The Democratic challenger for governor released new details of his education plan this week that would eliminate all high-stakes testing, move Oklahoma to an assessment aligned with Common Core standards and potentially place the state back under strict No Child Left Behind regulations.
Joe Dorman, who is looking to unseat Republican incumbent Mary Fallin, called for eliminating the third-grade reading retention and end-of-instruction tests that high school students take to graduate. He also called for assessing high school students by giving them the ACT, which he hopes would encourage more students to apply to college.
Dorman voted for a bill earlier this year that repealed Common Core in Oklahoma. He said being aligned with the Common Core is not the same as being a Common Core test.
“Even though ACT is Common Core-aligned at the national level, it’s still recognized as an entrance exam at (Oklahoma) universities,” he said. “This encourages more kids to apply to college, especially if they score well.”
At least two states, Wisconsin and Alabama, currently use ACT for assessments. Both states though use an alternative ACT test for elementary and middle school assessments than the traditional test used to apply to college.
Under Dorman's plan, test scores would not be used to determine if a student graduates.
“I don’t see ACT as a high-stakes test because I do not want it to be a judgment on pass or fail on the end result,” he said. “I still think schools should have the ultimate determination.”
Schools would also have the ultimate determination in whether a third grader struggling to read is held back, under Dorman’s proposal. The Legislature passed a bill this past session giving a one-year extension to the mandatory retention of students who fail the state’s reading test, unless they qualify for an exemption.
The extension allows a parent and team of teachers and administrators to determine if a student has shown enough proficiency to advance.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin’s re-election campaign, criticized Dorman’s plan.
"Joe Dorman says on one day he supports local control and locally designed tests; now he wants to use a national testing company for evaluations in every Oklahoma school,” he said in an email. “He has been so inconsistent on this issue that it is hard to take his policy ideas seriously or know which ones to respond to."
Dorman said his proposal would save the state money since the ACT is cheaper than current end-of-instruction tests, although he didn't know the amount. All assessments at lower grades would also be axed, leaving more money for classroom support.
Oklahoma spent $7.3 million on high school testing and $8.9 million testing grades three through eight this past school year, according to the state Department of Education.
The proposal would also find a replacement for CTB/McGraw Hill, which has struggled with testing outages for two consecutive years in Oklahoma.
If schools were placed under No Child Left Behind again, it would create a new headache. The state currently has a waiver from the law.
Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for the Oklahoma State Department of Education ,said the U.S. Department of Education requires that states assess students on how well they meet academic standards.
Testing is one of the requirements for a waiver.
“While the ACT covers a sampling of standards, we would have to supplement with a number of assessments,” Bacharach said. “Which ones would remain to be seen, but the (Common Core-)aligned ACT would certainly gum up that issue.”
Dorman said he would be willing to work with state and federal officials to make sure the ACT would work, even if it meant supplementing it with additional assessments.
States that do not have an NCLB waiver must show that 100 percent of their students are proficient in all subjects. Most Oklahoma schools would fail to meet that benchmark.
Schools with even one failing student would have to set aside 20 percent of their federal Title I funding for high-poverty schools. That money would have to be used for transportation and tutoring programs, and could lead to layoffs.
The money is generally used to fund reading programs and hire teachers who work with students in low-income schools.
About $27 million would be at stake in Oklahoma.
The state’s waiver could already be in jeopardy with the repeal of Common Core. Another NCLB requirement calls for the implementation of academic standards that are considered college and career ready.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education is determining whether the state’s old academic standards meet that threshold while new standards are drafted.