To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Observercast

Virtual Reality

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BY ED CANNADAY

I have been amazed at the views of our Superintendent of Education-elect, Janet Barresi, as stated in a news release on Dec. 24. My shock resulted from the lack of reality supporting her stated views on the quality and rigor of mathematics in Oklahoma’s high schools.

She categorically states the following: “Only 2.4% of students in Oklahoma’s graduating class of 2009 scored in the upper tiers of national math exams, a ratio that places the state among … nations such a Bulgaria, Uruguay, and Serbia, according to a study released this month.”

She goes on to proclaim that this study “ranks Oklahoma among the worst 10 states in producing top-achieving math students …” She sites as her source for these conclusions as “Education Next: Teaching Math to the Talented.”

I researched this article and found that it was referring to two math tests given to 12th graders in 2009. These were NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] and PISA [Program for International Student Assessment]. However, this is where the “virtual reality” becomes her perspective.

Actual reality is that Oklahoma 12th grade students were not given either of these tests and Oklahoma is not listed as one of the states tested by either document to determine the state’s ranking relative to high school math course’s level of rigor or difficulty. While researching this on the Oklahoma State Department of Education website under the title “Nations Report Card” I found data which refuted the superintendent-elect’s statements and conclusions.

As a person who has taught in three different high schools, served as high school principal in two high schools, served eight years as a member of a local school board, and four years as a member of the Oklahoma House Common Education Committee, I am concerned that our newly elected education leader would make statements concerning the quality of the educational experience of our students using “virtual reality” as opposed to “quantifiable reality.” It is not that the latter is unavailable or difficult to attain.

This causes me to question her agenda in falsely attacking an area of our curriculum which has a longstanding reputation for its level of rigor of which the instructors are committed to maintain.

I wonder why she chose to disregard our time-tested ACT scores which show our state’s 2009 and 2010 high school graduates scoring in math at 19.9 while the national average is 21.0. Does that sound like we qualify to have our schools and math teachers blasted as being inferior to others in this nation? Our scores on ACT is even of greater significance when we recognize 73% of Oklahoma high school graduates take this test while in comparative states only 50% of their graduates take this test.

What would be the significance if we chose to exclude 20 percent of our lower scoring students from the test data?

The reason that I am challenging Ms. Barresi’s unsubstantiated statements about the lack of rigor in our high school math classes is that it is so very easy to repeat her stereotypical views that we may begin to believe, not what is provable, but what is quotable.

A case in point is a generalization found in the “Teaching Math to the Talented” that “test results for many states are at a level equal to of third-world countries.” While the authors attached a map showing these states with math skills in that category, Oklahoma was not one of those states included.

I do believe that the article by our new state superintendent implies that our public school math classes qualify to be seen in such an inferior light while reality based on factual research does not support her “virtual reality.”

Ed Cannaday, a Porum Democrat, represents District 15 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives

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Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.