Oklahoma students lost ground in reading proficiency in the past two years, erasing gains they had made in 2015, newly released data from the “Nation’s Report Card” show.

Nationally, students’ reading scores held steady.

The decline was significant and could raise questions about the efficacy of the state’s third-grade retention policy. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister attributed 2015 gains to the policy.

Hofmeister said Tuesday the results were “deeply concerning.”

“Our students have not gained academic momentum in the midst of thinning resources and the severe, ongoing teacher shortage. These scores are indicative of the struggles our schools have endured over the past several years,” she said.

The third-grade retention policy, known as the Reading Sufficiency Act, was 37 percent funded in 2017, she noted. It was 50 percent funded in 2015.

In math, Oklahoma fourth-graders’ scores slipped while eighth-grade students held steady, the data show.

Oklahoma ranked in the bottom half of states in reading and math in fourth and eighth grades in the 2017 National Assessment for Educational Progress. The exams are given every other year to a sampling of fourth- and eighth-grade students nationwide and are considered the best tool to compare student achievement across states.

Oklahoma ranked 39th in fourth-grade reading; 40th in eighth-grade reading; 34th in fourth-grade math; and 44th in eighth-grade math. Scores were reported for all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Department of Defense schools.

The rankings show Oklahoma needs significant gains to meet one of the goals laid out in its plan for education under the Every Student Succeeds Act: to score among the top 20 states in all subjects and grades on the Nation’s Report Card.

Among the test results for Oklahoma:

  • In reading, fourth-grade scores slipped four points, erasing the four-point gain in 2015.  Twenty-nine percent of fourth-graders were considered proficient in 2017, compared to 35 percent nationally. In eighth grade reading, scores dropped two points. Twenty-eight percent of eighth-graders scored proficient, compared to 35 percent nationally.
  • In math, fourth-grade scores dipped three points, following a one-point gain in 2015. Thirty-five percent scored proficient, compared to 40 percent nationally. Twenty-four percent of eighth-graders scored proficient, compared to 33 percent nationally.
  • Reading achievement gaps between demographic groups were smaller in Oklahoma than the national average. The black/white gap in fourth grade, for example, was 18 points for Oklahoma students, compared to 26 points nationally. Similarly, the gap between students in poverty and students not in poverty in eighth grade was 18 points in Oklahoma, and 24 points nationally.

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