State gives answers on A-F school grading system, but questions remain
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
9/26/12 at 7:22 AM
Read the state’s 32-page guide to understanding the new A-F school grading system.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education responded Tuesday to a list of questions and concerns about a new A-F school grading system that three state lawmakers submitted on behalf of school leaders across the state, but several differences remain.
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.
With the deadline for districts to seek corrections to their letter grades being Friday and final grades due Oct. 8, State Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, and Reps. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, and Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, intervened.
They submitted a list of nearly 20 questions on behalf of superintendents whose districts account for 160,000 public school students throughout Oklahoma.
State education officials responded to the questions in writing around 4 p.m. Tuesday, and superintendents who had seen the response Tuesday evening said it revealed some new and also some surprising information.
"I absolutely reject the statement that schools submitted incorrect data," said Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard. "I am very confident in the data Tulsa Public Schools submitted, and I'm hearing from other superintendents that they are in theirs, as well. It's counterproductive to keep blaming the schools."
Ballard said that "we need to be at a point where we are not blaming each other but working together toward an easily understood system. It has to be fair and it has to be easy to explain to the parents."
He said the state's response makes clear that it differs from school leaders in its interpretation of the legislation that created the new A-F grading system and that there are philosophical differences about how schools should be held accountable for student growth.
"I hope over the next few days we can work some of these issues out so it is a fair grading system," Ballard said.
A commonly expressed concern for school leaders is the fact that schools will not be graded according to the same 4.0 scale that is used for grading students.
For students, 90 percent or better earns an A grade, and a 3.6 grade point average on a 4.0 scale is an A average. But under the state's new grading system, a school needs a 3.75 GPA, or 93.75, to be deemed an "A" school, officials said.
Many school officials have said publicly that they didn't seem to be getting all of the credit they thought they were due for student growth measures and that schools' grades could be unfairly skewed by a small percentage of students in that category.
Sapulpa Superintendent Kevin Burr said he was stunned to learn Tuesday that the state is now calculating average student growth from year to year using test data only for students who showed gains. That means the bar against which all schools are held is much higher.
"To use a football analogy, that's like calculating a running back's rushing average using only his gained yardage, not his losses. It's excluding a significant portion of students, and it skews the average incredibly high," Burr said.
"In order to receive points for a grade that will move you from an F to an A, you have to exceed that state average. That state average has always been calculated against all kids. The lawmakers didn't write that calculation method."
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.
Burr said he and other like-minded superintendents actually support the creation of school report cards, but he said they have "legitimate concerns" about how state officials are going about their calculations.
"It's hard not to come off as if we hate the whole idea, but we actually like the fact that people will be able to make comparisons in a simplistic manner based on evidence rather than perception," he said.
"The subcategory grades are as important to school superintendents like me as the overall grades. We want them to be an appropriate reflection of what's going on in the school. We want to be able to understand the playing field, and we want to make sure we are playing by the same set of rules year in and year out."
Questions about the A-F school-grading system with Oklahoma State Department of Education's responses
Q: 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)?
A: The 3.75 GPA was selected by the State Board of Education and lawmakers as they approved the A to F Report Card rule.
Q: When will schools be able to view all data used to calculate the A-F grades?
A: This information is being completed and finalized and will be disseminated to districts in mid-October.
Q: Why are small schools exempt from accountability for subgroup performance as well as from the interventions that could help improve student achievement and performance?
A: Small schools are encouraged to make the same interventions for their students when appropriate. However, they are not required to do so under the terms of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) waiver granted by the federal government. Additionally, as mentioned above, testing results for small numbers of students from year to year are typically volatile and are not considered statistically significant under professional standards.
Q: 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?
A: A comprehensive A-F Report Card Guide was sent to school districts and posted online in April. Additionally, in April Assistant State Superintendent Maridyth McBee held a detailed training seminar with more than 300 superintendents and their representatives present.
Original Print Headline: State gives answers on A-F school grading
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470