Experts slam A-F grading system for evaluating Oklahoma public schools
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2013
1/18/13 at 7:00 AM
See the report: Read the full expert examination of Oklahoma’s A-F report card system.
Related story: Editorial: Barresi’s grading system flawed.
Policy experts at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University criticize the state's controversial A-F report card system for public schools as "neither clear, nor comparable" in a report released Thursday.
The new research, which was commissioned by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the Cooperative Council for School Administrators, is just the latest blow to the Oklahoma State Department of Education's new methods for holding schools accountable. The state board of education in October decided to move forward with the grade calculation methods over the objections of more than 300 superintendents.
"Despite good intentions, the features of the Oklahoma A-F grading system produce school letter grades that are neither clear, nor comparable; their lack of clarity makes unjustified decisions about schools," researchers wrote. "Building on what has already been done, Oklahoma can and should move toward a more trustworthy and fair assessment system for holding schools accountable and embracing continuous, incremental improvement."
The report was authored by three senior research scientists and four research associates at the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy at OU and two senior research scientists at OSU's Center for Educational Research and Evaluation. It was reviewed by an education researcher at the University of Colorado and a psychologist and psychometrician who is a professor and provost at OSU.
The report questions the statistical "validity, reliability and usefulness" of all three components of the new school report cards, which measure student achievement and growth and school performance.
"By not making explicit threats to the validity of report card grades, the (Oklahoma State Department of Education) misinforms the public about the credibility and utility of the A-F accountability system," it states.
In a written statement, State Superintendent Janet Barresi said she couldn't respond in detail because she and her colleages had not had an opportunity to fully review the report.
But she said, "We are always willing to listen to input on improvements to the existing system, as long as it continues to provide clear information on how children are progressing."
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard, who along with superintendents from Edmond, Norman, Enid and Union led the coalition of school leaders questioning the state's grade calculations, said the report from research scientists at the state's top universities "confirms what I've been saying all along."
"It speaks for itself. I was never opposed to A-F, but it is a flawed system and we were right - the system was manipulated," Ballard said. "In Tulsa, we are very focused on student achievement and we just need a fair system with which to be evaluated. I now would call on the Legislature to fix this."
Rather than adding together the different components to arrive at a single grade, the OU and OSU policy experts recommend that schools receive report cards with grades for each indicator of school performance, in the same fashion students are graded for different subjects.
They also called on the state to enlist objective assessment and evaluation experts to build an "exemplary" accountability system.
For the previous 10 years, Oklahoma's public schools had been assessed using a numerical school accountability scoring system, called the Academic Performance Index, or API. Barresi had campaigned for office on the idea of replacing the API scores of 0-1,500 with letter grades, saying that report cards would be easier for parents and others to understand.
In 2011, legislation was passed to formalize the A-F school grading system and subsequently, the state board of education adopted rules for the law's implementation. But not until schools began reviewing the state's first drafts of grade calculations in early September did controversy erupt.
The two organizations that sponsored the research report issued a joint statement Thursday saying they "embrace the accountability requirements and expectations" of state lawmakers, but objective research now proves the current system "does not provide reliable, valid, or useful data to parents and community members regarding school performance."
"Our ultimate goal is to work with all state officials, Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma to develop a system of evaluating student growth and schools in a fair and meaningful manner," the joint statement from OSSBA and CCOSA reads. "Our two organizations are committed to assisting in making our accountability system a national model."
1) Eliminate the single grade and develop a report card format that uses multiple school indicators that more adequately reflect a school performance profile.
2) Develop a balanced performance measurement plan that aligns with strategic goals of schools. Track school indicators longitudinally to understand growth or stasis.
3) Promote the use of valid and reliable measurement of process variables at the district and school level, to be used by schools in their improvement plans.
4) Make explicit the limitations of the accountability system and warn of its inappropriate use for high-stakes decision-making.
5) Legitimize the process by embedding assessment throughout the school year.
6) Take the time to enlist the services of assessment and evaluation experts who can objectively build an exemplary Oklahoma accountability system directed at incremental and continuous school improvement.
Source: An Examination of the Oklahoma State Department of Education's A-F Report Card by the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy (OU) and The Center for Educational Research and Evaluation (OSU)
Original Print Headline: Experts slam A-F grading
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Dr. Keith Ballard, Tulsa Public Schools superintendent. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World