Report cards have been issued for Oklahoma schools by the State Department of Education, despite controversy surrounding the grades' criteria.
The grading system gives a letter grade to most public school sites in the state. It began last year as a replacement for the Academic Performance Index, which gave schools a score from 0 to 1500.
According to a press release from the State Department of Education, "The grading system is part of a larger, comprehensive effort to heighten accountability and transparency for Oklahoma schools, providing parents and communities with readily understood information about how their local schools are doing."
This year's grades were approved at a special meeting of the State Board of Education Wednesday, despite school superintendents locally and across the state expressing frustrations with the formula used to calculate the A-F grades.
Several changes were made to the formula between the two grade releases. Most notable is that the Whole School Performance section that was a third of the 2012 grades was eliminated, although some aspects are used for the 10 bonus points schools can earn.
The Student Achievement section increased to 50 percent of the final grade. It is the percentage of students earning Proficient/Satisfactory or Advanced on state standardized tests.
The Overall Student Growth section is 25 percent of the final grade, up from 17.5 percent last year. Students' scores for English and mathematics from the previous year are compared to the current year. A point is awarded for each student who maintains a Proficient/Satisfactory or Advanced score from one year to the next, and for each student who previously scored Unsatisfactory or Limited Knowledge and scored higher this year. The index on the report cards is derived from dividing the points earned by the number of test pairs and multiplying by 100.
Bottom Quartile Student Growth comprises the last 25 percent of the final grade. It takes the lowest scoring students from the previous year and calculates the growth index, as figured in the Overall Student Growth, for just that bottom 25 percent of students.
To earn the 10 bonus points, elementary schools must have an attendance rate of 94 percent or higher. Middle schools earn bonus points for attendance rate, a dropout rate below 0.9 percent and students taking advance coursework over 30 percent. High schools earn bonus points for a four-year cohort rate of 90 percent, participation and performance in advanced coursework and college entrance exams, increases in graduation rate for low-performing eighth-graders, overall end-of-instruction performance and year-to-year growth in the bonus categories.
Grades had been scheduled for release on Oct. 29, but were delayed due to glitches in the calculations on the part of OSDE. According to OSDE, the department then made more than 1,100 updates to the posted scores.
"Through it all, we kept the grades online for districts to see, believing full transparency was the best course. The department worked to give districts as much time as possible to update the testing files so that the data we used in the report cards could be accurate," said State Superintendent Janet Barresi.
"But as a result, there has been much sound and fury from a number of quarters. Some district superintendents — knowing that some of their schools would be getting F's — preemptively tried discrediting the grading criteria. If these administrators put that same degree of energy and enthusiasm into turning around their challenged school sites as they did in criticizing the grades, then I am very optimistic about the future of those schools."
Many superintendents from across the state have questioned the formula used to create the A-F grades, a position with which Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) agrees.
"I think we need to continue working on the formula," Ownbey said. "It will take a while to get a formula. Florida took several years to get it. We need a report card, but I am not convinced we have the criteria."
One issue Ownbey noted was how schools are only required to test 95 percent of students.
"Some schools are purposely not testing kids, while schools in my district are graded on 100 percent of their students," he explained. "We need to test 100 percent and then take the top 95 percent."
He also warns of the things the report cards don't say.
"I wouldn't put a lot of stock in them until we have the criteria right," Ownbey said. "Grades don't tell the whole story. I caution parents and others that there are still a lot of things that need to be worked on. I believe we will get it right. We're just not there yet."
Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) is also open to looking at changes, as he has met with area superintendents and plans to discuss the system with the SDE.
"The concern I have is whether the metric they use to grade the schools is fair," Simpson said. "There are different schools with different demographics, and it may not be fair to them. We need a metric that is fair and applied equally to all schools."
He approves the elimination of the Whole School Performance section.
"It included things like parental involvement. How do schools improve that? To penalize them is wrong. We have taken a lot of warm and fuzzies out. Now it focuses on numbers," Simpson explained.
Yet, Simpson also admits there is still work to be done.
"It's better this year than last year, but we may still need to improve it. We don't need to use a one-size-fits-all approach," he said.
Statewide, 354 schools, or 20 percent, received an overall A, compared to 160 in 2012. There were 499 schools that earned an overall B – 28 percent of all schools – while 472 (26 percent) received C's. That compares to last year's total of 842 B's and 594 C's.
There was also a significant rise in D's and F's, with 263 schools getting the former and 163 schools receiving F's, a combined 24 percent of schools statewide. In 2012, the report cards recorded 138 D's and 10 F's.
Barresi said the drop in scores was expected due to the changes in the calculations and the rigor of the tests.
"Our students do not know less than they did, and teachers are not doing a poor job. Far from it," Barresi said. "Classroom teachers are working hard, responding to more rigorous standards that will help children be prepared for successful and happy lives. As I had noted in August at a state Capitol news conference, this is a transformative time for Oklahoma education. The move to higher standards and expectations will be challenging, but the rewards will be generations of young people ready for college, career and citizenship."
Distribution of grades in the area compare to those statewide. Of the schools in Carter, Johnston, Love, Marshall and Murray counties and Ringling, there are 11 A's, 23 B's, 14 C's, 13 D's and 3 F's.
Compared to 2012, there are seven more A's, 11 more D's and three more F's this year.
Grades varied greatly even among school sites in the same district.
What kind of grades did area schools receive? The district-by-district breakdown begins in Monday's Ardmoreite and continues each day through Wednesday.