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Raising The Grade: Improving Test Scores

The results are in. 5th and 8th graders from Oklahoma's two largest districts improved overall on state-mandated tests.

The students took criterion reference tests this spring, which evaluate performance based on what the state Department of Education requires them to know. Both Tulsa and Oklahoma City implemented new programs this year to improve scores. News on 6 reporter Kia Malone looks at those ideas and how they Raised The Grade.

Oklahoma City Public School superintendent Bob Moore: “I knew we would have gains, but the magnitude of gains. I never would have dreamed the kind of results that we'd have.” But a year ago, Superintendent Bob Moore was very confidant scores would go up. District wide 62% of 5th graders scored satisfactory on math, compared with 54% last year. In reading, 5th graders increased from 47% to 50%. But the largest improvements were seen in 8th grade. 56% scored at least satisfactory in math compared with 45% last year. And in reading, 8th graders jumped 12% since last year.

“The research shows, smaller is better. A smaller district typically gets better results. Smaller classrooms get better results, smaller campuses typically get better results.” But no matter how small the class is, Moore says having more qualified teachers and periodic assessments to measure students' progress are key, something not previously done in this district.

“So, it's kind of a shot in the dark. Teachers teach. They don't know if kids are learning what they need to learn. So, it's a process to determine whether kids are learning what they need to be successful when it's time for the test.”

To help teachers analyze assessments, the district implemented instructional facilitators like Mindy Manley at Roosevelt Middle School. “And so if I can take that time and figure out who needs help, who's doing fine, that takes a big burden off of them.” Those facilitators were instrumental in improving scores at Star Spencer Elementary.

The 5th grade math scores increased from 18% to 50%. Linda Matthews, principal at Star Spencer: “every morning, we focused on boys on girls you're here to do what? And the whole building would shout out. Learn!! And I’d say, yes, we're here to learn. The teachers are learning today and you're learning today.”

Tulsa Public Schools' 5th and 8th grade students also showed significant improvement, with jumps in 10 of 14 categories. 63% of eighth graders scored satisfactory in Math up 10%, and 69% scored satisfactory in reading. In 5th grade, math scores increased to 68% from 59%. In reading, 66% scored satisfactory this year, compared with 61% last year. Officials with Tulsa attribute students' success to programs like Tulsa Reads and the district's overall emphasis on reading.

While the districts are pleased with the progress, both say the work has just begun.

“What we're about is continuous improvement over time. And that's what really matters. Not the minor ups and downs.” Moore says volunteers and mentors almost tripled 5th-grade reading scores at one school. And points out, the scores wouldn't be what they are without community help.
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