Ray Carter | September 20, 2021
Hofmeister suggests officials ignore state testing results
Due to COVID disruptions, education experts have long warned that significant learning loss has occurred in public schools and many students are now far behind. State tests administered in the spring are expected to highlight the magnitude of those losses statewide and also reveal which schools did better than others.
But State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister and her staff downplayed aggregate results of state tests, which have not been publicly released yet, telling lawmakers the scores have little validity.
“We do not have consistent participation rates,” Hofmeister said. “So, let me just start by saying unless your participation rates are at 95 percent or higher, you don’t have the ability to compare school to school or then disaggregate into different student groups to understand how things actually affected them. We then are only left with anecdotal information.”
“We don’t have enough information to be able to make claims about how kids did or why they might have performed a certain way,” said Maria Cammack, deputy superintendent for assessment, accountability, data systems, and research at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE).
In comments made to members of the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding–Economic Development and Workforce Working Group, OSDE officials indicated that school districts were allowed to effectively game the system this year by not testing poor performers, and also said the state will not be able to analyze student test results for at least three more years—and that’s only if the agency is allowed to spend $35 million on a new data system.
Hofmeister indicated some schools may have tested more than 95 percent of students while others tested less than 80 percent, and that results can appear dramatically better based on “who wasn’t tested.” Cammack suggested some schools may have only tested the top 50 percent of students, which would inflate test results.
If accurate, that suggests the anticipated poor academic scores on state tests in Oklahoma may be even worse than advertised. In July, shortly after school districts received student results on state tests, an official in the Wagoner school district posted online that scores at the middle school were “as bad as I predicted.”
Hofmeister and other OSDE officials said the state needs to spend $35 million on a new data system that will be installed over a period of at least three years before officials can accurately measure and compare academic results statewide.
“Without the modernization that is part of a rolling plan of three years, we will not be able to do that,” Hofmeister said.
She said school districts currently have results for their local students, and parents have information on their individual children.
“Each student who took a test, we know how they did at that local school district, but to actually pull back and look at state-level data and make these kinds of analyses, we don’t know that yet,” Hofmeister said.
While OSDE officials suggested parents should not try to compare the results between schools, other officials who spoke to lawmakers said there is sufficient data available to draw some conclusions.
Ryan Walters, a teacher who serves as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s cabinet secretary of education, said state test results are a key tool for parents.
“It’s also incredibly important that we continue to have meaningful assessments of our students that provide the Legislature, parents, teachers, school leaders with data on school performance so that these decisions can be made so that schools can make sure they’re utilizing their resources where they need to for student performance, but also to ensure parents see that,” Walters said.
He said testing data helps lawmakers “make decisions here at the legislative level on where students are, how they performed, what’s working, what’s not working, who has fallen behind.”
“I think from a data perspective, if we don’t have meaningful assessments with that type of data, it’s really, really difficult to find these bright spots and to find what learners are struggling,” Walters said.
He said some students suffered because they attended schools that did not provide full-time, in-person instruction for most of a year, while other schools’ quarantine policies harmed student learning.
“We have students across the state that have had multiple quarantines that have kept them out of school for long periods at a time,” Walters said. “It can be running on top of each other, so I met with a family that had up to 80 days (of quarantine). It was a student in secondary education, and so (because of) a fourth-hour student, they got contact-traced, then second hour later in the year. And so you have students like this that missed a lot of school. They were in a school that provided direct instruction, but they had to come in and out. Then there’s examples of students that obviously contracted COVID or were contact-traced themselves at home or outside of that. So, for all those reasons, there was a lot of direct instruction missed by our students even in schools that offered it the entire time.”
Michelle Keylon, superintendent/CEO of Francis Tuttle Technology Center, said schools’ quarantine policies are negatively impacting labor supply, saying officials are now hearing from parents who say, ‘I don’t want to take a job, because if my child becomes quarantined, I will have to stop going to that job. I will get fired from that job. And so I would just rather not take a job right now.”
Many parents are eagerly awaiting the public release of state testing results later this year so officials can compare the results in districts that did not allow full-time, in-person instruction to those that did.
Walters noted rural schools were typically “open much longer, percentage of the time, than some of our urban schools.”
While many rural students may not have had easy access to broadband service that allowed online learning during the COVID shutdown, Walters said available data indicates that rural schools “keeping an in-person instruction option when a lot of other schools didn’t probably helped balance a lot of that impact out.”
Walters also noted that lawmakers approved a record $3.1 billion appropriation for K-12 education this year and that schools received another $2.3 billion in combined federal COVID-bailout funding that will be spent over the next few years.
“We have a lot of money going into our public schools at this point in time,” Walters said. “It’s really important, I think, that it’s directed in a way that maximizes student learning.”
(Author's Note: Attribution in the 18th paragraph has been corrected since publication.)
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.