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Test scores reinforce suburban districts' COVID spending plans
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Test scores reinforce suburban districts' COVID spending plans

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Recently released state test scores are reinforcing several suburban school districts’ spending plans for federal COVID-19 relief funds to address student learning loss.

The Oklahoma School Testing Program measures whether each public school student has met or exceeded the state’s academic standards in reading, math and science across grade levels three through eight and again in grade 11.

After releasing preliminary results to districts and parents over the summer, the state Department of Education publicly published testing data Sept. 30. The data show that the rates of students testing at a proficient or advanced level saw steep drops statewide in every single grade level and subject area except 11th grade science.

“We’ve made the plans anticipating this loss,” said Todd Nelson, senior executive director of research, design and assessment for Union Public Schools. “It’s not necessarily a reaction to the scores, but it is a response to the losses reflected in those scores.

“We are emphasizing literacy and math with the use of COVID relief funds, plus the social and emotional needs of students. Those needs impact the ability of students to learn.”

As a district, Union students met the state average in sixth grade math and exceeded it for eighth grade math. All other districtwide scores were below the state average, although the scores at individual campuses varied widely.

Some elementary campuses, such as Cedar Ridge and Darnaby, were at or above the state testing average across most categories, while a handful, including Ochoa, McAuliffe and Rosa Parks had grades with single digit proficiency rates.

Along with efforts to expand tutoring and counseling, the district is also using a portion of its COVID-19 relief funds to provide classes and a $3,000 stipend for teachers who seek out English as a second language certification. About one-fourth of Union’s students are English-language learners, with the majority in elementary grades.

“Their learning loss was compounded by a year to a year and a half of lost or compromised language development,” Nelson said.

Karla Dyess is the associate superintendent of instructional services for Broken Arrow Public Schools. In an email, Dyess said that district has already started using some of its COVID-19 relief funds to address the learning loss reflected in test scores both across the state and within the district.

“We are providing intensive tutoring for second and third grade students, as well as sixth and seventh grade students, for those who have shown below level performance on our district screener and benchmarks in ELA and/or math,” she wrote. “Before and after school tutoring will be provided for these students throughout the school year by certified teachers. We are paying the tutors out of COVID relief funds.”

Sherry Durkee is the superintendent of Sand Springs Public Schools. She and Assistant Superintendent Shawn Beard said that while they were pleasantly surprised by their students’ performance in the science portion of the state tests, they were not relying solely on state test scores to assess academic progress.

Sand Springs students tested above the state average in science in fifth, eighth and 11th grades.

The district’s teachers received students’ preliminary scores over the summer and were urged to use that information to help plan for the coming year. The district is also leaning on internal assessments conducted during the course of the school year to help gauge students’ progress.

Durkee and Beard also pointed to the academic recovery efforts made possible with relief dollars that would not show up in test scores, such as the district’s camp-style summer programming that blended field trips with academic concepts.

“We have some recoupment time that’s going to be necessary,” Durkee said.

“I hope people understand that scores are not a true picture of quality or nonquality. This is where we were at in a snapshot sometime in April when the kids took the test. It doesn’t fully represent our perspective of a public school system, which is functioning quite well.”

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My primary beat is public education. I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University, a board member for Oklahoma SPJ and an active member of the Native American Journalists Association.

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