Most districts have opted not to release the grades until the State Board of Education certifies them at its Oct. 25 meeting. Board members voted last week to halt its issuance so agency officials could review the evaluation system, which many district superintendents claim is flawed.
The one exception in the metro, Putnam City Schools, publicly released grades for its 27 schools three days before the agency’s embargo was lifted. Most PC schools received a B or C. One received a D; none earned an A or F. Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said the formula for determining the grades would likely be confusing to teachers and parents.
“We want something that’s easy to understand,” Hampton said.
The OEA is concerned that the grades won’t reflect how each grade level is performing, or that a student who struggled one year is making progress the following year.
“We need ways to improve, not label,” Hampton said. “Having a label as an F school is quite a stigma. How do we recruit and retain teachers for these failing schools? You don’t, because they’re going to look elsewhere.”
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi took exception to that line of reasoning.
“The teachers I know are excited to do what they can to improve their schools,” she said. “Great teachers will be ready. I have faith the teachers, as they always do, will jump on this and accept the challenge.”
The meaning of growth
School grades are determined by calculating student achievement, whole-school performance and student growth.
To determine growth, student progress is measured against the statewide average.
In addition to the overall grade each school will receive, grades also will be given in five core academic areas: reading, math, science, social studies and writing. The previous assessment tool, the Academic Performance Index, awarded schools a score on a 1,500-point scale mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Much of the controversy has stemmed from what counts as growth.
Under the A-F plan, 17 percent of a school’s grade is determined by reading and math growth shown by the lowest 25-percent of its students. Critics point out that the Education Department did not consider it growth if, for example, a student makes the same score in the third grade as he or she does in fourth grade. In fact, countered many superintendents, that student’s score actually represents growth because a successive grade-level year entails more rigor than the grade level before.
“The sticking point for me is the way that average is derived,” said David Goin, superintendent of Edmond Public Schools. “I just believe our community needs to be aware of some of the factors that limit the credibility of the grades that are assigned.”
Moreover, Goin said, “it’s just about too much to ask” that the lowest-performing students are deemed as improving only if they actually score higher on tests from year to year.
He and many other district superintendents believe that this method of determining the average results in a misleading grade because it doesn’t represent a true average for all students.
Although Goin said the first round of grades was seriously flawed, his district drew strong grades. Eight Edmond schools received an A, 14 received a B and one drew a C. Barresi stands by the grade evaluation process.
“If a child is ‘limited knowledge’ in the third grade and still ‘limited knowledge’ in fourth grade, when you get all the way to high school, they’re still stuck in ‘limited knowledge.’ You’re not truly preparing them for life after high school,” she said.
“The goal is to get them up with the team. This is providing clear information to the parents so we can identify the children who have these needs and give them the skills they need to succeed.”
Although grades for the vast majority of individual schools have not been released, statewide figures show less than 9 percent of all Oklahoma public schools received a D or F. Nine percent received an A and 82 percent received either a B or C, according to figures provided by the Education Department.
Ed Allen, president of the American Federation of Teachers union in Oklahoma City, was less critical of the A-F system. He said he believes parents and educators will become more involved with their neighborhood schools once the grades — good or bad — are released.
“We can’t work harder and make schools better by ourselves. If it was easy to have great schools, we’d all be doing it,” he said. “If it spurs people to get into a dialogue on how things can be improved, it’ll be good, but it can’t turn into a blame game.”
Barresi said that’s not her intent. “This is not about pointing fingers at a school,” she said. “We want to be centered on helping teachers make improvements to help kids who learn differently.”