Challenges remain for K-12 education after a new Oklahoma School Report Card shows dropping grades in three key areas. According to data released by the Oklahoma State Department of Education on Monday, the overall grade for Oklahoma schools fell from a C to a D, and overall school grades for public schools in Carter County also dropped.


The data has been compiled into an online dashboard at oklaschools.com and more contextual data is expected to be added in coming months, according to a Monday statement.


Grades issued this week are based on data collected at the end of the previous school year and measured using indicators like chronic absenteeism, postsecondary opportunities, and graduation rates. Six indicators in total each receive a point value that translate into a letter grade, which then calculates a school’s overall grade.


“We still have challenges and are not yet where we want to be,” said State Department of Education superintendent Joy Hofmeister. While the most recent data shows overall setbacks in graded areas among Oklahoma public schools, a Monday statement from Hofmeister says academic growth--or how much younger students learn year to year--improved for students in third through eighth grades.


“The good news is we are on the right track,” Hofmeister said. “Individual students are making progress, although too many are not yet college or career ready.”


While no Carter County schools received a failing overall grade, none improved their overall grade from the previous school year. Of the 24 public schools in the county that were graded, 13 schools received an overall D, 12 schools dropped one letter grade, and two schools dropped two overall letter grades.


The biggest changes in letter grades between 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years in Carter County came from Lone Grove Middle School and Springer High School, with each seeing their overall grade drop from B to D. Efforts to reach Springer school officials on Tuesday were unsuccessful, but Lone Grove Public Schools superintendent Meri Jayne Miller pointed to chronic absenteeism for her middle school’s dropping grade.


“Chronic Absenteeism is another ’key phrase’ right now used by the state department in which school districts are held accountable for students who are absent more than 2 days per month,” Miller said in an email on Tuesday. “Attendance is actually an area where we...used to receive bonus points but as you can see that has drastically changed,” she said of the Lone Grove Public School district.


The best grades in Carter County came from Plainview Public Schools, where all three schools received overall grades of B for the 2018-19 school year. Despite the highest grades in the county, the elementary and high school in Plainview each dropped a letter grade from the 2017-18 school year. Efforts to reach Plainview school officials were unsuccessful on Tuesday.


In Lone Grove, Miller said she does not want to make excuses for the drop in grades but believes that new reporting methods may not provide an accurate picture of a school’s performance. “The discrepancies that the state is seeing right now regarding the school report card is the result of a transition period typically experienced when the state department changes the rules,” she said.


Under changes to federal education laws in 2015, the OSDE started using a new system of grading schools last year that considers six indicators. Schools are now graded on academic achievement, academic growth, chronic absenteeism, and English language proficiency progress for English learners. High schools also receive grades for graduation rates and postsecondary opportunities.


While many indicators statewide suggest few major improvements across all schools, Oklahoma high schools in general have seen increases in postsecondary opportunities and some graduation rates. Thanks to a reported 400% jump in internships, every measured demographic experienced more participation in postsecondary opportunities.


A slight increase in four-year graduation rates--from 82.9% to 83.6% statewide--also suggests a higher rate of students are graduating on time. Most high schools in Carter County also saw significant improvements in four-year graduation rates.


After the discouraging grades were released, school officials seem to consider them with a sense of stoicism. Hofmeister offered a veiled challenge to educators and administrators in her Monday statement. “If we do not make meaningful changes in our instructional practices, we will not see meaningful change in our academic performance,” she said.


In Love Grove, Miller accepts the methodology of grading schools with skepticism but ultimately knows the grades can play a role in improving education for her students. “Our excellent educators have already begun efforts to study this data thoroughly and plan accordingly for the future,” she said.