TULSA, OK -- Bad news is pouring in to school districts across the nation as standardized test results are released and analyzed, and Tulsa Public Schools could be next. In fact, TPS anticipates doubling the number of schools on the Needs to Improve List compared to last year.
Last year's list included 11 schools. It's projected 23 schools will be on the list for the 2010-2011 school year.
"I mean we're all disappointed," said Larry Smith, Assistant Superintendent. "No one wants to increase the schools on the needs improve list."
Annual tests are given to students in elementary, middle and high schools to fulfill testing requirements laid out by No Child Left Behind, a federal program designed to have all children performing at grade level by 2014. Each year the percentage of students who must score "proficient" or "advanced" in reading and math increases.
"It takes more correct answers for a student to pass the test," Smith said. "And it takes more students passing the test to meet the new NCLB standard."
New York experienced substantial declines in student passing rates on state-mandated assessment tests. The same is expected in Oklahoma.
"I'm concerned that teachers and parents across Oklahoma may have the same type of response when the Department of Education releases test scores," said Dr. Keith Ballard, the superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools. "Changes in NCLB expectations, national standards and state cut scores are causing anxiety among students, parents, teachers and administrators across the nation as the results are reported."
Last school year, State Superintendent Sandy Garrett raised the bar for Oklahoma students by bringing Oklahoma's tests to par with the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Districts are still adjusting to the increase in expectations. Those changes will take place on future state tests.
"This year, Oklahoma schools were impacted on two fronts," said Smith. "The cut scores for the OCCT math in grades 3 through 8 were increased to be more in-line with national scoring and the minimum API score for math and reading increased at the same time. Not all schools were able to keep up for all sub groups."
"I believe wholeheartedly that we need to expect more out of our children," said Ballard. "We at TPS are committed to accountability and rigor, which is why we have embarked on an aggressive teacher and leadership effectiveness initiative. But I'm also concerned about schools where the majority of students are making academic progress but they're deemed failures by the current measurement system."
Ballard bases his concern on news coming out of states like New York, Tennessee, Delaware and Missouri, where the number of schools in corrective action increased to 93 from 69 last year. Preliminary figures in Oklahoma indicate similar results for many districts throughout the state.
"We just have to do better, we just have to be better," Smith said. "We want our kids to be college ready."
Kevin Burr, the district's associate superintendent for secondary schools, said on the positive side, NCLB has required educators to focus attention to students in every demographic group. But, he says, the measurement system also comes with a down side.
"When individual subgroups perform poorly, their entire school's performance is deemed deficient; and that is simply not accurate. Kids and teachers should get credit for the improvement they're making."
"We welcome higher standards," Smith said. We may not make 100 percent of the benchmarks on time, but parents need to know we are making progress, and we are taking steps to correct any and all deficiencies."
Ballard said parents should take a close look at the numbers before they make a judgment about their child's school.
"The test results that will be released in the next couple of weeks are a snapshot of the combined performance of dozens of demographic groups," said Ballard. "I encourage parents to look at their child's subgroup and talk with their principal and teachers about plans for improvement."
The following schools are anticipated to be on the Needs to Improve List for school year 2010-2011:
Two high schools on last year's list are now off, East Central and Webster.