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Originally posted October 11, 2012
BY ANDREA EGER & KIM ARCHER World Staff Writers
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
Authors of the legislation that established a new A-F grading system for public schools said the state Board of Education was right to halt the release of the first grades until concerns about how they were calculated can be addressed.
"I'm not pleased that a delay was needed but believe it is more important to make sure that everything is calculated according to the statute and the rules that were adopted," said Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The House sponsor, Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, said that while schools have been held accountable for a decade with an Academic Performance Index score of 0-1,500, she thinks the A-F system could ultimately be easier for school patrons to decipher.
"With the API scores, you knew whether you were above state average, but you really didn't know what it meant. We were consulted before the rules (for A-F) were passed, but it is very disturbing to me when you have more than half the school districts in the state saying there is a problem," she said.
"We need to look at the communication gap that clearly is going on. I'm not going to point fingers at either side."
After hearing from concerned parents and representatives of a coalition of more than 250 superintendents, the state board voted unanimously on Monday to delay certifying the grades. The number of superintendents has grown since then to more than 300.
Several board members said there were valid questions about the method state education officials used to calculate average student growth - the bar against which all schools are measured for nearly 20 percent of their grade.
Hours later, state education officials sent notices to every school district in the state stating that they were free to release their grades publicly - even though in all previous communications they had discouraged them from doing so until the report cards were certified and considered final.
"This is a local decision best left up to local administrators and the local school board," Assistant State Superintendent Maridyth McBee wrote in the Monday afternoon email.
Gov. Mary Fallin is backing the delay, saying it was good for the board to show that it is listening and being responsive to school officials and parents.
"One of the board members told me he met for three hours with some superintendents," Fallin said. "Remember, the goal is to help children and to give their parents good information."
The topic inspired State Superintendent Janet Barresi to post her first blog entry on her campaign Web page since she took office in January 2011. Barresi claimed that districts across the state were calling to seek permission to release their report cards because "they are excited about the grading system."
"The decision by the State Board of Education on Monday to postpone the release of the A-F grades for public schools across the state was a disappointment," the blog reads in a post attributed to Barresi.
"Parents across the state were expecting to see this information so they could better understand how their schools are performing, and how they could help those schools better teach their children. We worked diligently with administrators across the state to ensure they understood the factors involved in determining these grades. ... In fact, many districts had school board meetings and parent meetings set for Monday to begin the process of explaining the report cards and gaining support to improve student achievement in their districts. I look forward to giving parents this important information that they deserve and have been promised after the two-week extension."
Denney said she "could live with" the state's current grading formula but understands why school leaders and teachers are troubled by it.
"To get things right, I don't think it's ever a bad thing to delay something while you work a problem out," she said. "I am concerned about (the calculation of the state average.) I think all kids ought to be looked at. ... We might have to tweak this formula. I do think schools want it right, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Delaying something doesn't mean the whole system is bad."
Jolley said he was heartened to hear that the majority of superintendents in the state support the establishment of an A-F grading system, even amid their concerns about the system's implementation. But he indicated support for the state's philosophy of how average growth should be calculated.
"As to the measure of student growth, I firmly believe losses by other students should never be calculated in what the average growth should be," Jolley said. "We should never reward a school because someone else failed to perform. We should only desire growth be rewarded, not growth based on someone else's lack thereof."