State superintendent holds town hall meeting to address new education standards

Joy Hofmeister listens to a teacher speak during a Nov. 14 town hall meeting at Capitol Hill High School. (Garett Fisbeck)

Joy Hofmeister listens to a teacher speak during a Nov. 14 town hall meeting at Capitol Hill High School. (Garett Fisbeck)

When Oklahoma’s top school official asked community members what changes to the state accountability system they want under the Every Student Succeeds Act, many teachers, parents and school leaders were ready for their turn at the microphone.

One teacher suggested creating student portfolios as an assessment tool for student growth. Another educator recommended districts be held accountable for the number of graduates in remedial college classes a year after receiving their high school diplomas.

Poverty’s impact

One superintendent, surrounded by teachers, described students arriving to school ravenous, as their last meal was the day before. A minority of students on the varsity basketball team live with their parents. Poverty isn’t considered when the Oklahoma State Department of Education configures state A-F grades for public schools, the superintendent asserted. A label of “D” or “F” also demoralizes communities and teachers.

As many in the crowd nodded and murmured in agreement, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said that a state education department task force was exploring ways to address poverty’s impact when considering school accountability.

“Our kids deserve to have a vibrant and well-rounded education,” Hofmeister said as she emphasized expectations would not be lowered for children who live in economically disadvantaged households.

State guidelines

As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), in 2016, all 50 state education departments assembled task forces, created online surveys and hosted town hall meetings. The federal standards are not a “one size fits all” approach to education.

Unlike past federal requirements, teachers and parents in every state have opportunities to discuss and shape policy before it becomes a mandate.

In Oklahoma, Hofmeister established 13 advisory councils and an online survey allows public feedback. Last week, Hofmeister discussed with the community what’s missing in Oklahoma’s schools and how to measure student and school success at Oklahoma City’s Capitol Hill High School. It was the third of a seven-city town hall series that continues into December.

With each question, hands were raised as community members asked about revamping school policies under ESSA, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. The federal legislation allows states the authority to create their own school accountability measures and other policies. In Oklahoma, where education is viewed as being in crisis, public input was abundant.

Narrowing focus

Two years ago, Oklahoma voters elected Hofmeister, who campaigned heavily on addressing issues such as overtesting, low pay, teacher shortages and faults in the state’s assessment of schools. Once in office, Hofmeister continued her push to improve issues such as salaries and shortages. Her accomplishments include overhauling student testing requirements, ushering in new academic standards and advocating for increased public education funding.

For many in education, ESSA is an opportunity to improve the state’s A-F school accountability system. New guidelines could provide more insight into how to best facilitate higher student achievement, especially in high-poverty schools and districts.

Drafting a plan

This month, state education officials released the first draft of the Oklahoma plan. The state is required to develop longterm goals in areas of academic achievement, graduation rates and English language proficiency. Following feedback from town halls and surveys, a second draft is planned for a February release. Again, the public is encouraged to comment on the proposal.

In May, the governor will review Oklahoma’s plan. In July, the United States Department of Education should receive state-approved guidelines.

The public is still months away from getting a full sense of the state’s final ESSA plan. Everyone agrees the stakes are high.

“I am very encouraged as I hear some of the comments because we are going in the right direction,” Hofmeister said. “I do have hope that we will continue to meet the challenges head-on with the spirit of Oklahoma resiliency.”

 

Print headline: Gathering views, The community weighs in on public school achievement and accountability guidelines as Oklahoma crafts plans to meet federal Every Student Succeeds Act requirements.

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