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Originally posted September 14, 2012
School officials see flaws in state's grade plan
BY KIM ARCHER & ANDREA EGER World Staff Writers
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
With less than two weeks left for public schools to review the data used to grade them on an A to F scale, school officials say they are frustrated with multiple errors and a lack of detailed information from the state.
"I think it rolled out so quickly before they could answer their own questions. We're building the airplane as we fly it," said Janet Dunlop, chief academic officer at Broken Arrow Public Schools.
Administrators from districts both large and small say the preliminary calculations they received from the Oklahoma State Department of Education are rife with errors and that state officials have not provided all of the supporting data they need to verify that their grades are correct. The deadline for districts to seek corrections is Sept. 28.
Under 2011 legislation, Oklahoma public schools will receive a letter grade of A to F rather than an Academic Performance Index Score from 0 to 1,500, as they have for the last 10 years. The first school accountability grades are set for public release in October.
The new grading system will allow parents and residents to easily find out how a school is doing without having to look at complicated information, state officials say.
"I think it's premature, in the midst of a time period when you're supposed to be correcting data, to have concerns about data not being correct. That's the entire point of the 30-day period," said state Department spokesman Damon Gardenhire.
Since the system was one of state Superintendent Janet Barresi's signature campaign initiatives and she has been in office nearly two years, school leaders said they expected the roll-out to be less haphazard than it has been.
Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said the new system includes a "complicated appeals process and examining the confusing parameters that determine a school's grade."
He added, "This is not a personal assault on the leadership at the Oklahoma State Department of Education; but an opportunity to let the public know that as the leader of Oklahoma City Public Schools, I have concerns with how the grades are calculated and I believe this reform measure is not an adequate measure of progress for our students."
Tulsa Public Schools officials said they believe they need to appeal the grades of 10 to 15 of their sites.
Errors identified to date include the downgrading of an elementary school and junior high because of graduation rates, even though those only apply to high schools, an incorrect graduation rate for a high school, plus middle schools, junior highs and high schools not receiving credit for advanced course offerings.
Maridyth McBee, assistant state superintendent for accountability and assessments, said her department has worked hard to assist schools during the review process and has provided numerous forms of guidance and support.
But Larry Smith, assistant superintendent for district accountability at TPS, said none of the state's written guidance or online resources provide schools with the detailed information they need to decipher the A-to-F calculations they have received in large spreadsheets.
"I like that they have simplified the system to a letter grade because it's easier to understand, but the process that has gone into calculating it is far more complex than the old system," Smith said.
He fully acknowledges that some of the difficulties that his district and others are reportedly having can be attributed to the fact that the grading system is new. However, he said sorting out the state's calculation errors has been far more laborious and time-consuming than it should be.
"It's just the enormity of all of the calculations. We have had to spend a lot of time checking and cross-checking, especially because we found some errors and this is a brand new system," Smith said. "When you look at how they calculate growth, they are literally matching a student to their previous test scores and for us, that means 10,000 scores that have to be sorted through."
Several school districts reportedly received notice on Friday afternoon that the state had designated additional school sites as "Focus" schools for 2012-13. Focus schools are those identified as having significant achievement gaps among subgroups, such as English language learners or students with learning disabilities.
"It did affect TPS," Smith said. "Some of the schools were a bit of a surprise. Some of the details that went into those designations we are still waiting to hear."
Broken Arrow schools also learned Friday that, in addition to one school on the "Focus" school list, two more were added.
"We want the calculations. We want to see it so we can walk through it ourselves," Dunlop said.
Sherri Fair, director of student data and assessment at Union Public Schools, said she, too, needs more information about why some Union sites were designated as Focus schools.
"How can I verify if it's correct if I don't know the number or value that they have assigned to me?" she said. "We would really like to have those numbers to know how close we are to being off the list."
McBee disputes school administrators' contentions that the new system is far more complicated than the one created under the No Child Left Behind Act that it replaced.
"I don't think it's more complicated, but it's new. For everybody, it's brand new," she said.
A-F school grading system
Annual report cards, based largely on student performance on state tests, will give letter grades to every public school and district, beginning in October.
A: Excellent progress
B: Above-average progress
C: Satisfactory progress
D: Less-than-satisfactory progress
F: Failing to make adequate progress
Under the law, 33 percent of a school's grade will be based on test scores, 17 percent on achievement gains in reading and math, 17 percent on reading and math improvement among the lowest-performing fourth of students in a school, and 33 percent on "whole school" improvement.