Each year, students take the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests in various subjects and in multiple grades, and Lawton Public Schools Superintendent Tom Deighan released the raw test results to the public this week. The district saw eleven elementary schools improve their third grade reading or math scores from the previous year. This, coupled with the encouraging news that the performance for elementary school students in the district improved in nearly every single category this year is cause for celebration in Lawton Schools.

Oklahoma's Reading Sufficiency Act requires all third grade students achieve a satisfactory score on the OCCT before advancing to the fourth grade. In 2015, the average score for all third grade students in Lawton public schools was 71; this year, that number increased to 75, a 5.6% increase for the system.

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Leading the way for the system's third graders were students at Pat Henry and Whittier elementaries, who saw their reading test scores improve by nearly 20 points this year, Sullivan Village Elementary, who raised their average math test scores by an incredible 29 points this year, while Carriage Hills and Edison third graders raised their math test scores by a nearly 20 point average.

But the good news wasn't limited to the third grade. Scores for fourth and fifth grade students in reading math and science all improved, while fifth grade reading scores and science scores increased by nine and 10 points, respectively. Middle school students, those in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades achieved higher average scores in five of the eight test areas, with the largest increase in seventh grade reading and math averages. Individually, Tomlinson Middle School students scored much higher on their eighth grade science exams, raising the average from 33 to 49 this year.

But at this time of the year, the focus is on more than just test scores. While test scores are increasing, in some cases dramatically, teachers across the state face the reality that they are about to become the lowest paid educators in the country. Entering the 2015-2016 school year, only 2 states ranked lower than Oklahoma in teacher pay. One of the two, South Dakota, passed a half-cent sales tax in March that is intended to boost teacher salaries. The second state, Mississippi, is also in the process of enacting a similar tax increase.

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By contrast, when Oklahoma legislators adjourned last week, the previously state ambition to increase teachers salaries was left unfulfilled. In her State of the State address on February 1st, Governor Mary Fallin called for an annual $3000 increase in teachers pay, while in 2015, State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister called for a $5000 pay-hike for educators in Oklahoma. But when state legislators adjourned last week, no pay increase had been approved, even though 6 different proposals had been presented to legislators in the past year to increase teacher's salaries.

And schools will not be entering a status quo situation entering the new year. Educators will be facing budget cuts, including elimination of the state's $33 million text book fund and a $40 million dollar reduction of the States school activities fund. This essentially means there will be no new textbooks available to classrooms and after school activities and programs. These reductions were used to cover other deficiencies in the state education budget. All this after legislators had promised educators across the state that schools would not be affected by budget cuts.

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A proposed increase in the budget allocations for special education and common core education was struck down, and allocations for colleges and universities were decreased more than $24 million for the next year. the CareerTech Education System is also featuring a decrease of almost $5 million for the next school year. According to legislators, the only viable option left for this year is a penny hike in the state sales tax that will be voted on by residents in November.

Oklahoma teachers haven't had an across-the-board pay increase in eight years, and the current pay situation leaves school districts bracing for further teacher shortages in the coming year. More teachers than ever before are looking out of state for better paying teaching positions, while some are leaving teaching all together to lock down higher paying positions. Some out-of-state districts, including Dallas and Las Vegas, are specifically recruiting Oklahoma teachers, dangling the carrot of higher pay to lure them away.

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source: The Lawton Constitution, OklahomaWatch.org