House Administrative Rules, OSDE rules
House Administrative Rules Committee Chairman Gerrid Kendrix (R-Altus) talks with a committee staffer before a meeting on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Bennett Brinkman)

(Correction: This article was updated at 9:50 a.m. on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, to correct a reference to the Republican who voted against HJR 1061.)

After declining to take action last week, the Oklahoma House Rules Committee advanced a resolution approving all proposed State Department of Education rules except one after a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The vote comes as State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters has been advocating heavily on social media and in an email to legislators (pasted below) for his rules tying school accreditation to student academic performance.

The accreditation rules and multiple others seemed to have the support of most of the Republicans on the committee. HJR 1061 advanced out of the committee by a 7-3 vote, with one Republican, Rande Worthen (R-Lawton), joining two Democrats to vote against it. Unlike the Democrats, Worthen did not debate the resolution.

“We voted last year to send large sums of cash to your (school) districts to help them improve and to help them survive. Do not vote to shut them down now,” argued Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa). “We should not tie high-stakes testing to accreditation. (…) We should not subvert the Teacher Due Process Act — SDE has proven they are not prepared to handle investigations efficiently. (…) We should not subvert the attorney generals’ opinions.”

But committee Chairman Gerrid Kendrix (R-Altus) pushed back in his debate for the resolution.

“This is all based on fear, uncertainty and doubt,” Kendrix said. “It makes us make bad decisions when we make decisions based on fear. When we trust those that are put in positions to make the decisions — that’s this committee, that’s our Legislature — when we trust our group, our members, to make the right decisions for what we believe is the right thing and don’t listen to the loudest voice in the room, we make decisions based on sound policy — we move things forward.”

House committee tanks Democrats’ amendments

Committee members voted on 11 proposed amendments to the resolution that would have denied many of the OSDE rules. Ten of the amendments were proposed by the committee’s two Democrats, former educators Provenzano and Amanda Swope (D-Tulsa). Each of those failed 2-8, with the Provenzano and Swope constituting the only votes in favor.


OSDE rules

‘Not through yet’: Decision pending on OSDE rules; Walters, Drummond file suits over Title IX changes by Bennett Brinkman

“All the amendments that at least I filed dealt with some way that the superintendent is trying to strip accreditation away from schools just a nibble at a time, and what we saw today was disappointing because (…) people are concerned about their schools being shut down,” Provenzano said after the meeting. “Everything that we need to do to improve is already in statute. Tying high-stakes testing on one day to whether or not you’re accredited or not is not the way that we need to operate public education here in Oklahoma.”

The resolution now heads to a vote before the full House. If it passes out of the chamber, it will head to the Senate Administrative Rules Committee.

Although the State Board of Education has approved many new or amended OSDE rules over the past few months, the proposed academic accreditation standards have drawn criticism from Democrats and others in education circles.

If they do not get denied by the Legislature, the new standards would create an “academic deficiency” for school districts with fewer than 50 percent of students testing at “basic” or above on statewide English or math tests.

According to the proposed rules, if school districts who receive the academic deficiency in one year fail to demonstrate at least 5 percent growth on the English and math tests for the next year, their accreditation status will drop to “accredited with warning.” The status will further drop to “accredited with probation” in the year after that if the district again fails to demonstrate at least 5 percent growth.

Kendrix proposed one amendment that the committee approved. That amendment denied a rule allowing students to submit Classical Learning Test scores to be considered for recognition as an academic scholar.

“Honestly, I do not have a problem with the [Classical] Learning Test,” Kendrix said after the meeting. “That was an amendment that I did to make sure that I had enough votes to get the resolution out of the committee.”

When the committee discussed the OSDE rules at an April meeting, Rep. Anthony Moore (R-Clinton) expressed opposition to the rule and cited a lack of data regarding how CLT scores relate to SAT scores.

Among the proposed amendments opposing OSDE rules that failed were those addressing teacher conduct, foundational values, the relationship of a school board to its district and parental rights. Those rules are slated to be approved in HJR 1061.

Each of the amendments that failed did so with little discussion and no debate from committee members.

Walters emails legislators advocating for accreditation reform

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters addresses reporters after a State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Bennett Brinkman)

As lawmakers worked on the rules resolution in recent weeks, Walters went on the offensive, posting infographics on social media to advocate for his accreditation standards.

Additionally, Walters also wrote a letter to House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) to provide more context for his rules in response to “lies and propaganda circulating about the proposed rules on education.”

“To be clear, there are currently 119 reasons a school may receive a deficiency, which are set forth through statute, rules, and executive orders. Deficiencies are not a new concept and something every administrator and teacher are familiar with,” Walters wrote. “This proposed rule is not imposing additional reporting or policies on school districts, but rather ensuring schools are succeeding in their efforts to educate students. Deficiencies exist to identify where schools and districts need aid. It is not a punishment, but an opportunity to identify which districts need help.”

Walters emphasized that his goal is not to use the new rules to justify state takeovers of school districts, although he has threatened that action in the past.

“In no way is it our goal to takeover a district. In fact, the rule encourages districts to incorporate their own formal plan to help those students who are currently struggling,” Walters said.

Walters attached an “accreditation one-pager” to further make his case to lawmakers for why new academics-focused accreditation standards are necessary.

“Currently, the state of Oklahoma does not have such an accreditation standard. A school or district could theoretically fail all 100 percent of an enrolled student body academically and still maintain accreditation,” OSDE officials wrote in the flyer. “By promulgating new rules, the State Board of Education could solve this problem in a fashion that would create academically rigorous goals and expectations while maintaining objectivity in the process.”

No amendments filed to reject gender identity rule

Tuesday’s meeting drew attention from education observers owing to the controversial nature of Walters’ proposed rules.

“It’s nice to see a room full of people interested in Administrative Rules,” Kendrix said at the beginning of the meeting. “I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen this before.”

The statement seemed to speak to the way Walters’ polarizing nature has created new interest in important bureaucratic processes that tend to fly under the radar.

One of Walters’ more controversial proposals — which took effect as an emergency rule in September and was approved as a permanent rule by the State Board of Education in January — was not among the rules proposed for rejection in the Democrats’ filed amendments.

The rule prohibits school districts from changing student records to reflect their preferred gender identity and has already drawn a lawsuit in Cleveland County District Court.

Asked why she did not submit an amendment proposing denial of that rule, Provenzano seemed to think it had already been approved.

“There was a little bit of funny business last year with the two rules that were approved ultimately. The Senate failed to take action, sent it over to us without any disapprovals on it. It automatically went to the governor,” Provenzano said.

Last year’s resolution approving and rejecting agency rules omitted OSDE rules, a decision that allowed Gov. Kevin Stitt to approve them. But the gender rule was not a part of that set of rules because the state board did not approve either version of the rule until after last year’s regular legislative session had adjourned.

View the list of proposed OSDE rules

If ultimately approved by the full Legislature or the governor, the multitude of pending OSDE rules would:

  • Give districts an academic accreditation deficiency if their students do not meet certain academic standards;
  • Ban DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) programs;
  • Require districts to adopt voluntary prayer and minute-of-silence policies;
  • Adopt “foundational values” for the Oklahoma public education system that include acknowledgement of a “creator” and declarations such as “truth, goodness and beauty are objective moral virtues” and “good and evil are real and universal rather than relativistic concepts;
  • Require districts to comply with the School District Transparency Act;
  • Cause a district to receive a “health and safety” accreditation deficiency if it “maintains active employment” of a teacher while they are under a certification revocation investigation and that teacher’s certification is later revoked;
  • Add an accreditation status of “accredited with distinction” for districts that receive the recommendation after undergoing a “distinction audit;”
  • Allow districts to fire teachers who engage in sexual acts or “acts that appeal to the prurient interest in sex” in front of minors;
  • Remove the Oklahoma State School Board Association from the list of automatically approved organizations that can provide training to school board members;
  • Update the due process requirements for certificate revocation proceedings to add that respondents have 21 days to contest revocation applications or their lack of a response will be deemed an admission of guilt;
  • Add a “civics seal” to the list of possible student academic recognitions;
  • Add the term “independent contractor” to the parental rights code;
  • Make changes to statewide testing and student remediations based on that testing;
  • Make changes to district accounting rules; and
  • Eliminate a prohibition on school board members from interfering in administrative functions of school districts.

Read Ryan Walters’ email to McCall, Treat

Good morning,

There have been a lot of lies and propaganda circulating about the proposed rules on education, and more specifically, the rule to include student outcomes in the accreditation process. Because of this, I wanted to provide you with more context into the accreditation process, what impact this rule would have, and why this rule is being proposed.

Proposed Rule on Academics and Accreditation

In the proposed rule, if fewer than 50% of students in a district do not score basic or above in the state assessments for English Language Arts or Math, then it shall receive an academic deficiency. It also sets a 5% growth requirement for those districts with 50% of students below basic. If a district shows this growth, they will not have their accreditation status lowered, even if they had not yet broken the 50% threshold. We viewed this as an important inclusion to recognize districts who exhibit significant growth.

To further recognize districts in their efforts of improving student outcomes, the rule proposes an opportunity to provide written evidence to the State Board showing substantial changes have been made to improve academic performances to allow alteration of its accreditation status. That means even if a school is not at 50% and does not hit the 5% growth metric, they still have a chance to maintain their current accreditation status.

