Oklahoma took one step forward and one backward last week.
Moving forward, Gov. Mary Fallin approved rules implementing an A-F grading system for schools. Falling back, a state House committee disapproved those same agency rules to thwart reform.
Until this year, schools were given an Academic Performance Index score ranging from 0 to 1,500. The problem with API is that few people know it exists or what it means. Is a high score best? Or is it like your golf game where the lower the number, the better? The ineffectiveness of the API system is apparent by the fact that virtually no parent knows the score given a child's school.
On the other hand, everyone understands the difference between an A and an F. This is apparently what worries some in the education establishment.
Opponents claim good schools will be punished, but an estimated 60 percent will get an A or B and only 2 percent an F. That's hardly punitive.
The goal isn't to embarrass, but to incentivize improvement, which is what has happened in other states that grade schools. Furthermore, killing the A-F system jeopardizes Oklahoma's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Under A-F, about 75 schools will be identified as priority schools. Under NCLB, up to 557 will be labeled low-performing and lose control of 20 percent of their Title I money (which aids low-income children).
Ironically, to avoid the transparency of A-F, critics may subject all Oklahoma schools to greater federal control and financial penalties.
School performance measures shouldn't resemble Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.” Some schools are doing better than others; parents deserve to have that information.
Delaying or repealing this reform only fuels complacency. And that does nothing to benefit Oklahoma students.