Lawmakers who authored the legislation creating the controversial letter-grade evaluations of schools say the law is still good policy despite a recent outcry from superintendents and a postponement Monday in the public release of the scores.
“I think it's been kind of a bumpy ride,” said Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing.
“I have a few concerns … I still think it's good policy. What I'm hoping is done since we postponed it a little bit is to get some good dialogue between the state Department of Education and school superintendents.”
Denney was author of House Bill 1456, which was passed by Republicans and signed by the governor in 2011.
The bill mandated that the state Education Department adopt and implement a new grading system for schools based on an A-F grading scale. The grades are to be based largely on performance and improvement of students on standardized tests.
About 260 superintendents across the state have joined a coalition opposing key rules in how the A-F grading system was being implemented.
On Monday, the state Education Board voted to delay the release of Oklahoma's first letter grades.
“We have to make sure we get it right,” said Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond.
“We're one of the first states to adopt and do this. We should expect difficulties as we do it.”
Jolley said that he disagrees with some of the criticisms that have been aimed at the evaluation system, specifically defending the decision to measure the average improvement of students on state exams rather than only measuring how much students improved.
He also said that superintendents, teachers and their unions were all at the table as both the law and the rules were being written.
“All of us had input into what the rules would look like,” Jolley said. “I don't think this is a closed process.”
What others have done
Oklahoma is among 10 states that have recently adopted a letter grade evaluation system for schools, a model born and raised in Florida and promoted across the nation by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
New York City also adopted the model for public schools in the mid-2000s.
“There has been controversy surrounding each one of them as they've gone into adoption and releasing the letter grades,” said Jaryn Emhof, communications director for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit that promotes many of Bush's education reforms.
But Emhof said that push back is proof to the power of labeling schools with letter grades rather than nondescript terms or raw number scores.
“We have not seen that level of discussion and debate around a school report card,” Emhof said. “When you give a school a 1-5 or satisfactory, unsatisfactory, it doesn't for whatever reason generate that public dialogue and reaction.”
Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said that is the beauty of the law — that everybody understands an A, and everybody understands an F.
“The A-F is a huge change in how we do things, and part of it is we're asking for data that is not readily available today,” Ford said, referring to some of the growth models. “This should be significantly easier next year.”