What to expect with Oklahoma’s new Academic Standards


As of March 28, the Oklahoma State Department of Education adopted the new Oklahoma Academic Standards. These new standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts will be in effect for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year. With summer quickly approaching and this school year coming to a close, we spoke with Dr. Matt Hollrah, an Associate Professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and co-chair of OAS English Language Arts Writing Team, to better understand these new standards and how they will impact education in Oklahoma. 


Linked: How many people were on the Standards board? How were they chosen?

Dr. Hollrah: There were 20 members of the ELA Standards Writing Team. I was a co-chair of the team along with Dr. Jennifer Watson. The team was chosen through a list of nominees submitted by me, Dr. Watson, and others at the State Department of Education (SDE). The team consisted of a literacy consultant (Dr. Watson), five college faculty members, nine public school teachers and curriculum coordinators, four SDE content experts and an assessment expert.

Linked: Do you believe the previous Common Core State Standards were ineffective?

Dr. Hollrah: Oklahoma never got the chance to find out how effective they might have been because they were repealed about three or four months before they were scheduled to be fully implemented. So, in effect, our State Legislature made the decision to repeal a set of standards that were widely adopted across the nation without any meaningful data as to their effectiveness in Oklahoma. Early data out of Kentucky suggests that they are working well in that state. We never really got to find out here.

Linked: What is the focus of the Oklahoma Academic Standards? 

Dr. Hollrah: College and Career Readiness are key foci. What that means is that we focused on both English language arts content and especially those literacy skills that students will need to succeed in college and the workplace. It is important to keep in mind that the standards represent the minimal skills we believe students need. They are a floor rather than a ceiling.

Linked: What are the major changes in the new standards compared to the previous Common Core State Standards?

Dr. Hollrah: There are many differences, and it would take more space than I have here to list them all. But probably the biggest difference is how our standards purposefully integrate reading and writing within and across the standards. In CCSS, reading and writing are themselves separate standard categories. We felt this created the appearance that reading and writing skills can be taught in isolation when we know from research that they are very much interconnected.  

Linked: How do you think the new standards will affect students’ everyday education? 

Dr. Hollrah: These standards create the opportunity for teachers to present students with more challenging and engaging coursework. They ask students not just to remember a fact, but to place that fact in a context that gives it meaning. They encourage analysis and reflection. They encourage students to integrate knowledge from multiple sources and to make connections between different aspects of English language arts. They move away from teaching things in isolation and ask students to put their knowledge to use.

Linked: How will these standards impact teachers?

Dr. Hollrah: That will largely be up to how teachers interpret them. I hope we wrote them in such a way that new teachers, who might need more guidance, will see a path to creating good lesson plans. I know that the State Department of Education is hard at work on creating curricular guidance materials and professional development experiences so that teachers feel they have the support they need. I also hope that the standards are flexible enough that experienced teachers can work within (rather than against) the parameters outlined by the standards. 

Linked: What do you believe parents need to know about OAS and its changes?

Dr. Hollrah: Parents should know that they can review the standards by following this link: sde.ok.gov/sde/oklahoma-academic-standards. Parents should also know that the ELA writing team created the standards with teachers and students in mind, not a particular test or political agenda. 

Everyone on the team was fully invested in writing the best standards we could write within the very short time frame we were given by the Legislature to do so. Parents should read them and remember that they were written by teachers and educational experts who care deeply about our children’s futures. Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the standards are not a curriculum. State law requires that districts develop the curricula that teachers will follow. These standards simply lay a foundation that the local curriculum will be built upon.