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Equation to calculate Oklahoma's school grades still considered flawed, officials say

Every school in the state received a grade in October, but superintendents say those letter grades are misinforming the public about school performance.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND Published: December 2, 2012

Students are sorted into four categories based on performance: unsatisfactory, limited knowledge, satisfactory and advanced.

For every student who improves in the course of a year from one category to another, the school earns a point.

Schools also are awarded points for students who maintain the proficient or advanced category for two consecutive years.

“If you remain proficient or advanced for two years in a row, then you get a growth point because it was decided that you were gaining knowledge,” said Maridyth McBee, assistant state superintendent for accountability and assessment.

Finally, schools were awarded growth points if a student in the limited knowledge or unsatisfactory category improved more on tests than the average improvement of all other students.

That was the sticking point for many superintendents. They said the average should be a true average that also takes into consideration students who regressed, thus lowering the bar that a student had to get over to earn a growth point for the school.

The growth measure is intended to recognize the work that lower performing schools do. A school's student population may come in at a lower level of academic performance — due to external factors like poverty, high mobility, single-parent households, foster care and homelessness — yet the school still could be considered high performing because of how quickly students progress in a good environment with excellent teachers and administrators.

No child left behind

Before schools were awarded letter grades, they were awarded points on a scale from 0 to 1,500.

Under the old system — the Academic Performance Index — 227 schools were considered in “need of improvement” the 2010-2011 school year. The needs improvement list is a federal designation of schools that had failed to make enough progress in the course of a year to meet requirements.

The state itself didn't meet the threshold for adequate yearly progress in the 2010 to 2011 school year. The expectations for API scores had steadily been increasing over the years until every school would have been expected to score a perfect 1,500 on the scale in 2014 — a mandate that came with President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation.

Under the new system — the A to F grading scale — 10 schools received F's and 138 received D's.

There were 160 schools that received A's, 841 schools with B's and 594 schools with C's.

“Part of the history I've heard and criticisms around education in the state of Oklahoma is that we've watered down things so much that really we are behind national averages even though we think the state is doing great because of test scores,” said McBee.

She said the letter grading system was established to correlate back to where the state is at in academic performance.

“If we make it so that the hurdle is so easy to get over, what are we really accomplishing?” McBee asked.

The letter grades, much like API scores, are composed of several factors, not just student performance on standardized tests.

But to complicate things further, the letter grades will not be used to satisfy the No Child Left Behind Act. Another classification of schools, one that districts have seen and will be released sometime in mid-December, is being used instead.

McBee said the A to F classification is an easier designation for the community to understand than the new measure for No Child Left Behind.

Edmond Public Schools Superintendent David Goin said he finds it ironic that under the No Child Left Behind Act they have several schools that are labeled as the highest performers — Reward Schools. But under the A to F grading scale that is being sent out to parents and publicized, many of those schools received B's.

“We have nine elementary schools that are referred to as Reward Schools,” Goin said. “This year, of those Reward Schools only three made A's and the reward schools are in the top four percent of achievement.”

Goin said the biggest issue in the calculation is the growth component, particularly in the calculation of growth among the lowest quartile.

He said that it is not in fact an analysis of the bottom quarter of students, but only those students in the unsatisfactory and limited knowledge categories. He said in some Edmond Public Schools that is only 15 to 20 students out of hundreds.

“You're talking about children who, it could be questionable about whether they should be taking the test or not,” Goin said. “Either we have very, very weak elementary education across the state, or there's something amiss with the formula.

“What we've ended up with is an extremely large number of B's in the state and a dearth of A's, and so the span of achievement levels even among your B schools is tremendous,” he said.

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