Descending to the level of propaganda, a front page story in today’s edition of The Oklahoman and the 3:00 update of the story on NewsOK.com reported this about students in Oklahoma City Public Schools who failed the controversial 3rd grade reading tests in April:
“More than 600 third-graders in the Oklahoma City school district have failed to prove they read well enough to earn promotion to the fourth grade as a state deadline for doing so approaches.
Only five out of 611 district third-graders held back because they failed a state-mandated reading test in April have passed an alternative assessment since the start of August, prompting a district official to blame some teachers and principals for the lack of improvement.”
Wow! Pretty bad, huh? 606 students who failed in April FAILED the alternative test? Terrible!
Beware aggregate numbers
To read the large aggregated number of 611 compared to the five who passed a retake is dramatic. Even a careful reading to that point in the story would conclude that those 611 had tried to retake the test and had failed.
In fact, not until 158 words into the story is there any hint that all 611 students did NOT take the test over since April. But even then, the story only reports the small number of students who took the retake on the two latest offerings over the last several weeks.
By the time spliced quotes from one critical district official are used (that mostly served as cover for him) we are deep into the story.
Only after 241 words into the story do we see the actual number of students who did any retake at all. Out of that big 611 scary number we find that only 74 of those 611 third graders have attempted to retake the test EVER.
There is no total number given for those of the 74 total who passed the alternate test. We are only given two single-digit numbers from the latest tests given in October during Fall Break.
Wait! The latest two alternate tests were offered during FALL BREAK? You know, that two-week Fall Break they just had where nobody is at school. It was that two week break where parents just have to figure out how to watch their kids while they are still holding down two or three jobs?
That means there is no consistent flow of the day — no support from their regular teachers. There was no breakfast or lunch at school for students who depend on those for nutrition. There was no transportation.
Yes, I know. Those third graders should have just borrowed one of their parents’ extra cars to get themselves up. to. that. school! (Be sure and say that with arms cocked and both fists on your hips.)
A clear, but unacknowledged slant
There’s no need to badger the reporter about this. I have no idea how this story read when he turned it in. But the final edition that the editors rolled out wasn’t a “report”. It was a front page editorial cleverly disguised as a news report.
You won’t see me grousing about clearly marked opinions on the opinion pages. That’s fair. It’s their paper. But to spoof the public in this way is not acceptable. It makes me almost nostalgic for the days of the original owners putting clearly-marked, ham-fisted front page editorials in that paper.
Today’s “report” reveals an over-eagerness to accuse a school district that deals daily with crushing poverty and all of the attendant systemic, stubborn problems that go along with it.
Third grade reading isn’t the real problem
The real story here isn’t about whether or not those 611 students can read. That should be our biggest problem, but it isn’t. The biggest of our problems is why we are putting such high stakes on a third grade reading test when only half of it actually tests reading. The biggest of our problems are what is happening to those students that would stop them from thriving in and outside of their schools.
It’s easy to criticize a school for a bad single “A-F grade” that doesn’t measure what it claims to. It’s easy to criticize teachers and students who are in parts of the city that others have thrown away and tried to forget. It takes guts to actually address the deeper issues in a third grader’s life that hold her/him back.
Let’s hope that our new administration will work hard to learn the issues, train teachers and principals how to deal with them, and then support them as they address those issues.
As for The Oklahoman, well, let’s hope that in the future they resist the dark side of right-wing ideology. In the mean time, we will be reading with a good measure of skepticism.