Education News: Modest jump in core scores, hashtag catches on, Hofmeister names key aides

OKLAHOMA CITY — Statewide results from Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests (OCCTs) and End of Instruction (EOI) exams during the 2014-2015 school year indicate modest improvement over 2013-14 figures. Passing rates increased or remained flat in 17 of 25 assessments.

Students who score at the “proficient” or “advanced” level on each test are considered passing.

“While these assessments offer only one vantage point to academic progress in Oklahoma classrooms, the scores play an important role highlighting where we are succeeding and where we are facing challenges,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. 

Reading scores appeared to show positive effects of the Reading Sufficiency Act, or RSA. The number of fourth-grade students scoring at least proficient increased from 65 to 70 percent in the 2014-15 school year. The passing rate for third grade remained unchanged at 69 percent.

OCCT math scores increased in every grade level except for eighth grade, where they remained flat, and third grade, where the passing rate dropped from 67 percent in 2014 to 62 percent this year.

Fourth grade demonstrated the largest improvement of statewide math tests, jumping from 65 percent passing in 2014 to 72 percent this year. 

Statewide scores on social studies OCCTs in grades eight and five decreased from 2014 to 2015. These assessments are in the second year of a three-year transition to more rigorous standards.

Except for a 1-point improvement on the Algebra I test and flat scores for English II and English III, scores dropped on every EOI, including Algebra II, Biology, Geometry and U.S. History.

The EOI scores do not tell the entire story, however. This year, many high-performing students were exempt from taking specific EOI exams — such as Algebra II, Geometry and English III — because they have scored in a certain range on an alternate assessment such as the ACT or PSAT.

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During EngageOK, the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s (OSDE’s) summer conference, hundreds of educators from across the state experienced one of the nation’s largest EdCamps.

“It’s really about collaboration and dropping our titles at the door,” said Superintendent Hofmeister.  “You share ideas, debate topics, collaborate and network together with the same goal in mind, doing what’s best for students.”

During the last week of the school year, while the rest of the school may have been counting down the days until summer vacation, Kimberly Blodgett posted in her classroom: “Five days until I miss you.”

The fifth-grade teacher at Little Axe Elementary got the heartfelt idea after stumbling across a Twitter phenomenon that is uniting educators from across the state. Using the hash-tag #OklaEd, Blodgett has discovered a new world of encouragement and professional development that she can access any time of day.

Blodgett said adopting a more positive approach has been one of the biggest things she’s been able to take away from tweets that carry #OklaEd, a hash-tag that identifies the post as having to do with education in Oklahoma.

The #OklaEd hash-tag was born in January 2013, when Kevin Hime, superintendent of Clinton Public Schools, and Rick Cobb, now superintendent of Mid-Del Public Schools, were seeking a way to tie their education-related posts together. In February, the hash-tag was solidified when Hime attended an EdCamp gathering in Yukon. Fewer than a dozen people attended one of the breakout sessions, and the idea of a weekly chat caught on.

Today, anyone interested in Oklahoma education can engage in the #OklaEd chat on Twitter from 8 to 9 p.m. every Sunday.

Hime said the strength of the #OklaEd chats is the variation of moderators. Parents and PTA leaders have taken on the task, as has State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.

“Some people have chats that are always one topic. But with #OklaEd, this week it may not be for you and you might be a lurker, but next week it might be right up your alley,” Hime said.

Dr. Jason James, superintendent of Alex Public Schools, said the Sunday night chats have given him the opportunity to build relationships with like-minded educators. In addition, he said Twitter has changed the public conversation regarding Oklahoma public education.

Tyler Bridges, assistant superintendent at Clinton, said at least half of his staff uses Twitter to gain and share information about education. He said the 10-15 minutes a day he spends following his feeds is a small investment to get a great return.

“If you try it and see the benefit from it, you connect with other educators. If you get to where you find a group you really identify with and are getting some good ideas from, it becomes a priority. 

Bridges said his district regularly gleans technology and lesson ideas – 140 characters at a time – from posts tagged with #OklaEd.

“It’s all the time that we’re begging, borrowing and stealing from just about everybody that comes across. That’s how the game works,” he said.

Superintendent Hofmeister announced the fulfillment of two leadership positions recently, on the same day the State Board of Education approved the hiring of a new attorney.

David L. Kinney was named general counsel for the Oklahoma state Education Department, and Phil Bacharach advanced to chief of communications and public affairs. Brad Clark was named general counsel to the State Board of Education.

“David, Phil and Brad are exceptional leaders devoted to the advancement of education in Oklahoma,” Hofmeister said. “They are true specialists in their professions, and with their expertise, we have an opportunity to make great strides in improving the lives of Oklahoma schoolchildren.”

Kinney takes over the position after serving 13 years as an assistant attorney general in the state’s general counsel section. Bacharach has served as the executive director of communications at the agency since 2013. The award-winning journalist has more than 25 years of experience in news, communications and public relations, including leadership positions at Oklahoma Gazette and KWTV Channel 9.

Bacharach was deputy press secretary for Gov. Frank Keating and press secretary for his successor, Gov. Brad Henry. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma.

Clark served as general counsel and director of legal services and policy at the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC).