The Edmond Sun

Local News

October 4, 2012

Superintendents criticize A-F grading system

EDMOND — Superintendents representing 79 public school districts and an estimated 300,000 Oklahoma children from across the state shared their concerns Thursday about the state’s A-F School Grading System at the Oklahoma School Board Association offices in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education will release the grades for all 1,761 public schools in the state on Monday, but superintendents from across the state say the state’s grading method is “deeply flawed.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi has touted the new A-F Report Cards as “transparent” and “easily communicated to the public.” The superintendents, representing districts large and small throughout the state, contend the new system may do more to misrepresent than inform parents and residents appropriately.

Edmond’s David Goin joined a panel of five superintendents who spoke representing the superintendents present as well as those unable to attend the press conference. Other panel members included Keith Ballard, Tulsa Public Schools; Joe Siano, Norman Public Schools; Cathy Burden, Tulsa Union Public Schools; and Karl Springer, Oklahoma City Public Schools.

All of the superintendents stated they were strong supporters of evaluating the education system, and supported the bill passed by the Legislature in 2011, but they did not believe the system adopted by the state Department of Education would be effective because they termed it a flawed system of evaluation.

Goin said the grading system has serious technical flaws.

“Our schools are evaluated every day by parents, but ‘the devil is in the details,’ of the A-F grading system,” he said. “Parents need to be aware of the methods and means of the calculation of the grades.”  

Officials stated a 10-page technical guide and a 28-page report card guide with 48 calculation tables are necessary to understand how a school receives a grade.

“School districts are not opposed to accountability or improved communication on school performance,” Ballard said. “We have demonstrated accountability for student achievement for over a decade under No Child Left Behind. We were hopeful that the new A-F Grading System would be an improvement over the previous system. In its current form, however, the new system is highly discriminatory and is aimed at holding schools down. The intent is to embarrass schools, and that is unacceptable.

“By manipulating student growth data and using only the data of students showing positive growth, the State Department of Education has intentionally skewed student growth data. By excluding students who show zero or negative growth, the ‘state average growth rate’ is an inflated number that is not representative of all students’ performance. This faulty interpretation of ‘average’ has resulted in lower grades for each school. This is damaging not only to students and teachers, but also to Oklahoma’s economic future and prospective growth,” he said.

Ballard went on to say the superintendents want a clear process that shows accurately what the students have achieved.

Monday marks the first time schools will receive a letter grade for their performance.

One concern expressed by the superintendents was the fact that schools will not be graded on the same 4.0 scale that is used for grading students. For students, 90 percent or better earns an A grade, and a 3.6 grade point average on a 4.0 scale is an A average. But under the state’s new grading system, a school needs a 3.75 GPA, or 93.75, to be deemed an “A” school, officials said.

Other objections by superintendents to the new A-F Grading System:

• The state Department of Education has publicly criticized the accuracy of the data provided by school districts. In reality, 94 percent of all weighted data used in the A-F Report Card was supplied by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The 6 percent of information supplied by the school districts has minimal or no impact on a school’s letter grade.

• No combination of school supplied data or bonus points can raise a school’s letter grade in the area of Whole School Performance. Performance indicators such as Advanced Coursework Participation, Advanced Coursework Performance, College Entrance Exam Participation and College Entrance Exam Performance — which are strong indicators of student success — are weighted at a level that makes them irrelevant to the performance of the school.

“We are strong supporters of holding schools accountable for student instruction; however, this new system devised by the OSDE in its current configuration will get a failing grade in my community for achieving its purported goal: a higher degree of clarity for parents and the general public about local schools’ performance,” Siano said. “A-F was meant to represent the quality of instruction not populations in schools. It (the grading scale in place) speaks more to subgroups’ grades rather than calculated on the performance of all students.

“We have worked with the OSDE in good faith and with a spirit of cooperation, and we will continue to do so. Yet we also have a duty to speak out and inform parents and the public about serious flaws with these grades.”

Springer said a list of questions had been sent to the SDE, but the superintendents did not believe they had received clear answers.

“We believe we have been left out of the discussion and we want to have input in a meaningful way with the State Department of Education,” he said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the state to be able to see what is happening in our schools, but (the Oklahoma State Department of Education) still has some tweaking to do. We want the grading system to be an accurate measurement of performance in the schools,” Springer said.

Following the panel discussion, Deer Creek Superintendent of Schools Sean McDaniel said, “I do not think this grading system is the simplicity envisioned by theLegislature when they passed the bill. We do need to get some collaboration between the State Department and the school districts.

“The State Department has a huge challenge and I appreciate the passion on the part of Superintendent Janet Barressi.”

State Department of Education Spokesman Damon Gardenhire issued the following statement on Thursday following the press conference by the school districts: “Districts should have nothing to hide and should embrace the transparency and accountability offered by this reform. Parents have a right to know this information. These report cards are clear-cut, straight-forward and fair.

“District representatives from across the state had a role in crafting the information that would be included in the report cards, including the calculations used to determine final grades. The State Department of Education has exhaustively communicated with districts on the details of these report cards for more than six months, providing technical assistance, training, personal consultation and a series of guides that are publicly available to all Oklahoma citizens. We’ve met with districts many times, heard their concerns and answered their questions.

“To hold a press conference a few days before the report cards are set to be released is nothing more than political posturing meant to derail implementation of a law that was passed in 2011. We’re moving forward, and the report cards will be released to all citizens on Monday.”

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