Oklahoma school report cards finding resistance from parents
BY ANDREA EGER & KIM ARCHER World Staff Writers
Sunday, October 28, 2012
10/28/12 at 7:45 AM
Find your school’s report card. Watch a state official explain the
system. Read the state’s parents guide. Read the Tulsa World’s
Oklahoma's new school report card system may be intended to inform parents and communities about school performance, but many parents and teachers reacted to the first-ever letter grades for schools by saying they don't match their own knowledge or experience.
Jamie Ausbern, whose son is a third-grader at Pratt Elementary School in Sand Springs, said she was surprised when she found out the school had received a grade of B when it was just recognized by the federal government as one of the top public schools in the country.
"It was shocking. I definitely believe that Pratt should have been an 'A' school," she said.
Thursday, the same day school report cards were released by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Pratt was recognized by state officials as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School for exemplary academic achievement. Only 269 schools nationwide received that honor this year.
"Blue Ribbon status is not something that's easy to come by. I think the national award outweighs the state's grade card," Ausbern said. "I think there's an issue with the report card."
Pratt parent Tracie Wilson said she was confused by the grade and questions the state's methods.
"It's supposed to be one of the best schools in the nation," Wilson said.
The report card system is intended to inform parents and communities about school performance, not to be a means of holding them accountable by the state or federal government.
Earlier this year, Oklahoma was granted a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to replace much of its existing accountability system. Under the new system, schools that are low-performing are identified as either "Targeted Intervention" or "Priority Schools" and could face sanctions.
The highest-performing schools are designated as "Reward" schools and could be freed from regulations.
Still, Oklahoma's school report cards can factor into those designations, as any school identified as an "F" school and some identified as "D" schools are designated as Priority Schools and all other "D" schools are designated for Targeted Intervention.
"Both processes stem from the same data, and while there are some correlations between grades received under Oklahoma's A-F school grading system and some designations under the (federal) flexibility waiver, these are truly separate processes," said Tricia Pemberton, Oklahoma Department of Education spokeswoman.
Kevin Pearson, a vocal music teacher at East Central Junior High School in Tulsa, said he and his colleagues doubt that people who would label them as a "D" school understand the realities they confront every day in a school where 100 percent of the students qualify for free lunches.
"Our students walk through the door already at a disadvantage. We are parents to these kids as much as teachers," Pearson said.
He has numerous students who are pregnant or who already have children of their own at home, and he can't help but think making it through the school doors at all is a feat for them and other struggling kids.
"One of my students in seventh grade is on a first-grade reading level. His family hasn't been in this country for very long, and every night he goes home and works for his dad until 10 o'clock to help his family survive. Even the best teacher on the planet could not get him up to a seventh-grade reading level in time to look good on the state tests," Pearson said.
Tulsa Public Schools has invested a significant amount of money, much of which came from private funding and grants, to help its teachers and principals track student progress more precisely with something called value-added data. Pearson said that feedback is more useful than any state test for any parent wondering what difference a school makes in student achievement.
"Based on that information, we know we are not achieving as well as we would like to, but we also know we are helping our students grow more than any other nonmagnet school in TPS - and we are working our tails off to do it," Pearson said.
"There are days I get here at 6 a.m. and I don't go home until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. Then for somebody from the state to come say, 'You're not doing a good enough job,' is just an insult."
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard is advising parents to rely on their own knowledge in judging their children's schools and not on the new state grading system, which he calls "arbitrary and capricious."
In a letter that was sent home with students on Friday, Ballard wrote that the Tulsa school district's reform efforts are extensive and were begun long before state leaders' latest calls for change.
They include the creation of a new teacher-evaluation system that has been held up as a state and national model and which is already used to dismiss ineffective teachers, as well as an association with Teach for America that provided a record number of students with access to a five-week summer school session.
Reform efforts at the sixth-grade level and an overhaul of Rogers High School have already produced higher test scores, he pointed out.
Ballard said he had received numerous phone calls and emails from parents and teachers who disagree with their schools' grades. " 'That's not us; we're better than that,' is what they are all saying. And I assure you that is the truth."
He said he won't waste any more time or energy discussing the grades and added that the state Department of Education is incapable of supporting struggling schools.
"This state department has lost an untold number of people over the last two years. They say they're going to help? They're not equipped to help schools. We don't need their help," he told the Tulsa World.
Original Print Headline: School report cards finding resistance
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Fourth-graders Derek Serage (left) and Eliana Fuller listen to a lesson at Carnegie Elementary School Thursday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World