To be clear, there are currently 119 reasons a school may receive a deficiency, which are set forth through statute, rules, and Executive Orders. Deficiencies are not a new concept and something every administrator and teacher are familiar with. This proposed rule is not imposing additional reporting or policies on school districts, but rather ensuring schools are succeeding in their efforts to educate students. Deficiencies exist to identify where schools and districts need aid. It is not a punishment, but an opportunity to identify which districts need help.

According to the proposed rule, a district may only receive a downgrade in accreditation if 50% of students are below basic in math and reading, fail to show 5% growth, and do not present evidence of substantial change to the State Board. In no way is it our goal to takeover a district. In fact, the rule encourages districts to incorporate their own formal plan to help those students who are currently struggling.

Student Performance Levels

It is important to understand what exactly below basic and basic mean in the context of state assessments. As defined in 70 O.S. § 1210.541, Basic means “partial mastery of the essential knowledge and skills that are foundational for proficient work at their grade level or course and that students are not on track to be ready for college or career” Below Basic means that “students have not performed at least at the basic level”. Essentially, our rule is saying that if half of the students in a district cannot exhibit even partial mastery at their grade level and are not on track to be college and career-ready, there should be a concerted effort to get students on track.

So, as long as a district has 50% of its students at Basic or Above, even if not all those students are on grade level or on track to be prepared for college or a career, they would not receive an accreditation deficiency.

Overview of Accreditation

There are five levels of accreditation:

1. Accredited With No Deficiencies: All standards are being met.

2. Accredited With Deficiencies:  A school site or district fails to meet one or more of the standards, but the deficiency does not seriously detract from the quality of the school’s educational program.

3. Accredited With Warning: A school site or district fails to meet one or more of the standard and the deficiency seriously detracts from the quality of the school’s educational program.

4. Accredited With Probation: A school district:

a. consistently fails to remove or make substantial progress towards removing all deficiencies noted the previous year; and/or,

b. consistently violates regulations; and/or,

c. deliberately and unnecessarily violates one or more of the regulations.

5. Nonaccredited: The school site or district is no longer recognized by the State Board of Education.

There are currently 143 districts with one deficiency and 65 districts with multiple deficiencies. At the site level, there are 156 sites with one deficiency and 53 sites with multiple deficiencies. 17 school sites are currently designated Accredited With Warning. Accreditation with Probation is exclusive to districts, so no sites are on that list. Furthermore, there are 9 districts that are currently Accredited with Warning and 6 that are Accredited with Probation.

So, even if a district were to reach the Accreditation with Probation tier after years of not meeting the 50% threshold or exhibiting significant growth, it does not equate to a takeover or a closure of a district. This is an unfortunate myth that has been spread, that is not grounded in the reality and facts of accreditation.

Despite what opponents of this rule have tried to imply, this is not going to open the floodgates for some mass closure or takeover districts. As you can see by the 6 districts on Accreditation with Probation, just because a district has that designation does not mean it will be taken over or closed.

Legal Authority

Beyond the myths about the impact of this rule on districts, there have also been lies thrown around surrounding the legal authority to propose this rule. Some opponents have claimed that the State Board does not have legal authority over accreditation. This is blatantly false.

70 O.S. § 3-104.4

“The State Board of Education shall adopt standards for the accreditation of the public schools in this state according to the requirements of Section 3-104.3 et seq. of this title, to be effective as set forth in Section 3-104.3 et seq. of this title.”

“Nothing herein shall be construed as preventing changes to the adopted standards by the State Board of Education pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act.”

Nowhere in legislative statute is there a prohibition on including student outcomes as a part of the accreditation standards. In fact, 70 O.S. § 3-104.4 explicitly requires accreditation to be “consistent with an academics results-oriented approach to accreditation”. There is currently no accreditation standard for academic results. This proposed rule would bring accreditation standards into compliance with state law.

Big Takeaways

— This rule only provides a deficiency if more than 50% of a district’s students are below basic, which means they lack even a partial mastery of grade-level skills and are not on track to be prepared for college and a career

— Even if a district were to reach accreditation with probation through this rule, this does not mean that it will be taken over or closed

— Nowhere in this rule is there a mechanism that would lead to an automatic takeover or closure of districts

— Accreditation deficiencies are commonplace and have been utilized for decades

— Our legal authority for this rule is from 70 O.S. § 3-104.3 and 70 O.S. § 3-104.4, which AG Opinion 2023-3 recognizes as valid

Parents and students across the state are demanding change. Every student has the ability to learn. Oklahoma’s low academic performance is evidence that the status quo is not working. I urge you to join me in this effort and help fight for a brighter future for all Oklahoma students.

As always, feel free to reach out to me or my staff if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.


Ryan Walters