What to know about new guidelines proposed for Oklahoma school accreditation

State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters said Thursday the Oklahoma State Department of Education is proposing new guidelines for the accreditation process that would penalize school districts if more than half of their students perform below grade-level expectations in English Language Arts or math on state assessments.

Walters presented his proposal at the monthly Oklahoma Board of Education meeting.

Under the proposed guidelines, if more than 50% of a district’s students score below the “basic” threshold in those two subjects on state assessments, then the district would receive an academic deficiency on its accreditation. Oklahoma's standardized tests rate students at one of four levels ― below basic, basic, proficient and advanced — to indicate a student’s understanding of a subject.

Under Walters’ plan, districts receiving an academic deficiency would then be rated on their ability to grow their academic performance in English and/or math year-over-year. Districts that succeed at increasing their scores by 5% or more would not receive a downgrade in accreditation.

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Districts failing to improve by 5% would have their academic deficiencies escalated, first to a warning, and then ultimately to a possible probation. Once a district rose above the 50% below basic or above threshold in both subjects, the academic deficiency would be lifted.

Walters said state law requires the Board of Education to maintain accreditation standards that “equal or exceed nationally recognized accreditation standards to the extent that the standards are consistent with an academic results-oriented approach.” He said the state currently doesn’t have such a standard.

State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters is shown Thursday during a meeting of the Oklahoma Board of Education.
State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters is shown Thursday during a meeting of the Oklahoma Board of Education.

What needs to happen to implement the new guidelines?

Walters said he had asked members of the Oklahoma Legislature and “members of the education community,” including district superintendents, for feedback.

The proposed guidelines would need to go through a period of public comment and be approved by the state board and the Legislature before taking effect. Districts that could be affected if the proposal is adopted would include Oklahoma City Public Schools, Western Heights Public Schools, Mid-Del Public Schools, Millwood Public Schools and Tulsa Public Schools.

“For too long, Oklahoma schools have functioned without proper accountability as called for in state law,” Walters said. “We have to shake up the status quo, and we cannot sit back and not take action when we see kids not learning as they should. We are setting clear, achievable academic goals for our schools while providing necessary supports for schools that need more help. We will do everything possible to ensure that every Oklahoma student receives a quality education, and I look forward to moving this process forward.”

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A spokeswoman for Oklahoma City Public Schools said the district declined to comment on Walters’ proposal, and messages left Thursday afternoon for spokespeople in the Mid-Del, Millwood and Western Heights districts weren’t returned.

One educator who had studied the proposal said it would disproportionately penalize urban districts, as well as districts with large special education programs.

“I reject that entirely,” Walters said. “What we are doing is creating a very clear metric of 50% basic in math and reading that every school should be able to attain. We’ve given them the ability to show growth toward that goal and the reality is when the schools hit these deficiencies, the agency is going to make available multiple resources — this is our school support team, this is multiple grants that we’re going to make available for these districts as well. … (We can) take a look at their assessment models. Are they doing a good job at measuring growth as a district?

“It allows us to identify those districts, provide the supports needed and help them make those hard decisions. The reality is, when you fall below 50 percent basic, tough decisions need to be made. … When you see districts that have continued to fail year after year, we’ve got to make tough choices. We also need to make sure that we’re prioritizing the resources of the state to help them make those choices, to help them move in the right direction.”


Some groups calling goals in proposed guidelines unrealistic

During the board meeting, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Ebony Johnson said her district is in the early stages of considering school closures and consolidations. Tulsa Public Schools has been in Walters’ crosshairs for months and has been required to make a presentation to the state board each month to discuss progress in meeting state accreditation standards.

Tulsa students had some of the state's worst scores on the most recent standardized tests (from the 2022-23 academic year), with 65% scoring below basic in math and 57% below basic in English Language Arts. Oklahoma City Public Schools’ below-basic numbers in those categories were 63% and 57%, respectively.

Under guidelines adopted for the Tulsa district by the state board on Thursday — which mirror those in Walters’ proposal — that district must meet the 50% threshold in English Language Arts on the 2023-24 state test, or increase the number of students who score basic or above by at least 5%. The district, which had 18 schools receive “F,” or failing, grades on the most recent Oklahoma State Report Card, must reduce that number by 12.Ashley Daly, a leader of a group called “Protect TPS,” attended the meeting and, in a statement sent to media afterward, called those goals “unrealistic.”

"No evidence has been provided indicating that any other district of similar size or circumstance has ever made such gains," the Protect TPS statement said. "Under the guise of high expectations, the Oklahoma State Board of Education has laid the groundwork for an eventual takeover that will serve as a model for further takeovers of more than 40 districts who will be subject to similar treatment and unrealistic expectations should the proposed accreditation plan move forward.

"Protect TPS urges intervention from legislators, the public, and educators to halt this chaotic approach and promote fair, locally-driven governance."

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: See Ryan Walters' plan for Oklahoma schools accreditation