MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 4, 2013

School grading system in cross hairs

Bill would create group to study it with an eye toward overhaul

— If House Bill 2044 passes, a task force will revamp the State Department of Education’s evaluation system.

The legislation would create the School Report and Assessment Calculation Review Task Force, which will reconstruct the state’s A-F report card.

“It’s not best to just fix pieces of it,” said Mike Garde, the superintendent of Muskogee Public Schools. “If you want a good system, then you revisit the whole thing — you just have to rebuild. But it has to also be inclusive of the people who it impacts.”

Garde said he hopes the Legislature votes to make the department rethink the report card rules.

“Yes, the goal is to create a report card that accurately shows school performance, but we need to engage all the parties in the conversation in building a good A-F grading system,” he said. “Any time you are trying to find a solution like this one, you want to include the individuals that can help you develop the best product.”

The task force that HB 2044 would create would have 12 members, including some who represent superintendents and students across the state.

Garde said the task force is closer what the state needs to solve its school evaluation issues.

The A-F report cards are scores the state gives each school and each district based on:

• Student achievement.

• Overall student growth.

• Bottom quartile student growth.

• Whole school performance.

When the first round of scores under the new system came out in October, area superintendents were surprised by some of the scores, particularly those in the bottom quartile of student growth and advanced placement participation.

Fort Gibson Superintendent Derald Glover said he appreciates the state’s attempt to address those concerns.

“However, they only scratch the surface of the issues of the current grading system,” he said.

The proposed changes address some of the area school district’s concerns, according to a media release from the SDE.

Changes proposed include:

• Giving credit for each advanced placement course taken.

• Removal of the “school climate survey” as a bonus component.

• More time for districts to review the information and data submitted to the state before final calculations are made.

• Changing the definition of the “bottom 25 percent of student achievers.”

Some of the proposed changes would have raised the scores in some areas for Muskogee and Fort Gibson schools had they been in effect to begin with.

Both schools received F’s for advanced placement participation, for example, and those scores would have risen considerably under the proposed changes.

Glover said the state should follow the recommendation of a joint study conducted by researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University that the A-F Report Card system should be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch.

“In light of that research, I feel there is a need for a total overhaul to A-F that would result in the development of an accountability system that is valid, reliable and useful,” Glover said. “The state has an opportunity to take top researchers’ advice and get something right.”

Sherry Fair, the department’s executive director of communications, said the state has received positive feedback from some districts on the report cards.

“Our hope is that parents, teachers and district  administrators will look at those grades and begin a dialogue for the benefit of their students,” Fair said. “We’ve heard several stories from teachers, parents and superintendents who really looked closely at those report cards and used what they learned from them that data to make changes and improvements.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

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