107 Oklahoma school districts criticizing state's new grading system
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, October 05, 2012
10/05/12 at 6:59 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - A coalition of more than 100 superintendents from public school districts throughout the state has formed to express "no confidence" in the calculation of new A-F school grades by State Superintendent Janet Barresi and her administration.
At a press conference Thursday morning, more than 30 officials representing the group urged the state Board of Education or Legislature to halt the public release of school report cards at an event Barresi has scheduled for Monday afternoon.
"The Legislative mandate to grade schools should not be a problem but must incorporate transparency, fairness, and objectivity to have legitimacy. Superintendents from rural, urban and suburban schools express no confidence in the current methodologies utilized," said Union Superintendent Cathy Burden.
The school leaders, who represent communities large and small, rural and urban, affluent and poor, said they felt compelled to stand together to reject claims that they are disgruntled, politically motivated or even opposed to accountability.
Representatives of 107 school districts - more than 20 percent of the state's approximately 520 public school districts - had joined the group by the close of business on Thursday.
"Somehow, we have lost the guiding principle that the Legislature had when they passed A-F," said Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer. "Quality instruction was totally left out of the calculation (of grades). We want to talk about solutions and work with the state Board of Education to provide input."
The coalition representatives said a "complex manipulation of numbers" was used to arrive at what Barresi and other officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Education are presenting as simple and straightforward report cards, similar to the ones students receive.
Each administrator could provide specific examples of errors or "misrepresentations" in the state's calculations of their schools' grades.
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard took issue with state officials faulting the school districts themselves for any errors in the information the state used to grade schools.
"In fact, 94 percent of the data used in the (grading) formula is generated by the state Department of Education, not the school districts," Ballard said.
When a reporter asked why so many districts were complaining when there were reportedly only 2 percent of Oklahoma schools receiving "F" grades, Ballard replied, "It's not about whether it was 2 percent here or 3 percent there - it's about the accuracy of the grades."
A common concern among 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 percent, to be deemed an "A" school, officials said.
What was described by several speakers as "the most onerous" aspect of the state's calculation method is their claim that the bar against which every school is measured is an average, when in fact it is an average of only students who made gains on state tests.
Ballard said that practice resulted in lower grades for 30 schools in Tulsa alone.
Burden said it is such an egregious way to compare schools that she can't help but question the motives of state education officials who devised the method and, she said, have ignored all concerns related to it.
"This has certainly inflated the expected level of performance and skewed the average," said Burden. "This unique definition of average has resulted in lower grades for most schools."
She added that eight of her 17 schools also lost credit because of a "rounding error made arbitrarily by the state."
Burden and Joe Siano, superintendent of Norman Public Schools, said they were shocked to find that school grades were largely determined by student demographics rather than the effectiveness of schools.
"This means that the A-F formula has done little more than to mirror the existing socio- economic status of a school's student population, rather than reflecting the quality of instruction, school climate or parental involvement," Burden said.
Siano said school administrators have tried unsuccessfully for months to communicate their concerns.
Now they need state officials "to acknowledge that there are legitimate questions about the process" and consider delaying the release of the report cards until those concerns can be thoroughly addressed.
Later in the day, state Department of Education spokesman Damon Gardenhire issued a response from his office, saying it will not delay the release of report cards.
"Districts should have nothing to hide and should embrace the transparency and accountability offered by this reform," he said. "Parents have a right to know this information. These report cards are clear-cut, straightforward and fair."
Gardenhire went on to claim that school district representatives from across the state "had a role in crafting the information that would be included in the report cards, including the calculations used to determine final grades."
"To hold a press conference a few days before the report cards are set to be released is nothing more than political posturing meant to derail implementation of a law that was passed in 2011," he added.
107 districts join in criticizing the new A-F grading system
Adair, Alva, Asher, Barnsdall, Bartlesville, Bennington, Bethel, Beggs, Bixby, Blackwell, Blanchard and Bristow.
Broken Arrow, Buffalo Valley, Burlington, Caney Valley, Cashion, Catoosa, Central, Chandler, Chisholm, Claremore, Clayton and Clinton.
Coalgate, Colbert, Coweta, Cushing, Dale, Davis, Depew, Dickson, Dover, Durant, Edmond, Edmond-Deer Creek and Enid.
Fairland, Foyil, Fort Gibson, Glenpool, Guthrie, Hilldale, Hobart, Holdenville, Hugo, Hulbert, Jay, Jenks and Keyes.
Kremlin, Latta, Lawton, LeFlore, Liberty, Mannford, Madill, McLoud, Medford, Miami, Midwest-Del City, Moore and Morrison.
Mounds, Muskogee, Norman, Nowata, Oilton, Okarche, Oklahoma City, Oologah-Talala, Owasso, Panola, Pawhuska, Peavine and Ponca City.
Pond Creek, Prague, Pryor, Putnam City, Rock Creek, Sallisaw, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Shawnee, Shidler, Sperry, Stigler and Stillwater.
Stilwell, Tecumseh, Tonkawa, Tulsa, Tupelo, Turpin, Union, Vinita, Waukomis, Welch, Weleetka, Westville and Whitefield.
Woodall, Wyandotte, Wynnewood, Wynona and Yukon
Original Print Headline: School grading criticized
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard speaks at a press conference criticizing the A-F grading system at the Oklahoma State School Board Association in Oklahoma City on Thursday. Ballard and other school officials rejected claims that they are disgruntled, politically motivated or even opposed to accountability. GARETT FISBECK/ for the Tulsa World
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer speaks at a press conference criticizing the A-F grading system at the Oklahoma State School Board Association in Oklahoma City on Thursday. GARETT FISBECK/ for the Tulsa World