UNDER Oklahoma's A-F grading of schools, an astounding 57 percent of schools received an A or B. Just nine of 1,744 sites received an F. In any other setting, this would hardly be considered punitive. Yet some school administrators seem to think it's the equivalent of a Bosnian war crime.
These administrators are demanding that state officials respond to a report critical of the A-F system, a report they helped fund through dues to the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators and the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. Tax dollars that could go to the classroom instead go to OSSBA, and often to CCOSA, financing opposition to reforms that allow citizens to learn if education tax dollars are being used effectively.
Still, if those superintendents want a response, one has already been provided by David N. Figlio, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. Figlio calls Oklahoma's A-F system “an exemplar of systems of its type, and a model for other states and jurisdictions to follow.”
“Oklahoma's school grading system should be replicated elsewhere, rather than abandoned,” Figlio wrote in a letter sent to the chairman of the state Senate Education Committee. The comments are worth noting because he's a national expert on accountability systems and, more importantly, offered his views without solicitation or payment.
While student proficiency and measures such as dropout and attendance rates are important, Figlio says overreliance on those factors can “invite educators to engage in ‘gaming' behaviors.” He praises Oklahoma's system for balancing those measures with data regarding student growth over time.
“Such a system is far less prone to manipulation — and the oft-cited distortions associated with high-stakes testing — and is also fairer, as it recognizes that schools serving disadvantaged populations have different challenges than do those serving more advantaged populations,” Figlio writes. He praises Oklahoma's concentration on the growth of low-achieving students, and says the “evidence is also clear” that issuing school letter grades provides “tangible measures to parents, community members, and educators, and leads to significant school improvement.”