The Edmond Sun

Local News

October 19, 2012

State Senate candidates weigh in on A-F grading

EDMOND — The state’s A-F grading system for public schools is flawed, said Richard Prawdzienski, an Independent state Senate District 41 candidate. He fears the state will lose quality teachers with the strict regimentation becoming mandatory for teachers.

“They’re doing robot-checking teaching of students and they’re roboting teachers,” Prawdzienski said.

Prawdzienski will face Republican incumbent state Sen. Clark Jolley Nov. 6 in the general election. Both men live in Edmond.

It makes no sense for teachers to be chastised for not having enough people attend their open house, Prawdzienski said. Teachers with large numbers of students are receiving negative points when students do not spend appropriate time with the teacher.

“That is not teaching. It is basically working as a robot,” Prawdzienski said.

Prawdzienski advocates for amending the state Constitution to dismantle public schools with the responsibility of teaching left to parents, he said. Churches and community advocacy groups could pay for the cost of a child’s education in instances when families cannot afford to do so, he said.

“Richard and I apparently have several fundamental disagreements about the state’s constitutional role in public education,” Jolley said. “I could not disagree more with his plan to end public common education at the end of the sixth or eighth grade and selling all higher education institutions such as UCO.”

The State Board of Education delayed a vote on the acceptance of the A-F grading system that was due to be released earlier this month. The decision came after more than 306 superintendents objected to what they called the flawed methodology of the grading system in early October. More than 313 school districts, more than 60 percent, are recorded this week in opposition to the state’s grading system of schools, according to an official for Tulsa Public Schools.

In a recent memo to school board members, Edmond’s Superintendent David Goin stated the delay will provide more time to address the issues of concern. Modifications to the school grading system need to be accurate in representing quality schools, Goin said.

Goin said he is concerned about how the state figures lowest achieving students’ growth (Lowest Quartile Growth) and the impact of how the growth of low achieving students will affect a school’s grade.

“Superintendent Goin has a very legitimate concern and he and I have visited about it,” Jolley said. “I agree with his point about so few students having such a large impact on the overall school grade. Fixing that requires a change in the statute that I intend on addressing that next session in February should I be re-elected in November.”

Jolley, who authored the A-F grading reform, added that previously the state was excluding too many students under privacy concerns, an action that causes hundreds of schools to not receive a full report card.

“Our number is significantly higher than what it should be and it needs to be lowered as well while still protecting the private information of the student,” Jolley said.

On Oct. 25, the State Board of Education will focus on the growth factor applied to all schools by making two proposals — the first being the average growth of all students, both positive and negative. In addition, the average gains of students with positive outcomes will be calculated.

“I support a high growth factor being applied to our general population of students,” Goin said. “However, applying the same standard in grading ‘lowest achieving quartile’ students’ performance is sometimes unfair to students, teachers and schools, especially at the elementary level.”

Only 45 of Oklahoma’s 692 elementary schools will receive a grade of “A” under the current formula, Goin said.

Students living with serious handicaps make up a significant portion of Edmond’s lowest quartile, Goin said. Growth in learning is expected for these children, Goin said. He also cautioned that a more modest growth for children with serious handicapped conditions should be celebrated and not penalized.

“The standard for this group of children must be reassessed. Yes, we expect challenging growth for all Edmond students, but the standard must be reasonable,” Goin said.

Improving the educational outcomes of all students, including those who have physical and/or mental challenges should be the goal of policy changes, Jolley said.

Comprehensive data will reveal that “lowest quartile” growth is the formula component resulting in the inordinate small group of “A” schools and a very large group of “B” schools, Goin said.

He suggested that a number of the 45 “A” schools have small numbers of enrollments. These schools likely slipped into the “A” category because the calculation of their school grade did not include their grade for “lowest quartile growth,” Goin said.

Ten of Edmond’s 15 elementary schools are designated as “Reward Schools,” but under the current system, only three of these schools will achieve a school grade of “A,” Goin said.

“Two of the three are small schools that will receive the ‘A’ by virtue of the fact that their lowest quartile grade will not be included due to their small student population,” Goin continued. “The small schools’ GPAs are calculated by entering their ‘whole school growth’ grade twice, once in place of the ‘lowest quartile growth’ grade.”

Jolley is concerned about watering the down the reform.

“As I understand it from my discussions with the State Department of Education, the way we are currently calculating their achievement is not in comparison to everyone else, but as compared to their own personal educational outcome expected in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP),” Jolley said. “I would not favor excluding children who are on IEPs from counting in our accountability systems.

“The moment we begin excluding them, more and more students who fail to test well will simply be moved onto an IEP and we will see a repeat of what Oklahoma has been caught doing in the past: avoiding testing low-performing students under a false pretense.”

The general public will not understand why several larger Edmond elementary schools will receive a “B” grade instead of an “A,” Goin said. Report cards can be used to set goals for improvement only if the grades assigned to schools are accurate, Goin said.

“Looking at the bigger picture across the state; under the current formula, one must assume either that excellent elementary schools are virtually non-existent in Oklahoma or that there is a problem with the calculation,” Goin said.

Oklahoma’s history of grading schools has for the most part been ignored, nor could anyone understand what the numbering system from 0-1500 meant, Jolley said.

“This reform is an important one because it is meant to tell parents the quality of the school their children attend in terms we all more easily understand,” Jolley said.

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