Gov. Mary Fallin approved rules Wednesday for an A-F grading system for public schools.
At nearly the same time, a House committee passed a measure seeking disapproval of the rules developed by the state Education Department to implement the scoring system.
The rules are in effect and will be used unless the House of Representatives and the Senate both pass House Joint Resolution 1125, which calls for disapproving them.
The House Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee voted 9-1 to pass HJR 1125, which now is headed for the full House for possible consideration. Several school officials complained to committee members that the rules are confusing and unfair, and were developed without enough feedback from public school officials.
The rules were adopted by the state Board of Education in March and were based on House Bill 1456, which was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed last year by the GOP governor.
Damon Gardenhire, spokesman for state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, said HB 1456 is the law and if lawmakers would decide to disapprove the Education Department's rules the agency still would undertake a grading system.
“We have a law to enforce,” he said. “I would say the vast majority of parents and citizens across this state support this reform.”
Fallin said the law, as well as the rules, are part of a comprehensive effort to improve performance and accountability measures at public schools.
“Nothing is more important to the future of this state than improving our schools,” Fallin said. “Job growth and prosperity are directly linked to work force quality and educational achievement. All of those things require high-quality educational institutions at every level.
“To ensure that we are providing quality schools that are serving our children well and to identify those instances where we are not, the state is establishing an A-F grading system to measure school performance,” she said.
Barresi said the rules will increase transparency and accountability in education.
“The A-F reform has strong support among parents and the general public,” Barresi said. “The will of the people was carried out last year when legislators passed the reform and it was signed into law.”
It's unclear when the resolution disapproving the rules would be heard on the House floor. House Republicans met in a closed caucus meeting for a couple hours after the committee's vote. It was unknown if they discussed the committee's action.
John Estus, spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said a decision hasn't been made.
“Input is still being gathered and evaluated,” Estus said.
HB 1456 passed last year mostly along party lines, with Republicans supporting it. The Senate passed it 31-14, and the House approved it 59-31. Backers said it was meant to give parents a more easily understandable ratings system for schools than the API system, which rates schools on a 90-1500 scale.
Reworking of rules is sought
Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, said he filed HJR 1125 because under the new grading system schools are evaluated based on performance in various factors:
• 33 percent on student assessment test scores
• 17 percent on annual student improvement gains on tests
• 17 percent on annual gains for students in the lower 25 percent
• 33 percent on whole schoolimprovement
The whole school improvement factor includes graduation rates, ACT test scores and attendance rates.
“This is not a good plan, and it needs to be reworked to more closely reflect the intent of the law,” Shelton said.
Shelton said the rules provide a misleading and confusing grading system. For example, the rules assign an A for scores of 93.7 or higher instead of the usual 90 to 100 percent range.
“If a parent sees that their local school received a grade of B, what they don't see is that that school may have an actual performance score of 93.5 percent,” Shelton said.
“That is an A to everybody but the Department of Education, apparently.”
Shelton said the rules are hard to understand and follow.
Districts say they weren't consulted
Oklahoma City School Board Chairman Angela Monson said her school district, the largest in the state, was not asked to make comments on the rules until the state Education Department held its first public hearing in March after the rules were written.
“You would think if you want to involve the stakeholders you would do that before you write things,” she said. “Our engagement only came really during the first public hearing when the Board of Education met to discuss the rules.
“They may have talked to some people; they did not talk to us. They did not talk to Tulsa.”
Maridyth McBee, assistant state superintendent of accountability and assessment, said Tulsa and Oklahoma City, as well as medium-size urban districts and rural districts, were represented in early discussions about the rules.
“Not everyone at the districts apparently remembers or knows, but we do,” she said.
Shelton, who voted against HB 1456, said Wednesday he still disagrees with it, saying it gives too much power to the state schools superintendent and allows for too little feedback from parents in the school districts.
Four school superintendents complained to committee members that they weren't given an opportunity to voice their opposition to the proposed rules or that their suggestions weren't followed.
McBee said public school officials were given a chance to review the rules before public hearings were held on them earlier this year.
Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, author of HB 1456, said her intent was get information about public schools out to parents and residents. In a letter sent to members of the House Rules and Government Oversight Committee, she suggested it might be best to test the grading system for a year so school officials and those in the community would have a chance to better understand it.
“I would really like to see the first-year implementation as one that would let schools know where they stand as opposed to a punitive scoring,” she wrote. “Sort of a trial run or pilot year so schools can get the kinks out of the system and also to learn of their problem areas so those can be worked on and resolved.”