The Edmond Sun

October 25, 2012

Fallin offers ‘compromise’ in A-F school report card calculations

Andrea Eger and Kim Archer

OKLA. CITY — The state Board of Education is expected to decide the fate of a new A-F school report card system Thursday, and when it does, it may have not two but three choices.

Gov. Mary Fallin is advocating a new method of calculating school grades and referring to it as a “compromise” between the method first used by the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the way a coalition of more than 300 superintendents has sought.

In an email to state board members obtained by the Tulsa World, Fallin’s chief of staff, Denise Northrup, wrote, “She feels adoption of the compromise will address the superintendents’ concerns without lowering the bar for Oklahoma student achievement.”

At a special meeting earlier this month, state board members voted unanimously to delay the release of new report cards for all public schools and districts statewide because school leaders statewide were questioning the way average student growth is calculated.

State education officials had thrown out the scores of all students who performed the same as or worse than they had on the previous year’s tests and thus were not comparing schools against a true state average, school leaders argued.

On Wednesday, local school leaders said they still had received no official communication about a third calculation method from any state official but that many have been made aware of it through unofficial means.

Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard said he disputes its characterization as a “compromise” at all, because it reportedly doesn’t include any of the suggestions the coalition of superintendents submitted.

“Quit hiding behind rhetoric and coming up with bogus formulas that aren’t better than what we had,” he said. “They created another formula with an end game in mind — we need to have so many A’s and so many F’s. That ought to be the furthest thing from anybody’s mind, and I think that’s contrary to the spirit of the law that was passed.”

Janet Dunlop, chief academic officer for Broken Arrow Public Schools, said the “compromise plan” still doesn’t use the educators’ suggestion that a true average be used to calculate student growth.

“It’s worse. It paints a bleaker picture,” she said.

Apparently the compromise would lower the percentage of A and B grades the state’s public schools would receive, increase the number of C grades and maintain the percentage of F grades, she said.

In fact, all three plans keep the percentage of schools with F’s at the same percentage.

“If the intent of this is truly to identify schools that need help, then why not use the true average growth on the compromise?” Dunlop asked.

A bigger issue is that criterion-referenced tests such as those used to calculate the grades aren’t intended to show growth at all, she said.

Ballard said: “We ought to sit down and create a really good system that is a good reflection of a school’s performance, then let the grades fall where they fall.”

Dunlop said school districts are not trying to hide their schools’ grades but that the state’s first plan is like putting out a report card without showing how the child earned that grade.

“Let’s put it all out on the table, transparent for the public to see and to compare,” she said.

The grades are supposed to be used as a guideline for where improvements should be made, so they need to be accurate and representative of actual student performance, educators say.

Ballard said he’s so frustrated by the circumstances that he won’t bother attending Thursday’s state Board of Education meeting.

“Nobody is listening to the 313 superintendents that are saying there is a problem with this. Our only recourse is to go back to the Legislature and say we are for a fair measurement — not a system with an end game in mind or a system like the state superintendent wants that tries to make schools look as bad as possible.

Ballard continued: “To dismiss us and call us names and call us disgruntled is really disrespectful. We know the state superintendent is not going to sit down with us and have any conversation, but we hope our legislators will.”

Dunlop said school districts are asking several state university professors who hold doctorates in educational statistics to analyze the grading system.

“To me, it’s more than just winning an argument with the state department. It’s about our children,” she said.

In response to the Tulsa World, Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz acknowledged that the Governor’s Office has worked with board members to explore other methods for calculating school grades.

“The governor supports an A-F grading system that gives parents, students, teachers and administrators an easy way to measure success,” he said.”She is confident the Board of Education will approve a grading system that accomplishes those goals while being transparent and fair to all parties.”

On Oct. 10, the Tulsa World filed a request under the Oklahoma Open Records Act for a copy of the initial school report cards, but the state Department of Education has failed to provide them, saying the request is “still being processed.”

The state’s open records law requires that public entities provide access to public records in a timely manner.

Andrea Eger 918-581-8470 Kim Archer 918-581-8315