State Board of Education approves new academic standards

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Steffie Corcoran
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Peter Wright
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State Board of Education approves academic standards for ELA, math, with next stop being state Legislature

OKLAHOMA CITY (Jan. 28, 2016) — The Oklahoma State Board of Education today unanimously approved the final draft of new state academic standards for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, sending the standards to the Legislature for approval and concluding a robust and transparent process of revisions that incorporated feedback from thousands of Oklahomans.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister thanked the board for its vote and praised the many Oklahomans who took part in creating the new standards.

“These new standards are rigorous, user-friendly and most importantly created by Oklahomans to address the particular needs of our state,” Hofmeister said. “They strengthen expectations of what our students can achieve and set a high bar that ensures all Oklahoma schoolchildren will be well prepared to enter higher education and demanding careers. I am thankful to every Oklahoman who participated in this process — from writing the standards to providing essential feedback. Oklahoma can truly be proud of these standards.”

Under House Bill 3399, which repealed Common Core State Standards in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Board of Education (OSBE) was tasked with adopting a set of standards for use in schools beginning in the 2016-17 school year. As directed by that law, the drafted standards were sent to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education and the State Regents for Higher Education for review. This morning, the Regents certified the standards as college- and career-ready.

The Oklahoma Academic Standards for ELA and Mathematics improve on and replace the Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards, which were temporarily re-implemented by HB 3399 after the repeal of Common Core.

The new standards were written by teams of educators from Oklahoma institutions of higher education and school districts across the state that based their research on successful, non-Common Core standards in other states. These standards provide measurable goals and benchmarks for instruction. Specific curriculum and lesson plans remain under the control of local school districts.

The standards have earned accolades from a host of experts.

Dr. Frank Wang, president of the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, has worked as a textbook publisher, where he studied math standards he considered vague and immeasurable. The new Oklahoma standards, he said, bucked that trend.

“Given my prior experience studying state standards, I approached this task with a healthy amount of skepticism. I was pleasantly surprised,” said Wang, who holds a doctorate in pure math from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Overall, I found the standards to be clearly stated, explicit, relevant and appropriate. I feel that students who are in classes that follow these standards will be well prepared for college and capable of pursuing STEM majors if they choose to do so.”

Dr. Priscilla L. Griffith, director of the Oklahoma Writing Project (OWP) at the University of Oklahoma, praised the ELA standards.

“The content of the standards is rigorous and requires students to engage in analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and creativity beginning as early as prekindergarten. OWP is confident application of these standards will ensure students are prepared for workplace and college success,” wrote Griffith and Audra Plummer, OWP’s director for in-service, in a letter to OSDE.

Hofmeister said the heavy lifting for educators begins after the standards are finalized.

“Districts and schools have a mountain of work to begin as soon as these standards are approved,” she said. “Before students arrive for the next school year, districts must align the curriculum framework for both subjects in every grade level, and teachers will need professional development. We owe it to our teachers and students to get them finalized and approved as quickly as possible.”

Extensive review process and new features

Since June 2015, standards drafts have been reviewed by classroom teachers, school curriculum specialists, parents, legislators, statewide and national education organizations, representatives of business and higher education and members of the general public who participated in multiple rounds of public comment.

The new standards are more rigorous than PASS. They offer a renewed focus on foundational skills, including phonics, cursive writing, basic grammar and writing research papers in ELA; and counting money, standard algorithms, patterns, ratios and proportions in math.

They are also the first standards in Oklahoma to be published with vertical progressions, which allow teachers to base their lesson plans not just on where students should be performing in their grade, but also where they will be expected to go in future grades, allowing for interconnected instruction with fewer knowledge gaps between grades.

Educators, leaders and organizations from across Oklahoma and the nation have already reviewed the final draft and offered multiple endorsements of the standards.

The South Central Comprehensive Center (SC3) at OU, which aims to sustain reform efforts and improve teaching and learning in four U.S. states, assembled committees to compare the new standards to Common Core standards and found significant differences between them, such as the incorporation of multimodal literacy in ELA and beginning the standards in prekindergarten to identify and eliminate gaps in learning as early as possible.

Of the ELA standards, the SC3 report states: “These rigorous standards establish a solid foundation in all aspects of literacy and incorporate higher-order thinking skills as students engage in research, decipher multimodal texts and become independent readers and writers. The inclusive approach toward historical, social and cultural connections to content grounds learners in the knowledge needed for further study, work and citizenship engagement.”

More than 1,900 teachers across the state were directly involved in the standards-creation process. Educators from across the state are writing in support of the standards as a rigorous and direct answer to the needs of Oklahoma classrooms.

World Literature Today executive director Robert Con Davis-Undiano, who is also a Neustadt Professor and Presidential Professor at OU, praised the final draft of the ELA standards.

“I believe that the new standards will raise the level of student preparation in the ELA area, and I am pleased to anticipate the enhanced knowledge base and sophistication that will be evident in students coming from Oklahoma high schools to attend The University of Oklahoma and study literature and the arts,” wrote Davis-Undiano.

Tara L. Fair, associate superintendent at Edmond Public Schools, said: “As a school district, we have been extremely involved with the standards writing process. Our content specialists, administrators and teachers have also had numerous opportunities for reviewing the standards. Many of our stakeholders have participated in the opportunities that have been provided by the state and through content consortiums. It is our determination that these standards are a quality product and will benefit the students of Edmond and Oklahoma.”

Janet C. Dunlop, associate superintendent at Broken Arrow Public Schools, said: “It is with full confidence that Broken Arrow Public Schools endorses the new Oklahoma [Academic] Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics … The alignment of the standards to college- and career-ready skills and the precise vertical alignment provide a much better roadmap for our teachers to use. We feel strongly that these standards will provide our students with a more rigorous and deep understanding of the concepts and skills needed to be equipped citizens and successful in college and career.”

Once new standards are approved by the Legislature, the OSDE will immediately begin working to ensure all local schools are adequately prepared to begin using them as soon as possible.

Copies of the standards, support letters and ancillary booklets are available here.