Researchers: Study of Oklahoma's A-F grading system for schools revealed big problems

BY PATRICK B. FORSYTH AND CURT M. ADAMS Published: January 30, 2013
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As co-authors of the A-F report released recently at the state Capitol, we'd like to affirm the independence of the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University researchers who were commissioned to examine the A-F grading system and recommend improvements, in response to multiple concerns that improvement was needed.

While conducting the study, the research team had no contact with either of the organizations that commissioned the analysis. The report was submitted to those organizations; no revisions were made or requested by anyone outside of the research team.

What the team learned while conducting its review was that the three numerical components upon which the letter grade is based all have serious psychometric and/or conceptual flaws, rendering them invalid (meaning that they don't measure what they claim to measure) and unreliable (they behave inconsistently as indicators). Arbitrarily combining these problem-ridden components makes the final school grade meaningless.

The research team concluded that the letter grade could not be salvaged, despite our charge to propose a fix for only what was broken. Our conclusion to scrap the system was reviewed and endorsed by Robert Linn, whose credentials include a stint as chair of the National Research Council's Board on Testing and Assessment. We believe the letter grades are so indefensible that their use is nothing less than unethical.

“Policymakers shouldn't retreat from A-F grading system” (Our Views, Jan. 22) is without merit. In some cases, the letter grade is more clearly the product of a school's ZIP code or size rather than actual school performance. Reducing the complexity of school performance to a single indicator is consistent with a punitive purpose rather than an agenda directed at school improvement; it was our impression that the goal of the accountability policy was primarily school improvement.