Oklahoma City metro charter schools give reasoning for low state testing participation rates

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – This week, families, administrators, and state school officials are taking a close look at the impact COVID-19 is having on our students.

Spring of 2021 was the first time students took state tests since the pandemic began, as they were canceled in 2020.

Compared to 2019, overall percentages dropped as much as 10%.

However, officials urge you to look at the participation rates of schools before considering the other numbers.

Some schools, namely several charter schools, had much lower participation numbers than others.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has called the results of state testing “concerning.” She, however, says these results should be approached with caution.

“We think this is very important to be transparent but also responsible with the information,” Hofmeister said.

Education officials say when analyzing the testing data, it’s important to look at the participation rate.

In typical years, Oklahoma averages in the high 90s. This year, some schools dropped far below that number.

“Participation is kind of the first examination before you can make any comparisons,” said Juan D’Brot, Senior Associate at The Center for Assessment. 

Photo goes with story
A student taking a standardized test.

According to data from the State Department of Education, 11 charter schools had some of the lowest rates, falling below 50% participation in Oklahoma County.

That includes schools in the Oklahoma Charter Academy, Insight School of Oklahoma, Epic Charter Schools and Oklahoma Connections Academy.

Officials say the reasoning for each school’s participation level may differ and districts need to analyze who didn’t test.

“We can tell the what, but we are trying to help districts describe the why,” said Maria Cammack, with the Oklahoma State Department of Education. 

“Schools know their students better than anyone else and that’s why it’s so important the state doesn’t presume the why,” D’Brot said.

In a statement sent to KFOR, Epic Charter Schools Superintendent Bart Banfield said:

“Tens of thousands of families came to EPIC last year because they wanted remote learning during the pandemic, so it’s no surprise that their preference showed itself during state testing, which must be done in-person.

Epic’s students typically take all state tests in one day at a regional testing site to where their families must travel. We believe the required travel, the need for COVID 19 mitigation measures like masks during several hours of test-taking, coupled with concerns about health and safety due to the pandemic, greatly impacted the number of parents who wanted their children to participate in state testing.

EPIC always has high test participation rates, with the lone exception of 2021. Now that school is getting back to normal for Epic families, test participation in spring 2022 should be that of prior school years.”

Hofmeister says as this pandemic continues, it’s important districts are able to take precautions needed to keep kids in the classroom.

“We’re hearing from our families that we want to be back to normal but we can’t let our foot up off the gas,” she said.

Audra Plummer, Head of School at Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy (OVCA), told KFOR:

“Typically, OVCA students are expected to participate in state testing.  However, due to the pandemic, State Superintendent Hofmeister requested a state testing waiver from the U.S. DOE for schools to be exempt from the usual attendance requirements for testing.  So keeping student’s interest as the focus, we did not require students to attend amid the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, many students enroll at OVCA for the safety and security of learning in their home environment – whether they have medical concerns, social anxieties, or other reasons. Given the public health concerns over the last year and a half, we did have more families choose not to participate in state testing.

Other than the state testing, for the students and families, we serve, teaching and learning at OVCA has been largely uninterrupted. We are proud to offer our families a consistent education option despite so much uncertainty and to provide a learning environment that meets the needs of the whole student. We fully expect our state testing participation rates to return to 95% or more once it is safe for students to test in person.”

Next week, the State Department of Education will have full data, including the participation rates for each school, online for the public to view.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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