, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 12, 2012

School grading system up in air

While Department of Education officials prepare report cards for Oklahoma schools, legislation to stop the report cards lingers in the House.

In late April, State Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, filed a House Joint Resolution disapproving the new A-F report card system the state uses to “grade” schools. The resolution passed the rules committee by a 9-1 vote and now awaits discussion on the house floor.

The same day as the rules committee vote, Gov. Mary Fallin signed the rules implementing the A-F grading system. As a result, the education department is going ahead and preparing to put the rules into place, said DOE Communications Director Damon Gardenhire.

State Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, said Fallin was “out of order” in signing the rules before the Legislature voted on them.

Gardenhire countered that the A-F rules go into effect unless the “the entire legislature disapproves them.”

The State Board of Education adopted the A-F system as a way to make it easier for parents to see how well a school is doing, state education officials said. The A-F report card replaces the Academic Performance Index, which gave schools a numeric score of up to 1,500 points. The API was based on student performance on state math and English tests, attendance, graduation and dropout rates.

The new system grades a school’s performance on a combination of the following factors:

• 33 percent on student test scores.

• 17 percent on yearly improvement in test scores.

• 17 percent on annual improvement in reading and math (Algebra I or English II for high school) for the lowest 25 percent of the students.

• 33 percent on various factors including graduation rate; attendance; dropout rate; participation and performance in college entrance exams and advanced courses.

Shelton said the administrative rules adopted in March by the Oklahoma Board of Education are contrary to the law that mandated the system.

In a media release, Shelton said the rules flout the law’s efforts to make the grading system easier to understand.

Instead, Shelton said, “a complex system of subgroups is used to determine a school’s grade. That system makes it almost impossible to understand how the grade came about.”

Shelton said the A-F system “favors performance in the form of a number rather than school improvement.”

“We need to take into account how schools improve their performance, rather than simply looking at the bottom line,” Shelton said in the release.

A Department of Education official said the department stands by the rules.

“The rules were vetted and they reflect state law,” said Tricia Pemberton, Department of Education communications specialist. “We also have measures in place to help show schools how to calculate their own grade.”

Cannaday maintained the Legislature must approve the rules for them to take effect, so the governor’s signature was premature. He called the Department of Education’s rules “nebulous, non-quantifiable and ambiguous.”

A main problem with the grading system is the point system the department uses to determine the grades, he said.

“It’s convoluted to be sure,” Cannaday said, adding that the rules base their grades on a number of different subgroups.

“There are three pages of rules to look at,” the former school administrator said. “I’ve said I could never explain this to a parent.”

Shelton’s resolution must pass the house before going through the committee process and voting process in the Senate.

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