Report cards are out for Oklahoma public schools. In Friday's Ardmoreite a look was taken at how the grades are calculated overall. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday editions will take a district-by-district look at the released grades.
Davis Public Schools had one of the larger grade disparities between sites. The elementary scored an A- and the high school an A, while the middle school received a D+.
"It's very, very discouraging for our teachers and staff. They do work hard, but we're not going to have a pity party," Martin said.
In Davis, the middle school is comprised of fifth through eighth grades. Fifth and eighth grade are the two most tested grades, because in addition to reading and math exams, students take exams in writing, science and social studies.
Changes to the tests threw off teachers' ability to prepare students.
For example, Davis Middle School students have previously scored in the 90th percentile on the writing test. Prompts were about a paragraph in length.
The new prompts involved reading two passages, about five pages in total length, and then reading and responding to the prompt.
"My eighth-grade teacher said it would take her a couple of days to do this assignment," Martin said.
Grades on the writing test became a point of contention as the state said students plagiarized the prompt instead of paraphrasing it. However, to have the test rescored would cost the district $125 per student if the student doesn't score any higher.
Also, of the students in the bottom 25 percent, 70 percent of them scored higher than they did last year. However, they did not score high enough for it to be "significant" for the A-F grading rubric, which is that each student had to score 42 points higher than the previous year.
"They scored higher on a harder test. Scoring one point higher than last year should be enough," Martin said.
The formula also lowered the amount of points given for students who do raise their score. For example, last year a student whose scores went from Unsatisfactory to Satisfactory would be worth two points for raising through two categories. This year, those same scores would only be worth one point.
All the changes lead to confusion on what to do to improve next year.
"Next year, we don't know what to expect. We test again in only four months," Martin said. "We will take the data and see what we can draw from it to get better. We're always looking to get better and will continue working towards that goal."
The elementary, intermediate and middle school each received a B- while the high school received a B+.
"What it means to us is hard to answer," said Superintendent Gary Jones. "It's better than a C, but the way the scores are calculated does not paint an accurate picture of Sulphur Public Schools." Before the grades even came out, school administrators and teachers were looking at ways to improve the number of students who scored Limited Knowledge on state tests. However, the frequent changing of the cut scores as well as not being told what those scores are, makes it difficult to set defined goals.
"We do our best to keep up with the changes in cut scores," Jones said. "We have to prepare to hit a moving target, which makes it more difficult to pass." Jones, formerly the high school principal, said a statistic he looks for is the number of regular education students who pass the state exams, with the goal being at least 70 percent.
The only scores below that were in writing and science, the two subjects where tests were changed unexpectedly.
Science scores were a D at every level, and writing, which is only in the middle and elementary levels, was a F.
"The new type of writing prompt brought everyone down. The scores are indicative of that. Now, we will have to adjust better on the fly," Jones said.
Another low part was the Bottom Quartile Growth, with the middle school and elementaries receiving D's and the high school receiving C.
While Jones said he supports charting growth, he recommends changing the way in which it is calculated. He suggests students taking an exam at the beginning of the school year, midterm and the end of the school year.
"It would allow us to see where the kids are. If we give them the same level test, we can see their growth," Jones said. "Let's determine growth between the beginning of the year and the end of the year instead of two separate tests from two different years."
Schools in Kingston stretched across the B range. However administrators expressed doubts about the picture shown.
"This system is not what legislators, administrators and parents hoped it would be," said Superintendent Jay McAdams. "It will take several years to work out the kinks. I have full confidence in legislators and administrators to get this system the way we all want it." The middle school received F's in Science and Writing Student Achievement. Both the high school and middle school received D's in Bottom Quartile Growth.
"I think we have a better school than this grade indicates," McAdams said. "They are judging our school on a very small amount of data. It's only about 15 percent of what we do." For example, at the high school, seven courses have End-of-Instruction exams that are used to determine the school's A-F grade. The school teaches over 70 different courses.
"We do a lot of important things," McAdams said. "We teach courses because they are pertinent to our students. They wanted accuracy, but anytime you take a small percentage of something, it's not accurate." The other issue is that Kingston Public Schools has 86 percent of its students in poverty, a factor not considered in this report card.
The lack of consideration for socioeconomic factors limits the comparisons that can be made between different schools.
"I don't know what the answer is, but we have 86 percent poverty that isn't taken into account. You can't really compare us to other schools. We can't really compare to Madill, despite being so close because we don't have the Hispanic population. We all have different challenges," McAdams said.
Madill Public Schools also saw grades that were across the spectrum, with the high school receiving a B-, the middle school receiving a D and the elementary school receiving a C.
"It's the same demographics. How can they be so different?" asked Superintendent Jon Tuck. "I don't put a lot of validity in it. I'd put my staff up against anybody." Administrators also worried about the accuracy of the scores, as they spent the verification period trying to keep up with the five changes the State Department of Education made to the scores during that time period.
"We were criticized for not catching mistakes, but things were left out even after all the changes," Tuck explained.
Examples include points for advanced coursework at both the middle school and the high school needing to be corrected.
The middle school received F's in Student Achievement and Bottom Quartile Growth.
School officials said issues during the exam period last spring affected the scores. The testing company had problems that resulted in two hour delays in the middle of exams.
Also, the science cut scores were raised, and the writing prompt changed from what teachers had been preparing students.
While the high school received a higher score overall, staff were frustrated by the lack of points awarded for the cohort graduation rate. To receive the 5 bonus points, a school has to have a graduation rate of 90 percent.
"We were a fraction of a point, but we are put in the same category as a school that is zero," said district administrative assistant Joanna Tuck. "There is no leveling for being almost there, no credit for the progress we have made in that area." Madill has a student population that is nearly 50 percent English Language Learners. Last year, four students did not complete the ELL program before testing, yet all students were still tested.
"This is frustrating and disheartening. It's no more than a reflection of school demographics of high poverty and high ELL (English Language Learners)," Joanna Tuck said. "Our large amount of ELL students is our challenge and we are proud to take it. We test everybody, and we hold ourselves accountable. We're constantly striving to improve." The high school scored B's in English Student Achievement and English Bottom Quartile Growth. An A was received for English Overall Student Growth and Writing Student Achievement.