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A-F grading system reflects poverty in Oklahoma schools

Educators say the new A-F school evaluation system is more a reflection of poverty than the quality of schools. Data from the U.S. Census and statistics of free and reduced-price lunch rates prove that theory.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: February 25, 2013

Options include individualized learning, strong leadership and an environment of cooperation. Barresi cited Oklahoma City Public Schools for offering extra class time for students during school breaks.

Some educators have to reach beyond the school doors. In Oklahoma, Barresi said she's seen visiting health clinics, expanded counseling services and community gardens to help fill in the gaps for students in need.

“One of the things that we're doing is we're trying to find best practices throughout the state,” Barresi said. “If we have these effective strategies, we need to talk together as educators.”

But educators worry that the formula reflects student demographics more than how much students learn or how well teachers teach, said Jeff Mills, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

Educators want “a fair and equitable snapshot,” he said. But the issues surrounding poverty — hunger, mobility, absenteeism — affect what happens in the classroom.

“Poverty can't be an excuse,” Mills said, “but it is a reality.”

Poverty is a

widespread reality

It's a reality teachers face across the state, said Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association.

“You do what you can,” Hampton said, “and you do it a lot of times one student at a time.”

Smaller class sizes and personalized attention can help teachers combat the impact of poverty on the classroom, she said. Better teacher recruitment, retention and pay can help, too.

“You have to be resourceful,” Hampton said. “You have to be creative.”

But the A-F formula only highlights districts in need instead of helping educators, she said.

“It's really a punitive system that labels students, teacher and schools,” she said. “Then there's no focus on how to truly improve the problem.”

That's what has been frustrating for parents, said Anna King, president of the Oklahoma PTA.

“The report card system intentionally focuses all the accountability on schools without taking into account state or district financial cutbacks and completely ignores socio-economic changes within our state and individual districts,” King said.