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State Superintendent Janet Barresi's column: Measurements that Matter

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Here’s State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s column for today:

Labor Day is a reminder for me that football season is about to kick into full swing. I’m excited. My two sons were football players, and I love watching games no matter if they’re high school players, college or pro.

Consider an analogy between football and education: a football team needs to know what yard line the offense is on in order to call the next play and score a touchdown. Liken that to tests taken by state students. Tests measure what students know and what they don’t yet know.

I’m certainly not comparing football games and classrooms as being exactly like each other, and tests can’t be the only data we have about a student’s knowledge. But the illustration does make a point: Just as a coach uses cues from the football field, our teachers need to know areas where extra instruction is needed and which students need the most help. Moreover, taxpayers deserve to see a return on their investment in public education. Our system of education should be able to demonstrate measurable results so that taxpayers know their money has been invested well and used wisely.

Without standardized testing in our state’s schools, we wouldn’t know where we have challenges and we wouldn’t be able to celebrate growth or progress. In August, two very different reports of test results gave us a clear picture of where Oklahoma students are and where they could be. They served as reminders of the challenges that lie before us as well as what we can achieve when we aspire to excellence.

On August 22, Oklahoma received state results showing how seniors of the graduating class of 2012 performed on the ACT. That same week, I attended a ceremony at the State Capitol celebrating the results of the Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program (APTIP), the National Math and Science’s Initiative for Military Families, which was implemented during the last school year at Carl Albert High School in the Midwest City-Del City School District and Eisenhower High School in the Lawton School District.

The state’s composite score on the ACT in the four core subjects of English, reading, math and science has flatlined at 20.7, a figure unchanged since 2007 and behind the national score of 21.1. When comparing the percentage of students who meet benchmark scores set by ACT – which show how prepared high school seniors are for college-level coursework – our state students lag behind the nation in math and science.

The Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program is on the other end of the spectrum. The first-year results show that participation in AP math and science courses at the two schools increased by 112 percent while qualifying scores on math and science AP exams increased by 144 percent. This is incredible, and it could be replicated in other schools willing to challenge their students to take more AP courses and more AP exams.

We know that rigor works. Ask students to excel and they will strive to meet the challenge.
Unfortunately, some are trying to push back against the idea of requiring standardized testing, so that we have objective and measurable data to measure school performance. Proponents of doing away with such tests would replace standardized testing with fuzzy and difficult-to-interpret information about what students know. Respectfully, I think that moves us in the wrong direction. This would put our students at an even more severe disadvantage when they graduate and seek entrance into college or compete for jobs in today’s competitive market.

Oklahomans want our children to have the tools necessary to succeed in life, and that’s why we support reform. As Oklahomans, we all want to make sure every child in our state has the chance to attend a great school that demands excellence and that prepares them for the opportunities ahead of them in this new century.

I’m confident we will continue to put the needs of children before the needs of adults. Our students can learn more, and we can close the gaps when compared to national and international peers. Now is the time to stay the course and focus on the ultimate goal – that each child in Oklahoma graduate truly prepared for college, career and citizenship.

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Carrie Coppernoll

Carrie Coppernoll is a columnist and reporter. She was named the top personal columnist in Oklahoma in 2009 and 2010 by the Associated Press and Association of Newspaper Editors. She was also named the 2008 Journalist of the Year by the Oklahoma... Read more ›