Superintendent Janet Barresi deems NAEP results a call to action

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published 26-Jan-2011

New results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released today (Tuesday, January 25) show most Oklahoma students are not proficient in science. Seventy-two percent of Oklahoma fourth-graders taking the test and 75 percent of eighth-graders taking the test fell below “proficient” — meaning they scored at “basic” or “below basic.”

In a release sent to CapitolBeatOK, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said the scores come just as Oklahoma students are entering a new testing period for NAEP, beginning this week and running until March 4. Barresi urged the more than 300 Oklahoma schools selected for NAEP testing to ensure that teachers and parents understand the critical importance of the exams.

“Oklahoma’s economic future and the success of our young people depend on our ability to produce students who are ready for the demands of the 21st century marketplace,” said Barresi. “It’s not enough now to just say ‘we’re doing okay.’ Mediocre doesn’t cut it anymore. These results are a dash of cold water and should jolt us into action.”

The science assessment is administered to a sample of students from each state by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Education. NAEP measures students’ knowledge and abilities in the areas of physical science, life science, and Earth and space sciences. Only 28 percent of Oklahoma fourth-graders scored at “proficient” or “advanced,” while only 24 percent of eighth-graders scored at the same levels. In each case, Oklahoma scored four percentage points below the national average.

“States that pass reforms to boost math, reading and science proficiency will be the states that lead and the states that stand to benefit in the new knowledge economy,” said Barresi. “If Oklahoma is not prepared to compete in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, then we will lose out in this century and our children will fall further behind.”

“Governor Fallin is focused on creating a vibrant economic environment through job creation,” continued Barresi. “She and I both agree that the way we sustain a positive trajectory is through assuring we have a well-educated workforce.”

Nationally, less than one-third of U.S. elementary- and high-school students have a solid grasp of science, according to the NAEP scores. The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2009 Grades 4, 8, and 12 is available here. More materials are here.

NCES previously released 2009 NAEP scores in reading and mathematics for the state and nation. Those results also indicated Oklahoma students are trailing their peers nationally and reflected low proficiency rates.

A study released last summer summarized the data. A joint study from the Foundation for Educational Choice, the Oklahoma Business & Education Coalition, and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs compared NAEP data for Oklahoma and Florida, finding that Florida and 35 other states were outperforming Oklahoma.

The study found that Florida’s Hispanic students, who for years were lagging in academic performance, were scoring higher than the average of all Oklahoma students on NAEP’s fourth-grade reading exam.

In a speech to legislators last August, former Governor Jeb Bush said the Sunshine State’s foundational reforms emerged from 1999 to 2006. He was surprised at how significant a seemingly simple shift – giving all schools grades from A to F for performance – was in the process of accountability.

During a 12-year period when Oklahoma achievement stayed comparatively flat, with one-third of students “below basic” in fourth grade reading, Florida improved, dropping from 47% “below basic” in 1998 to just 27% in 2009. Advocate of school choice contend that differences between the two states, other than raw numbers, were largely driven by Florida’s vigorous embrace of educational reforms, including robust varieties of school choice.

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.