By Nate Robson, Oklahoma Watch
Two of the three experts brought in to help Oklahoma create new academic standards say numerous flaws in the third draft show Oklahoma will likely fall short of creating the best standards in the nation.
The flaws highlight the monumental challenge lawmakers gave to the state Education Department to write new standards, but also clash with the rhetoric that surrounded the process at the start.
Moments before voting to repeal the Common Core academic standards in 2014, lawmakers said the state would make its own standards rivaling the best in the nation. But experts who reviewed a third draft of the pending math and English standards said it’s clear those statements were just “political rhetoric.”
Sandra Stotsky, a former Massachusetts Department of Education official who helped write that state’s former English standards, once considered the best in the nation, was especially harsh about Oklahoma’s draft.
Stotsky also helped write the Common Core English standards, which she ultimately turned her back on.
Stotsky’s main concern is that the current draft provides no guidance to teachers.
“You’re close to the bottom of the basement, I am sorry to say, because there is no content in them,” said Stotsky. “These are pious statements of academic goals. These are not standards. A standard is a criterion by which you grade something.”
Stotsky was one of three experts brought to Oklahoma in February to help the state map out the process to write new standards. The other experts included Larry Gray, a math professor at the University of Minnesota, and Jane Schielack, of Texas A&M.
Schielack did not respond to requests for comment.
Gray was more optimistic about the math draft, but stopped short of saying they will push Oklahoma to the top of the nation.
“If you’re saying you want these to be top in the nation, and the type of things other states want to adopt full hog, I can say that is too much for first timers,” Gray said. “To ask them to lead the nation is kind of silly. It’s just talk.”
Gray added that the first math standards he helped Minnesota write were less than stellar. A second attempt resulted in math standards many experts consider among the best in the nation.
That meant a second attempt at writing standards in Oklahoma could lead to better results, Gray said.
Gray added he was encouraged to see major changes made between Oklahoma’s second and third draft, but added there are still problems.
While the state copied several portions of Minnesota’s math standards, some of the Oklahoma-written sections incorporate inappropriate elements of algebra, Gray said. One example is a heavier focus on logarithms over exponentials.
The mixture of Oklahoma and Minnesota standards also created an odd flow in how students progress with mathematical concepts through middle and high school.
The state Department of Education declined to comment because the drafts will be revised before a fourth and final version is released in November.
Stotsky raised concerns that many of the English standards remain the same, word for word, between elementary, middle and high school. They also fail to dictate how students should progress to harder content, especially in reading.
“There’s no sense of what the level of reading difficulty is,” Stotsky said. “In ninth grade, they could be reading ‘The Three Little Pigs.’”
Another concern is the way the state divides critical reading elements for students. That content is divided into literary and informational.
Stotsky said that division is an element straight from Common Core, and said literature should instead be divided into poetry, fiction, nonfiction, dramatic literature and classical and traditional literature.
The drafts also lack any literature standards tied to Oklahoma’s history and culture.
Those would further distance the drafts from Common Core, Stotsky said.
Part of the problem is the state still hasn’t released a list of examples and materials for teachers to use in the classroom. That would include a list of books, documents and authors.
Those are supposed to help teachers understand how to teach the standards in the classroom, or to see material students should be able to work with.
Stotsky said the next month provides plenty of time to get the standards on the right track.
“You’ve got plenty of time,” she said. “All you need are a few knowledgeable English teachers and people who teach literature to get together on several weekends, and then add some examples.”
The third drafts of Oklahoma’s standards were released in September, and a final draft will be released in November. That draft will go to the Regents for Higher Education for approval before returning to the state Board of Education for a vote.
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that produces in-depth and investigative content a range of public-policy issues facing the state.