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Ryan Walters, Ebony Johnson meet during high-stakes testing for Tulsa Public Schools


MAX BRYAN: This is 89.5 KWGS and I’m Max Bryan. State Superintendent Ryan Walters visited Tulsa on Tuesday. KWGS’ Elizabeth Caldwell joined a press conference he held with Tulsa Public Schools’ leader Ebony Johnson. So, Elizabeth, it’s testing season for TPS students, isn’t it?

ELIZABETH CALDWELL: Yes, it is. Students are taking a battery of tests that of course are supposed to measure how much they’ve been learning. And it’s especially high stakes this year because Superintendent Walters threatened to take over the district due to failing scores. And Walters spoke to a number of teachers at Skelly Elementary where he took a tour and he said they’re excited about testing.

RYAN WALTERS: We know we’re going to continue to work to improve student outcomes, but Tulsa Public Schools has done a great job getting the kids ready this year.

CALDWELL: I was interested though, because it is testing week, Walters sent out an announcement earlier this month saying 12 TPS schools achieved enough growth to move off a federal failing list. I wasn’t sure, how if testing is going on right now, what that achievement was based on. So I asked him and this is what he said.

WALTERS: These tests that we’re performing are for this year, the tests that we have done previously are for the previous year, and then you go through and you look at all the indicators of schools that got off the list, and the ones that can get off of it, have they met the exit criteria?

BRYAN: So he said the movement of those schools off the failing list was based on last year’s data. Last year was a pretty contentious year for TPS. Superintendent Deborah Gist resigned under duress because the state was threatening to take over the district.

CALDWELL: Yeah, Walters had a lot of animosity for Gist, partly due to COVID closures. But nevertheless test scores did seem to improve under Gist, by Walters’ own data, but this is what he said when I asked if she had anything to do with it.

WALTERS: No, that is the improvements that have been made here since Doctor Johnson’s been on board, that we’ve continued to work with over the summer and into this year to make sure that those schools hit those benchmarks.

BRYAN: So speaking of Tulsa Superintendent Doctor Johnson, she was at the press conference too, what did she say?

CALDWELL: Well, she had went to Rogers High School with Walters earlier in the day, and she actually offered him a job.

EBONY JOHNSON: We had the opportunity to go into some classrooms, and one I watched him teach, and I’m like, ‘We got jobs, we have openings.’

CALDWELL: But aside from that, she said, even though 12 schools did move off the failing list based on last year’s data, she expects even more from spring testing this year.

JOHNSON: A lot of this also started with us getting our results back in the spring last spring and knowing we need a change.

BRYAN: We’ll be looking for the latest testing results. And thanks for filling us in, Elizabeth.

CALDWELL: Thank you.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.
Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.