A little over two weeks after the release of report cards for each of Oklahoma's 1,744 school sites, the A-F grading system is already having more impact than the prior Academic Performance Index system of school evaluation.
After posting the school grades, the Oklahoma Department of Education's website experienced as many as 29,000 transactions per minute. In less than a week, the A-F Report Card had about 679,580 hits. That's more hits than there were students in Oklahoma schools last year. Clearly, the public is paying attention to school evaluations that were ignored in the past.
The attention is already prompting school officials to proactively address shortcomings. Muskogee Superintendent Mike Garde acknowledged to a local newspaper that some student subgroups were “not doing as well as we liked.” He pledged a renewed focus on them. He also noted a new principal has been installed at an elementary school that got a D.
In Edmond, Ida Freeman Elementary Principal Brenda McDonald said a focus on improvement began in August when she first learned the school would likely get a C. The school now has a science and social studies coordinator to work with teachers and students to help them catch up.
These are positive changes enacted, at least in part, because of the heightened public scrutiny fostered by the A-F system. It also shows why the state Board of Education was right to reject an alternative calculation suggested by some superintendents.
Without getting into the minutia, which focused on how to calculate student growth, the results make clear that the superintendents' proposed alternative would have significantly watered down the grading scale. Instead of having 57 percent of Oklahoma schools get an A or B, the superintendents' model would have placed an astounding 70 percent in those top two categories.
Under the system approved by the state Board of Education, 138 schools were given a D. The superintendents' plan would have cut the figure to just 83.
Oklahoma City's F.D. Moon Elementary was among those likely to jump from a D to a C under the superintendents' plan. In 2011, more than 60 percent of fourth-grade students at that school were not proficient in reading compared with just 32 percent statewide. In sixth-grade math, 60 percent of Moon students weren't proficient. In social studies, 67 percent of fifth-graders were not proficient.
The superintendents' alternative plan would have declared a school to be average (as a C grade is typically understood) even when a majority of children aren't proficient in numerous core subjects. To make the school grading scale so lax would have been a disservice to all Oklahoma students and their concerned parents.
Rather than encourage unwarranted complacency about student and school performance, it's important that the A-F system encourage improvement.
In Florida in 1999, more schools got a D or an F than an A or a B. By 2010, 74 percent earned an A or B — even though the bar for achieving higher grades had been raised four times.
The same thing can happen in Oklahoma. Awareness among parents of school grades and the resulting pressure on local officials is a significant development in this state.