Oklahoma Third-Grade Failures

According to the OK State Department of Education, one-third of third-graders in Tulsa Public Schools did not make a sufficient score on the Reading Sufficiency Test to be promoted to fourth grade. They have a couple more chances to make it by either showing their reading skills through a portfolio or taking another reading assessment.

So, one-third of TPS eight-year-olds are hearing that they’re failures today. Maybe I’m looking at the glass as one-third empty, but I can’t help it. I can’t help thinking what a sorry, pitiful way this is to evaluate children’s abilities.

Do children need to know how to read to be successful in school and in life? Yes. Most certainly they do.

But what is the best, most effective way to achieve this goal? Do we really believe that a single test on a single day is the best way to evaluate a child’s reading ability? And, by giving alternate methods of evaluation, then why do we need the test at all? It would seem more rational and more indicative of true learning to use a portfolio for every student.

Classroom teachers know which students are reading well and which ones need help. What if we redirected the energy that has been poured into the Reading Sufficiency Act and came up with a real, long-term plan that actually had the students’ best interests at heart, a plan that really focused on best practices in education and pulling every student up to his or her full potential. And, I’m talking about individual potential here. Every student is not the same, nor should students be treated in identical ways or be expected to achieve the same test score as every other child.

Standardized tests are a limited snapshot of a student’s knowledge. These are 8-year-old kids. Think back to your own experiences with standardized testing. Were they the best measure of what you could do? When you were 8, and you were asked to read a passage from some book, one that had no context to your life, how closely did you read it? Did you even bother with it or were you thinking about the cookie your mom promised you at the end of the testing day?

We’re using measures to make important decisions that should never be made using standardized testing. Of course, testing companies love that public schools are using more and more standardized tests because they are making truckloads of money from the testing craze. Education is big business these days. Unfortunately, it’s not the teachers who are seeing the dollars (our tax dollars, by the way).

We can do better. The high-stakes testing path has already been tried by Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. Remember when she was hired as Chancellor of Public Schools and given free rein to turn the schools around? It was an abysmal failure. Why? Because simply telling teachers and administrators that they need to get their students’ test scores up doesn’t work. Learning is so much more complicated than that.

For those who love to look at lists of numbers and compare their scores to others’ scores, that’s fine. I’m not suggesting that we get rid of tests altogether. I’m suggesting that standardized tests be used in the way that they were meant to be used – as simply one way for teachers and parents to identify possible strengths and weaknesses in students. They were never meant to be used as punitive, high-stakes gatekeepers. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar99/vol56/num06/Why-Standardized-Tests-Don%27t-Measure-Educational-Quality.aspx

I’m suggesting that we all step back and look at what we’re doing to public education. We’re turning our children’s futures over to standardized testing companies. We’ve accepted that it is desirable that our teachers spend a majority of their classroom time teaching to tests where the cut score can be moved to create winners and losers at will. Do parents even know what a passing score means on the Reading Sufficiency Test? It may be shockingly low-level. Our professional teachers have been relegated to being test proctors and dancing clowns who plan pep rallies for students before test days.

Why is it that we’re accepting that all of this testing is an effective way to teach our children?

I’m suggesting that we step back and ask our policy makers why they think using more and more high stakes standardized testing helps our students or improves educational outcomes.

If your kid was a failure on Reading Sufficiency Test Day, here’s some information from Superintendent Barresi at the State Department of Education:

Starting Monday, Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) literacy staff and REAC3H Coaches will be manning telephone hotlines for educators and parents who have questions concerning the application of the RSA.

The RSA Hotlines will be active from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays from Monday through Friday, May 23.

Parents and community members can call (405) 521-3774 to leave comments or questions. The line will be monitored, with responses provided in a timely fashion.

District personnel who have questions should call (405) 521-3301, the main OSDE helpdesk line. Questions will be answered or calls routed to appropriate staff.

Of course, districts and parents are still welcome to contact OSDE for additional help after that period.

Third-grade reading scores by district are now available on the Oklahoma State Department of Education website: http://www.ok.gov/sde/reading-sufficiency-act. Some numbers have been redacted to comply with state and federal student privacy laws. An Excel and a PDF version are available on the top right of this webpage.


Categories: Editor’s Blog