Lawmakers, educators question state's A-F school grading system
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
9/25/12 at 7:28 AM
Three Tulsa-area state lawmakers are trying to get the questions and concerns of school leaders across the state about a new A-F school grading system addressed by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
State Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said he and Reps. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, and Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, submitted a list of nearly 20 questions on behalf of superintendents whose districts account for 160,000 public school students. They have been told they should receive a response Tuesday.
For weeks, school administrators have been publicly criticizing the preliminary grade calculations they received from state education officials as rife with errors and lacking in supporting data and explanations.
The deadline for districts to seek corrections to their letter grades is Friday, with final grades due Oct. 8.
Representatives from a host of school districts, including Bixby, Broken Arrow, Claremore, Durant, Edmond, Enid, Jenks, Midwest City-Del City, Oklahoma City, Owasso, Ponca City, Putnam City, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Stillwater and Union gathered in Sapulpa last week to discuss the matter.
"There are a couple of things I gleaned from the meeting," Crain said. "My impression is school districts don't have a problem with A-F grading. They do have a problem understanding how it is being applied and implemented.
"A lot of districts still have questions about how some of these figures were arrived at. That led me to believe there is still some miscommunication between the state Department of Education and the school districts."
John Cox, superintendent of Peggs Public School, said he believes the A-F report cards could be a viable document for his community to "better understand the quality of our school," but he said refinement is needed.
For example, he said, the grading system does not use the same 4.0 grade point average scale that is used for grading students, and schools' growth measures can be unfairly skewed by a small percentage of students.
For students, 90 percent or better earns an A grade, and likewise a 3.6 grade point average on a 4.0 scale is an A average. But under the state's new grading system, schools need a 3.75 GPA, or 93.75, to be deemed an "A" school, officials said.
Pryor Superintendent Don Raleigh said the state began offering examples of how the new school-grading system would work months ago, but he said the real-life grades and scores they recently received are much more complicated to understand.
"We don't have access to all of the data that they are basing the calculations on. They say, 'Confirm everything,' but the data system is not in place to do that. They are almost having to check everything by hand," Raleigh said.
The examples he offered were not knowing whether just his junior high or also his high school was being held accountable for Algebra I test results and why they received a "D" in the category of advanced coursework when he supplied a list detailing their "robust" offering of Advanced Placement and honors courses.
"Did we mark a class a wrong way? We don't know," Raleigh said. "We are a week away from our final verification date, but I think there is a number of questions that have been presented, and I don't think those have been addressed.
"I don't think any of us are opposed to change and new innovations and reforms. We just want a fair playing field and to know that we're looking at the same data."
He added, "We are going to be held accountable. Our communities are going to be looking at us based on what our grades are."
Assistant State Superintendents Kerri White and Maridyth McBee acknowledge that the A-F grading system places a much larger burden for providing data on the schools themselves than was required of them under the previous system. Under that system, the state primarily generated the data that was the basis for an Academic Performance Index score of 0-1,500 for each school and district.
But they say that is why districts were given a full 30 days to verify their data and seek corrections in the new system.
"This is the first time that so much of the data is being submitted by districts instead of coming directly from the state department," White said. "In this case, they often did not give us complete data."
McBee said the volume of calls from school districts has picked up substantially - from 100 two weeks ago to 250 by the end of last week.
"The vast majority, probably 80 percent, has to do with advanced coursework," she said.
"The report card also has a growth component to give students credit for moving students from where they were to the next level. Especially for larger districts, that was a whole lot of data that they had to go through to see if they had information for students we didn't have," McBee said.
"Given that we just don't have a whole lot of staff, I think it might have been frustrating. Our intention is to respond to those calls as quickly as possible."
Department spokesman Damon Gardenhire said he thinks some districts simply disagree with how the state is measuring student growth as part of the process of grading schools.
"That's actually in the rules that were approved by the state board and the Legislature last spring. We can have disagreements, but there's another discussion about the process, and I would like to keep them separate," he said. "The Legislature passed the law; the board passed the rules; and the governor signed those rules."
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard has been an outspoken critic of errors in the initial grade information his district has received from the state.
When contacted Monday, Ballard would say only, "We are working with the State Superintendent's Office to resolve some of these issues, and I hope we are successful in that effort."
Some of the questions
Source: Questions lawmakers submitted to the Oklahoma State Department of Education about the A-F school-grading system
- Why was the decision made to require a 3.75 overall GPA to receive an "A" rather than a figure that more closely reflects the public's understanding of an A as 90 percent or higher (a 3.6 GPA)?
- When will schools be able to view all data used to calculate the A-F grades?
- Why are small schools exempt from accountability for subgroup performance as well as from the interventions that could help improve student achievement and performance?
- When will clear-cut guides and score sheets be available for members of the public and all stakeholders to understand how and why grades were given?
Original Print Headline: A-F school grading program questioned
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Sen. Brian Crain: He says educators he's talked to are fine with grading schools, but don't understand how the state is making its conclusions.
Keith Ballard: A critic of the grading system, the Tulsa superintendent says TPS is working with the state to address grading issues.