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As Oklahoma test scores fall, state officials say numbers don’t tell the whole story


For the first time since the pandemic began, Oklahoma students, parents and educators have results from statewide assessments available.

At first glance, the results aren’t pretty.

“We're very concerned about the children that have had disruption due to the pandemic,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister

But Hofmeister and other state officials say you’ll need to dig a little deeper to interpret the data.

Proficiency rates fell in every measurable category from 2019, before the pandemic, to 2021.

And though prognosticators warned there would likely be decreases, because of uneven participation rates, it’s hard to suss out exactly what impact the pandemic had on scores.

Hofmeister said individual schools need to take the data and analyze it themselves to set a baseline moving forward.

“I think right now, this isn’t just about looking backward,” Hofmeister said in a briefing about the scores with reporters. “This is about what we do with this information to have the right steps going forward so that we don’t further compound what the pandemic has brought.”

Accountability isn’t linked to performance on the tests this year so schools won’t see a letter grade on their state report card as a result of how they did. The state disentangled accountability for the spring tests because of the pandemic.

Hofmeister said the poor performance indicates the importance of mitigation of the coronavirus in schools.

“It's very concerning,” Hofmeister said. “And that's why it is also important that we do everything within our power right now to lower the spread of COVID-19 to minimize disruption so that our children have a more normal school year.”

State report card grades had already been slipping before the pandemic.

Normally, participation rates for the tests are about 99% at every school. But this year, they were about 91% on average and varied wildly by district. And depending on who did or didn’t test, the scores a school sees could be artificially inflated or deflated, said Maria Cammack, Deputy Superintendent of Assessment & Accountability.

“It's so important that schools and districts interrogate their own data,” Cammack said. “We cannot draw inferences from state level data. We can tell the ‘what.’ We are trying to help districts describe the why.”

In Tulsa Public Schools, test scores for third through eighth graders were below the state averages in math, science and English language arts. That includes charter schools.

Just 3% of TPS eighth graders scored proficient or higher in math. About three out of four elementary schools had at least one grade where no students tested at proficient or higher in a subject. District officials acknowledged the pandemic’s impact on learning.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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