The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 25, 2014

Parents, educators discuss student testing

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — About 100 parents and educators attended a meeting Tuesday night at Waller Middle School auditorium to discuss state- and federally required testing of students and its impact on schools, students and the community.

The first speaker was Heather Sparks, on behalf of Voices Organized In Civic Engagement, an Oklahoma City-based coalition working to raise awareness of what can be done to improve the current state of education in the state.

“The high-stakes letter grades given to our schools, we believe are detrimental to our children,” Sparks said.

She called Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act “one of the most detrimental ones.” Starting this year, third-grade students who do not pass a reading test with a satisfactory grade must be retained in third grade. Parents do not get a voice in the decision to retain their child, Sparks said.

This year, the state of Oklahoma spent about $5 million on reading sufficiency. Had the state funded reading sufficiency in a manner comparable to the state of Florida, it would have spent about $30 million, Sparks said.

VOICE is holding community meetings across the state and plans to develop an alternative grading system for schools in March. Then, the group will meet with candidates for state superintendent of public education in April and hold an accountability session in June.

“What would you change about the way we operate our schools?” one woman in the audience asked Sparks.

“I have a lot of ideas about what I’d like to change, but we want to know what citizens want to change,” Sparks answered.

Doug Stafford, principal of Emerson Middle School, spoke as both a school principal and a parent.

His sixth-grade students spend about 27 hours being tested as per requirements. Seventh-graders spend about 18 hours being tested, and eighth-graders spend 17 hours being tested.

This year, students at Emerson spent three hours of distress testing.

By the time all those hours of being prepared for tests and being tested are added up, middle school students lost 92 hours of time that might have been spent on instruction, Stafford said, and this is being done with less money per student in state funding.

Jamie Jarnagin, who teaches third grade at Prairie View Elementary School, said as a teacher, she knows her students are not “little carbon copies,” but each has strengths and weaknesses. To expect them all to be at a specific level on a specific day is unrealistic, Jarnagin said.

Enid High School teacher Matt Holtzen said 20 percent of the time he spends with his students is not “learning time.”

He told the audience about a student who came to EHS “fresh from Mexico.” Early in the year, Holtzen taught him American history through an interpreter. By the latter part of the year, they were communicating in English and understanding each other, and Holtzen saw that the student was grasping the concepts.

Test scores don’t account for that progress, Holtzen said.

State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said his own daughter, an A student, has stressed over testing in schools.

Superintendent Shawn Hime encouraged everyone to make their thoughts known to their legislators and make plans to attend Oklahoma’s Rally for Education at the state Capitol on March 31.

EPS will arrange car pools for those who need transportation, Hime said.