis on science, literacy and math," Barresi said. In 2011, the State Legislature mandated a new third-grade graduation requirement, meaning that students not reading on grade level will not proceed to the fourth grade beginning in the 2013-14 school year. Barresi said the reform's focus is on identifying struggling children beginning in Kindergarten and assisting teachers to help children learn to read.
Barresi pointed to bright spots in other areas of the testing results, and said results provide momentum for more work to be done. For example, Barresi noted that eighth-grade writing scores on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) were up 5 percent this year over last; 90 percent of eighth-graders showed proficiency on the writing test in 2012. At the same time, fifth-grade writing is an area in need of improvement. The percent of fifth-grade students proficient on the exam dropped four percentage points to 74 percent proficient in 2012.
"Readiness for both sixth-grade and high school are important goals in our stair-step approach to college, career and citizen readiness," said Barresi. "We can't have one without the other. While we should celebrate areas of improvement, we also need to pinpoint those areas that remained the same or declined slightly. We've got a lot of work to do over the next few years, and our initiatives and reforms have positioned us for future success. We're making steady progress in some areas, but this is certainly no time for complacency."
Last week, Barresi noted, Education Next and Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance released a study showing that the U.S. ranks 25th out of 49 nations in fourth- and eighth-grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009. The study found that Oklahoma’s rate of test score gains ranks third lowest in the nation between 1992 and 2011. Oklahoma has continually increased the rigor of its assessments since the early 1990s, which is one factor in the lag noted in the study, according to Maridyth McBee, assistant superintendent for accountability and assessment.
Barresi said Oklahoma's School Testing Program results for this year represent a critical point for the state's education system. This is the last year before Oklahoma fully transitions to new Oklahoma C3 (College, Career and Citizenship) Standards, which will incorporate more challenging and in-depth Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and math, as well as literacy across all subject matter. A state-led initiative to establish benchmarked academic standards and assessments that truly prepare students for success in college and the work place, the Common Core State Standards will be incorporated into Oklahoma's C3 Standards as part of an overall strategic move toward more rigor and accountability across the state.