MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 3, 2012

Fallin approves rules for new school grading

A-through-F system meets resistance from school officials

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday approved an Oklahoma Department of Education plan to set up an A-through-F grading system for the state’s public schools, even as the proposal faces growing resistance from school officials and legislators.

While Fallin was signing the rules, however, a House committee voted 9-1 to disapprove them, setting up a possible showdown between the Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature. The resolution disapproving of the new rules heads to the full House for a vote. If it passes the House and Senate, the rules Fallin signed would be scuttled.

Fallin, who signed the new report card system into law last year, said they are part of a broader effort to improve accountability of local public schools.

“To ensure that we are providing quality schools that are serving our children well and to identify those instances where we are not, the state is establishing an A-F grading system to measure school performance,” Fallin said in a statement. “This new system will allow parents, students, teachers and administrators to quickly and accurately evaluate the performance of their schools based on data linked to graduation rates, high level course work, performance on standardized tests, and a variety of other factors.”

But the new rules have been opposed by school officials and lawmakers who say they’re concerned about the way the grades are determined and a lack of input in the rulemaking process.

Angela Monson, the chairman of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education, said school officials in her district were not given an opportunity to participate in the rulemaking process.

“Oklahoma City Public Schools is the largest school district in the state, and our superintendent, deputy superintendent and several officers expressed a concern that they did not have an opportunity to engage in the drafting of the rules,” Monson, a former state senator, told the House Rules Committee on Wednesday. “There is some real concern, not just in Oklahoma city but across the state, in terms of the level of that input.”

While Department of Education officials acknowledged not every school district in the state was involved in the rulemaking, an effort was made to include a broad range of participants, said Maridyth McBee, assistant superintendent of accountability and assessment.

“Tulsa and Oklahoma City were strongly represented, as well as medium-sized suburban districts, and we made sure that we had small, rural districts so that we would have the points of view of all kinds of districts across the state,” McBee said. “We included high performing and low performing districts.”

Other school officials voiced concerns about the matrix used to determine a school’s letter grade, which includes student achievement, overall student growth in math and reading, growth of the bottom 25 percent of the students, and whole-school performance.

Ginger Tinney, executive director of the Professional Oklahoma Educators, said many school administrators are overwhelmed by all the major changes in state education programs that have taken place since new Republican superintendent Janet Barresi took office in 2010.

“We are in a very hostile environment,” Tinney said. “We’re not going to deny the elephant in the room. People are angry.”

Barresi spokesman Damon Gardenhire encouraged lawmakers not to reject the rules and said the department would be forced to push ahead with the A-through-F grading plan even if the rules were disapproved.

“I would urge lawmakers who supported this reform last year to stand in the gap ... for parents and citizens that supported this reform and let’s move forward,” Gardenhire said. “We have a law that’s on the books, and we’re going to continue to move forward with that. If we don’t have the rules in place, we’ll have to continue to implement the law regardless of that.

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