A-to F report card plan draws stiff contrasts with other states
BY ANDREA EGER & KIM ARCHER World Staff Writers
Sunday, October 14, 2012
10/14/12 at 7:57 AM
Local school leaders who are advocating for change say neither Florida nor any other states who followed Florida's lead in adopting an A-to-F school grading system calculates student growth the same way Oklahoma does.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education's calculation of average student growth has become the primary dispute of a coalition of more than 300 Oklahoma school superintendents. That average is the bar against which all public schools are measured for nearly 20 percent of their grade.
School officials dispute the state's method, which throws out the scores of all students whose scores remained the same or decreased from the previous year. The state Board of Education agreed that this was a valid question and has delayed the release of grades until at least Oct. 25.
Larry Smith, assistant superintendent for district accountability at Tulsa Public Schools, has spent the past week studying the A-to-F grading systems in 10 other states, as well as the system used in New York City. He couldn't find another state that is using a state average to hold schools accountable for student growth.
He said other states assess their schools using more sophisticated and mathematically sound methods of measuring student growth from one year to the next.
"The tools used to measure student growth in other states are far more sophisticated and comprehensive than our model," Smith said.
The two most commonly used models are Florida's and Colorado's.
Florida was the first state to adopt an A-to-F grade card as a school accountability system and is often held up as a national model for education reform because of its student achievement gains in national testing over the past 10 to 15 years.
Smith said Florida schools are held accountable based on how many students have met or exceeded a year's worth of growth on a consistent, 12-year scale.
Colorado's model groups students into four categories, based on achievement levels, and unique growth goals are set for each of those four groups of students.
"What we're measuring is not a year's growth. Ours is simply a number out there, an average, and you hit it or don't," Smith explained.
New Mexico is also in the process of implementing a new school-grading system, but critics there have called it far too complex.
M. Kim Johnson, a retired physicist and member of the nonpartisan Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education in New Mexico, said student growth generally shouldn't even be included in determining a school's grade.
"If it is done properly, it has no impact on the scale scores that I assume you are getting from your state tests," Johnson said. "Someone decided to add growth to the grading system because it 'sounded good,' and possibly because this specific method will show an artificially inflated growth."
Johnson is one of the coalition's mathematicians and scientists who analyzed New Mexico's new A-to-F grading system and concluded it was too complex for most people to understand.
As author of the coalition report, Johnson also has examined A-to-F grading programs in other states, though not Oklahoma.
Lisa Muller, assistant superintendent of curriculum at Jenks Public Schools, said other states that have similar A-to-F grading systems figure growth differently than in Oklahoma's new system.
"I'm not an expert in the other state systems, but I do know that a number of states have these A-to-F systems - Florida, Indiana, New Mexico and Colorado are some examples. There's not one of those states that uses only positive growth to figure a state average," she said.
Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall pointed out that other states use a traditional grading scale, unlike Oklahoma.
In other states, 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.
"Why?" Mendenhall asked. "Is this system truly what's best for the students of Oklahoma? As professional educators, we'd like to be part of that conversation so that we can offer solutions, not just criticisms," Mendenhall said.
Last Monday, state board members were swayed by parents and educators who asked them to hold off on the release of the grades. In two weeks, the A-to-F school report cards will come before the board again.
State Superintendent Janet Barresi and several of her employees have criticized school leaders, saying their concerns are really masking a resistance to public accountability
"I can say that school districts are not trying to hide poor grades," Muller said. "So this is not about trying to hide poor performance, it's about making sure the grades given to the public are accurate and follow the written rule as it was set out."
Melissa Abdo, parent coordinator with Tulsa Area Parent Legislative Action Committee, said she hopes parents will benefit from the delay by having clarity about their school's final grade.
"Parents need to be confident in the grading system and method used to determine those grades," said Abdo, who resides within the Jenks Public Schools boundaries.
Owasso Superintendent Clark Ogilvie said he would like to see an extended timeline for input or this year be used as a pilot year for the grading program.
"Our districts have some very bright data people working on this, but the fact that we have been directed to concentrate on only one part of the A-to-F formula rather than the formula as a whole concerns me," he said.
Original Print Headline: Report card plan draws stiff contrasts
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Jarod Mendenhall: The Broken Arrow Superintendent says the grading scale used in the report card system ignores traditional percentages. "Why?" he asks. "Is this system truly what's best for the students of Oklahoma? As professional educators, we'd like to be part of that conversation so that we can offer solutions, not just criticisms."