Making the grade

Part of several education reform measures passed last year by the Legislature, the plan is scheduled to be posted Monday to the education department’s website. A 30-day public comment period begins at that time and the state Board of Education votes on the measure during its March 29 meeting. If it passes, the policy change then must receive legislative and gubernatorial approval.

Barresi (pictured) said the rule, barring any legislative changes, should be in effect by the beginning of next school year, and the department will begin training districts on it before then.

E for evaluation
The letter-grade system would replace the current Academic Performance Index, which operates on a numeric scale going up to 1,500. The plan was part of the state’s application for a No Child Left Behind waiver, which the Obama administration granted on Feb. 9.

“In other states that have [letter-grade systems], it has brought a great deal of community participation and school improvement,” Barresi
said. “Some parents really don’t have a choice; they can’t hire a moving
van and they can’t write a check for a private school. It empowers
parents and community people to have the information they need to become
part of the answer for that school. It is very clear that schools that
have a high level of parent and community involvement do better.”

This is not just about test scores.
The plan not only will make a school’s grade easier to
understand, she said, but also change how that grade is given by
including academic growth in its calculations.

For
instance, if a class of sixth-graders is reading on a third-grade
level, and by the end of the year that class has improved to reading on a
fifth-grade level, points will be awarded for the amount of growth,
rather than deducted for the class not reaching a sixth-grade reading
level.

“This is not
just about test scores, though that is a component of it,” Barresi said.
“We’re moving away from those students achieving just one test score as
we did in No Child Left Behind and we’re focused on growth.”

Each
metric that goes into the letter-grade designation will be broken down
into grades that can be viewed by the public, Barresi said, and include
such factors as graduation rates, test scores, dropout rates and the
number of students in advanced placement classes (for high schools) and
third-grade remediation levels.

A for accountability
Not all are convinced that the system will be better than the current one.

“We don’t think an A
through F grading system is an accurate and fair school accountability
system,” said Alicia Priest, vice president of the
Oklahoma Education Association. “For our students to thrive, we need to
be held accountable — all of us: teachers, students and elected
officials.”

Priest
said cuts to professional development and training for teachers might
deprive them of the tools to help improve the classrooms, and that the
current system shows a bigger picture of what is going on in the school
and community at large, while the proposed alternative likely will be
used to label and punish schools.

“I
just want to make sure that our schools and students are thriving, and
we are for accountability, when it’s accountability across the board and
we have the structures in place to support teachers to make a
difference in the lives of kids,” Priest said.

Oklahoma
City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer said he supports the
idea of including the academic growth of the student in the grading.

“In
general, these kinds of reform measures are good, and the ideas that
Superintendent Barresi has been bringing forward are positive,” he said.
“I think we’re all about trying to improve our schools and to the
extent that that kind of system improves our schools in Oklahoma City
and across the state, then I’m all for it.”

Photo by Mark Hancock

Clifton Adcock

This material falls under the archives category because it was imported from our previous website. It will eventually be filtered into the proper category as time allows.

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