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Originally posted October 9, 2012
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Superintendents applaud board's action on A-F grading delay
BY ANDREA EGER Tulsa World Staff Writer
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
In-depth reporting on education in Oklahoma
Area school leaders hope the state Board of Education's intervention in the release of grades they say are "deeply flawed" will send a clear message to State Superintendent Janet Barresi, who made the creation of the new A-F school grading system a cornerstone of her campaign two years ago.
At a Monday afternoon press conference in Tulsa, several superintendents spoke about the decision to delay the release of the A-F grading system for schools.
"We are not a disgruntled group of superintendents," said Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard. "I do believe superintendents, parents and others were not listened to in this debate. I think the clear statement from the state board was, 'Go forward, but get the input first and do it in just this one area.' "
That area of focus is the state's calculation of average, the bar against which each school is measured to determine nearly one-fifth of its grade.
"There are many issues that impact the integrity of a simple A-F system. Today we agreed to focus on the most egregious one: the calculation of average," said Union Superintendent Cathy Burden.
"The state Department of Education had made an arbitrary system that had grossly inflated the state average and given an inaccurate measure of schools. ... The state board unanimously voted to do the right thing. They charged the state Department of Education to recalculate the state average and find the true average."
While Barresi defended the existing calculations and had vowed to push forward and release the grades that were determined by them, Burden said the state board's intervention "validates the concern of school personnel and of parents and will hopefully set a new standard for the state Department of Education to work more collaboratively."
Jarod Mendenhall, superintendent of Broken Arrow Public Schools, went one step further, calling on Barresi to "end the blame game" and consider a pilot year for a simplified grading system.
"We do not fear reform. We do not fear accountability. We seek to engage in a dialogue," he said. "I strongly urge the state superintendent and her staff to involve the superintendents and parents who are invested in the success of our schools."
Beginning with a pilot program for the new system "would allow the state Department of Education and the schools the necessary time to understand and implement the system and make adjustments in the pilot year. It just makes sense," he said.
The crux of the issue
The contentious issue is how the state calculated "average," the bar against which each school is measured to determine nearly one-fifth of its grade.
Instead of using a true average, officials used an average of only those students who performed better on tests than they did the year before. That means the scores of students whose scores remained the same or declined were thrown out of the calculation.
A coalition of 250-plus superintendents from across the state contended that the calculation "artificially inflated" the state average and made it a near-impossible feat for schools to meet that bar.