TPS Administrators: Reading Scores Release "Unethical," State Assessment "Not a Reading Test"

May 9, 2014

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard (right) speaks about the district's third-grade state reading test scores Friday afternoon. Chief Accountability Officer Chris Johnson and Chief Academic Officer Tracy Bales also spoke on the matter.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

Up to 34 percent of Tulsa Public Schools third-graders are at risk of being held back after failing state reading tests.

Superintendent Keith Ballard spoke out against the way the state released the scores today. In a news conference this afternoon, Ballard said the scores were released to reporters before district staff.

"I consider that to be a highly unethical move, not to even communicate with the schools, thinking about how parents are hearing this for the first time," Ballard said. "We didn't even get the scores in a district report."

TPS administrators handed out score reports they calculated by hand. Ballard also took issue with the state education department highlighting Tulsa and Oklahoma City’s 30 percent failure rates in its release.

Chief Accountability Officer Chris Johnson says teachers have yet to see the scores because TPS got them only on a broad level.

"And that's where the work will begin, because we won't know the exact number of students affected until the teachers actually have those scores in their hands," Johnson said.

With roughly one-third of Tulsa’s more than 3,400 third-graders scoring low enough that they could be held back, Chief Academic Officer Tracy Bales said the test can’t measure what state officials say it does.

"The actual assessment that's given by the state is not a reading test," Bales said. "It does not give you a reading level. So we are retaining kids on preliminary data on an assessment that is not a validated reading assessment to give you a grade level."

It will take time for TPS to determine whether failing students qualify for an exemption. Parents should be notified sometime next week.

Education department spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said the current number of roughly one in three Tulsa third-graders who could be retained may change if some of those students score well on alternative tests.

"And if they show that they're reading on grade level, they would be promoted," Pemberton said. "A teacher can provide a portfolio of the student's work, and again, if it shows grade-level reading they could be promoted. Some districts are offering summer reading academies."

Students with disabilities and English language learners may also qualify for exemptions and be promoted to fourth grade.

The education department says 32.7 percent of Tulsa third-graders failed, while TPS calculated 34.24 percent. Based on TPS data, KWGS calculated 34.57 percent. Students may be promoted to fourth grade as late as Nov. 1.

The state will have an information hotline open for the next two weeks. The number is 405-521-3774.