OKLA. CITY —
Third-grade reading, new education standards, teacher pay and the arts were among key issues addressed by superintendents from Oklahoma’s two largest public school systems during an education forum Thursday.
Dave Lopez, interim superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, and Keith Ballard, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, fielded questions from an audience of more than 50 during the forum at Kamp’s 1910 Café in Oklahoma City. The forum was sponsored by Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit journalism organization.
The questions gave visitors a chance to learn about the superintendents’ stances on education issues and about some of the programs going on inside the districts.
Ballard was a vocal opponent of the state’s third-grade read-or-fail provision that kicks in this year.
Oklahoma third graders could be forced to repeat the grade if they score at the lowest level on the state’s reading assessment and don’t qualify for one of six exemptions. The reading portion of the state’s standardized test is in April.
Ballard said the biggest challenge in getting students to read better is that many do not have someone who reads or talks with them at home before entering school. Students who lack that experience at an early age often come to school academically lagging their peers.
“It may not be until fourth or fifth grade we see results,” Ballard said of efforts to help students catch up with peers.
Any decision to hold those students back a grade needs to be made by teachers, principals and parents, not the state, Ballard said. Legislation has been proposed that would eliminate being able to use the test alone to decide to hold back a student. Asked about Florida’s increase in test scores a decade ago after it introduced a third-grade retention law, Ballard replied that Florida spent tens of millions of dollars on intervention.
Lopez said the Oklahoma City district is working to pool resources to provide summer programs to students, which would allow students to read better and advance to fourth grade.
Lopez said those programs are crucial since the district expects more than 1,000 students to be at risk of failing this year.
“We’ll have a variety of ways to minimize the number of students that didn’t pass in order to keep them with their cohort,” Lopez said.
About 22 percent of Oklahoma City third graders, or 767 students, would have been at risk of being retained in 2012 if the Reading Sufficiency Act’s retention requirement had been in place then, according to state test results. Nearly 25 percent of Tulsa third graders, or 803, would have been at risk.