I recently attended two ceremonial bill signings at the State Capitol to celebrate legislation I feel is of vital importance to Oklahomans.
First, I must thank Rep. Jadine Nollan for championing House Bill 1756, which eases graduation requirements for profoundly disabled students. I became personally involved with this issue after several news reports highlighted the difficulties our most vulnerable students experienced in the first year of Achieving Classroom Excellence implementation. It was a pleasure to partner with Rep. Nollan to reach out to these students and their parents.
Achieving Classroom Excellence legislation requires that all students pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams to graduate high school. Profoundly disabled students are given an alternative form of the exam to accommodate for their individual disabilities, but they still must show proficiency. If a student is unsuccessful, he or she has to retake the exam or prove proficiency using an alternative method. This new legislation still requires a first attempt at the exam. If a profoundly disabled student is unsuccessful, however, the new law allows the local school district working with the Individual Education Plan team to determine if the student has done enough work to meet the graduation requirement without further pursuit.
Civil Rights law requires that we not exclude any student from assessments, but this piece of legislation removes a burden for our most profoundly disabled students. For that, I am thankful.
The second piece of legislation ceremonially signed was House Bill 1989, the Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013.
This bill is the first of its type in the nation and provides a model for other states in the area of protecting student privacy.
The law requires the State Board of Education to inventory and publicly post what student-specific data the state collects and creates a detailed data security plan and student privacy policies. It requires that we be clear about what we collect for what purpose and with whom the information is shared. It also gives the public the ability to comment on the data that is shared and to have a voice in changing the policy.
Student information, such as performance on assessments, is increasingly important as we move toward teacher and leader evaluation systems and greater accountability systems for schools, such as A-F Report Cards. Yet, we must ensure the privacy of our students. According to the new law, this department will share only aggregate data that does not show individual student information. This law further empowers us to restrict access to student information that previously was subject to open records requests.
In addition to these two bills, several other laws came from this year’s legislative session that have an impact beginning this coming school year.
House Bill 1658 also will have an affect in the coming year. The bill changes the way the A-F School Report card is calculated. The changes made by the bill’s authors increase the focus of student performance on state assessments and lessen the impact of other measures such as advanced coursework, graduation rates and attendance. After the initial report cards were issued last fall, we worked with school administrators and members of the public to address concerns regarding how the report cards were calculated. This bill takes many of those concerns into account.
One final bill I would draw attention to is House Bill 1233. This bill creates a process to allow provisional certificates to be given in the area of special education to alleviate the shortage of teachers in this area. Interested candidates would go through a boot camp to obtain this certification. We appreciate this effort to address a shortage in this challenging but critical area. Our special education students deserve teachers who are equipped to meet their specific needs.
This session was busy and productive for all our lawmakers. I appreciate their concern for students, parents and educators and the effect that a great educational system has on all of society.
JANET BARRESI is state superintendent of public instruction for Oklahoma.