The Moore American

April 30, 2014

Test exemptions may be more flexible


The Moore American

OKLAHOMA CITY — Following the latest kerfuffle over standardized assessments, the State Department of Education is reviewing its testing exemption policy to determine how to add more flexibility.

Joel Robison, state Superintendent Dr. Janet Barresi’s chief of staff, said even before the latest brouhaha erupted Wednesday, conversations had already started about the need for more flexibility. Currently the only federal exemptions allowed are for emergency medical issues and for first-time English language learners. Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said the education department receives hundreds of calls a year about scenarios that have to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

The latest standardized assessment flare-up came as a state Department of Education assessment coordinator denied a testing exemption to two Moyers Public Schools sixth graders, who were left orphaned in a Sunday car crash that killed their parents, Rodney and Crystal Sutterfield, and two others. Moyers Superintendent Donna Dudley exempted the students anyway before Barresi personally intervened and issued a blanket exemption to both.

Robison said the employee’s initial decision, while wrong, “was based upon some fairly rigid federal guidelines on assessments.” In Oklahoma, districts must test at least 95 percent of students or automatically lose a grade on the state’s A-F letter system. The federal government requires 90 percent of students be tested. In the state’s smallest districts, a handful of students could be the difference between compliance and failure.

Ginger Tinney, executive director of the Professional Oklahoma Educators, a statewide organization based out of Noble, said the latest incident was “ridiculous,” but happens “when you write such hard, fast rules.”

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“If there are standards written, they need to be broad,” she said. “There’s always going to be something that’s going to happen that you never thought of. Things happen at the last minute that are extremely horrible, catastrophic.”

She believes ultimately, decisions about exemptions should be left to local administrators.

“They know who and who shouldn’t take a test. You’ve got to trust your local administrators to do the right thing,” Tinney said.

Wednesday marked the second issue in a week involving standardized testing in Oklahoma. On Monday, the state was forced to suspend online testing for the second year in a row after thousands of middle school students experienced disruptions due to a technical glitch.