Monday, February 8, 2016

Letter To Oklahoma Representatives Regarding the Final Draft of Oklahoma's New Academic Standards

Dear Representative, 

This session the Oklahoma legislature will undertake the job of approving Oklahoma's new educational standards. 

We are very excited about this prospect because we see it as a chance for our state to rise above the national rhetoric regarding Common Core repeal and the standards re-write process. Oklahoma has a chance here to shine unlike any other at this moment in time. This is why it is so important to make sure our standards are the very best possible.

Though the standards approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Education as the final standards have many supporters in the educational sector - which is certainly important - it is just as important to remember that there are very few people in the country that are experts in the creation of academic standards. The Oklahoma Standards Committee knew that when they invited the two most highly sought after standards writers in the country - Dr. Larry Gray (Professor of Mathematics, University of Minnesota) and Dr. Sandra Stotsky (Professor of Education Reform, University of Arkansas) - to consult on the standards re-write.

While the list of supporters for the standards is long, there are very few comments from the original consultants and none from Dr's. Gray or Stotsky for the final version of Oklahoma's standards released on the OSDE website. In fact, no comments from either expert were even mentioned in the press release announcing the Board's approval of the final standards.

We are asking the legislature to address this issue by seeking comment on the standards from both standards experts followed by a public forum in which the experts can provide their testimony. We are aware  there is a timeline in play, however, we would call your attention to the amount of time from June 2014 to February 2015 where little to no work was actively done on the standards. With such a long waiting period at the beginning of the process, it seems unnecessary to rush them headlong toward approval with immediacy. 

Jamie Gass, Director of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute told me (during an interview for an article I'm authoring for Heartland Institute this week) that changing standards is a complicated process that takes years if properly done.

"There's a saying that "changing standards is like moving a graveyard". It's always been a complicated process. In Massachusetts it took years. The Democratic process is complex and takes a lot of work - there's debate and discussion - it takes more time to get things done that way as opposed to the way Common Core was put together."

Please, let us take the time necessary to assure the public Oklahoma's new Standards follow the repeal legislation (HB3399) and are reviewed by the nation's foremost standards experts - Dr's. Stotsky and Gray.

Here are some things to think about as we move forward in the process:
  • Are the new standards CONTENT based and not skills based?
  • Where are reviews from certified early childhood educators indicating the standards are developmentally appropriate with accurate grade-level expectations, academic content and instructional rigor?
  • Are there literature exemplars with the English standards to provide markers of rigor for each level?
  • Are there math exemplars to mark each math standard and assure the use of standard algorithms?
  • Where is the report - suggested by the standards experts - indicating review of the standards by a psychometrician to verify the testability of the standards?
In closing, we have no ax to grind - no reason to want the standards re-write to fail. On the contrary, we want desperately to see other states turn to Oklahoma as an example of how to undertake the monumental task of creating excellent, local educational standards that prepare our students for life; whether they desire to attend college, or go straight into the workforce. We just ask that appropriate time be taken to see the task completed to the very best of our abilities.

We thank all those who have worked so diligently on the new standards creation, and you for working to assure their excellence in completion.

Very Sincerely,
Jenni White
Education Director
ROPE 2.0