MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

October 21, 2013

For area educators, state's grading system fails

They say school performance ratings inaccurate

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— School grades released recently by the state are inconsistent and flawed, area school officials say.

The Oklahoma Department of Education released the A-F grades to schools last week, just before many schools dismissed for fall break. The state uses the letter grades to measure school performance and allow the public to evaluate a school’s performance. The letter grades will be made public after the Oct. 29 meeting of the state Board of Education. They are embargoed until then.

Muskogee Public Schools Superintendent Mike Garde said he saw the grades for Muskogee’s schools and questioned their accuracy.

“We have a lot of questions ourselves about those results,” he said. “I’m sure principals will be taking the information that is there and analyzing it during this embargo time to see if it represents their school correctly. They will be reviewing the test data to see if there are any consistencies that need to be addressed.”

Some school officials said the grades have not been consistent and have been changed several times since they were first posted.

“It’s hard to put a finger on it when the grades changed four or five times,” said Warner Superintendent David Vinson.

State Superintendent for Public Instruction Janet Barresi issued a written apology Friday for the “delay and confusion.”

“A commitment to transparency can have an embarrassing downside,” Barresi’s statement read. “That was certainly the case when the grades were posted Oct. 16 even as they continued to undergo several versions. A last-minute correction in the calculation resulted in errors that subsequently had to be fixed. To ensure transparency in this process, the decision was made to leave the grades up as they were modified.”

Tricia Pemberton, a senior communications specialist in the Education Department,  said the letter grades have not changed since Thursday. Schools have 10 days to review the grades and submit any corrections to the state.

State Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, said the grading system is “flawed beyond making whole.”

In a media release, McPeak said the Department of Education “once again plunged state schools into chaos.”

The release said the state sent the grades to schools “just as department officials and state legislators who oversee the apparently flawed system left for a national education reform conference.”

McPeak’s release cited a study critical of the A-F system. The study was issued by the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Education Policy and Oklahoma State University’s Center for Educational Research and Evaluation.

Their report found:

• Very small differences predicted by letter grade.

• Errors in classification.

• Letter grades hide low test performance of poor and minority children.

McPeak said state education officials are “willfully disregarding the advice of education researchers at OU and OSU on the A-F process, who have said twice now that the grading system does not do what it says it does.”

Barresi countered the joint report Monday with a statement: “This analysis appears built on the wrong and dangerous presumption that minority and poverty-stricken children cannot learn. I reject that notion.

“Equally disturbing is that the researchers’ conclusion belies the importance and effectiveness of teachers.”

McPeak said Monday that the A-F system “is not flawed, it’s broken.”

“If it’s flawed, it’s fixable,” he said, adding that the system is beyond repair.

Garde said he appreciates McPeak’s “voice of reason.”

“Muskogee Public Schools supports sound academic measurements,” Garde said. “But the methodology employed must not be demoralizing or disincentivizing for teachers and students.”

He said the district continues to seek “the best ways to help our kids.”

“We’re going to keep the negative refrain played by the State Department of Education on our radar, but not in our way,” Garde said.

Fort Gibson Superintendent Derald Glover said, “This current system is not a solid system.”

He said the OU-OSU report reinforces the district’s concern about the state tests and A-F system.

“We want the state to give us time to show true growth,” Glover said. “I am not a proponent of using state tests the way they (the state) are using them.”

Vinson said the school grades also are coming out after one-third of the school year has passed.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.