Education Leaders Say Drop in State Test Scores Due to Tougher Grading System, Not Poor Performance

  • Emily Wendler

Soon-to-be-released statewide test scores are expected to be much lower than they were in the past, but top education officials say the drop is due to a more difficult grading system, not poor-performing students.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister says the state has a new way of measuring student proficiency.

“This has been a time of recalibrating,” she said in an interview after a press conference held with reporters to explain the declining scores.

Previous benchmarks for determining student proficiency were too low, and inflated student achievement, Hofmeister says. This was a disservice, she says, because many students thought they were doing well, but had to take remedial courses when they went to college.

Hofmeister says the low scores may come as a jolt.

“There may be a family that has had students that were advanced, and now they may be showing proficient,” she said.

When students take a state test, their scores fall into one of four categories, ranging from “advanced” and “proficient” to “limited knowledge” and “unsatisfactory.”

Hofmeister says the new benchmarks for each score category align with the benchmarks set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as NAEP. These congressionally mandated academic benchmarks are used to compare student achievement across states.

“We’re now defining proficient the way the rest of the country defines proficient,” she said.

Almost two decades of NAEP data shows Oklahoma students have consistently scored lower than the national average in reading and math, but Oklahoma’s low benchmarks made it look like this wasn’t true.

For example: Using Oklahoma-set benchmarks, 70 percent of the state’s fourth graders were proficient in reading in 2015. Using NAEP’s benchmarks, however, only 33 percent scored proficient.

In 2016, the state adopted new, more rigorous academic standards, which education officials expect will lead to higher test scores. Hofmeister says it will take a couple years to see improvements.

She also says these changes in grading benchmarks will make it difficult, if not impossible, to compare this year’s test scores to any scores from the past.

“This will be a complete reset,” she said. “Everything is different.”