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Data was missing from a US News and World report on Oklahoma schools. Lawmakers want to know what happened

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Leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Kevin Stitt expressed concern this week about media reports that U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings of Oklahoma high schools were skewed because the Oklahoma State Department of Education failed to provide key data used by the publication to rate schools.

Oklahoma City television station KFOR and the Tulsa World first reported about the issue, quoting various school district superintendents about their concerns about the dramatic change in the 2024 rankings, which often are used by families in determining where to live within a state.

The state Education Department also failed to send data to U.S. News and World Report in 2023, a spokesperson for the publication said.

Asked Friday about the situation, Gov. Kevin Stitt said it’s important “to get all the information out there” concerning Oklahoma schools.

“If they missed something — I don’t know if they did — but if they missed something … for a ranking, then we need to do a better job,” Stitt said. “Don’t give them a gun to shoot us with, right? We want to make sure we’re promoting Oklahoma, so if there’s something that we didn’t do correctly, let’s fix it.

More: US News names top 10 best high schools in Oklahoma, though chunk of test scores missing

“But it’s a big organization. … Sometimes things slip through or somebody messes up on something. If we need to obviously hold those folks accountable, then let’s get every piece of good information up we can to promote Oklahoma.”

He said he hadn’t met with state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters, the elected official who leads the agency, concerning the issue.

Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said Thursday he wondered if the state Education Department’s loss of more than 130 employees since Walters took office might be “impeding their ability to get these simple things done.”

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, in response to a question about the situation, said, “There are conversations that we have when we hear from school districts on problems. We try to be the catalyst to make sure those things get done. But we’re always going to have a concern about what goes on.”

As part of his answer, McCall noted the Legislature is working in earnest this month on the state budget for the next fiscal year, but he also said, “In terms of remedies, we’re certainly not going to withhold money from the state Department of Education in terms of funding for schools as some type of punishment for disagreements over how things are being run.”

Why were Oklahoma’s rankings skewed?

U.S. News and World Report said Oklahoma and Maine were the only states that did not give the publication permission to use their schools’ Advanced Placement data in the rankings. As a result, U.S. News and World Report said, less than 5% of the high schools in those two states finished in the top 25% of the national rankings. For example, Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City, which ranked No. 1 on this year’s state list, ranked only 926th in the national rankings.

Oklahoma and Maine were 50th and 51st, respectively, in the publication’s overall state ranking.

A spokesperson for U.S. News and World Report said, “The Oklahoma State Department of Education did not return the signed permission letter with their assent in time for the 2023 and 2024 publication of Best High Schools.”

KFOR reported that of the top 20 schools on this year’s list, 13 have fewer than 400 students. That’s unusual, as larger schools typically have more AP (Advanced Placement) course offerings than smaller schools. The number of students taking AP courses are a key factor the publication uses for determining “College Readiness,” which accounts for 30% of a school’s rating. Oklahoma schools have a “N/A” – not available – listed under “College Readiness” on the U.S. News and World Report ranking.

More: Oklahoma missed deadline to include test scores in US News Best High Schools in Oklahoma list

In Oklahoma, the 32 schools with the highest enrollment compete in Class 6A in Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association events. Only three 6A schools – Edmond Memorial High School, Edmond North High School and Norman North High School – were listed among the state’s top 20. There were 10 such schools in the top 20 in 2022.

Also, the lack of AP data led to many large school districts to take major dives in the state rankings. The World reported Bixby, which was 16th in 2022, now is 65th, while Jenks dropped from 19th to 64th during the same time frame. Broken Arrow, which has the state’s largest high school, is 186th this year.

Among larger schools in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, Edmond Santa Fe High School (7th to 22nd), Piedmont High School (22nd to 40th), Putnam City North High School (20th to 85th), Westmoore High School (17th to 90th) and Deer Creek High School in Edmond (12th to 134th) also suffered big drops in the ranking from 2022, KFOR reported.

Education Department spokesman blames the mail

State Department of Education spokesman Dan Isett told both KFOR and the Tulsa World that “SDE physically sent the information to the College Board, and cannot account for their lack of receipt – likely a post office issue.” Isett said the agency “gave them permission and access to the data through a board vote,” which was taken this past November. The Oklahoman asked the magazine for the date of its deadline, but the publication declined to respond.

Asked subsequently about the situation by The Oklahoman, Isett’s response criticized the reporting of both KFOR and The Oklahoman and called the story a “convoluted effort to smear” Walters. Isett blamed any issue concerning the 2023 rankings on the administration of previous state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who left office in early January 2023.

No votes were taken by the state Board of Education in 2022 concerning the release of data to U.S. News and World Report, but it’s unclear if a vote was actually necessary for the data to be released.

The U.S. News and World Report spokesperson said “the OSDE has sent U.S. News and College Board signed permission for release of this data in 2025, which authorizes its use for the next edition of Best High Schools rankings.”

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