The controversial A-F report cards were finally released Wednesday and more than three dozen schools in Oklahoma's largest school district received failing grades, up from one school the previous year.
Oklahoma City Public Schools received 39 Fs, 20 Ds, 14 Cs, 10 Bs and 10 As under a revised format that came under heavy criticism from educators across the state who contend the grades don't accurately reflect school performance.
“The overall results are clearly a disappointment for many students, parents and teachers who worked so hard to improve on the scores from the grading method used last year,” Interim Superintendent Dave Lopez said. “But we understand the law has set the higher academic standards and we also have higher aspirations as a community and a district.”
Of the district's 93 schools, 18 schools improved, 10 schools stayed the same and 65 schools decreased. Overall, Oklahoma City Public Schools received a grade of F. Last year the district's grade was a D.
Among those falling off was Webster Middle School, which received a failing grade.
“As a teacher, finding out that our school received an F was extremely frustrating because we worked extremely hard and so did our students,” said Janet Garrett, who teaches language arts to eighth-graders. “We did several things to try to raise test scores, and we're continuing to do so this year to make sure our test scores increase.”
Despite the discouraging news, Oklahoma City school district officials vowed to redouble their efforts to improve student performance by improving attendance and parental involvement.
“Obviously, we're not meeting the needs of every individual kid,” said Tamie Sanders, director of secondary schools and reform for the district. “We need to learn how to do that better.”
Attendance is the single most important factor in student achievement, Sanders said.
“Missed instruction equals missed opportunities,” she said. “We can't teach them if they're not here and that's the parent's responsibility.”
Not ‘cause for despair'
The grade cards for 1,785 individual public schools were certified by the state Board of Education on Wednesday and made public by the state Department of Education. District grades were posted briefly by mistake on the Department of Education website Wednesday, and removed. Spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said those grades will be available “in a couple of days.”
Calculation errors delayed the release of the state's second-ever report cards and prompted heavy criticism of state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and the department she leads.
“There are many more A schools in this year's report than there were last year, but there is a significant increase in D and F schools as well,” Barresi told a packed house near the state Capitol. “These grades are not surprising nor are they a cause for despair.”
Barresi said the grades are a reflection of increased academic rigor and improved standards designed to strengthen accountability.
“It does not mean our children know less than before or that teachers are doing a poor job,” she said. “The A-F report card just means that we are expecting more from them and we have every confidence that our schools and our students will rise to that challenge and they already are.”
Barresi recognized two schools in the Oklahoma City district — U.S. Grant High School and Pierce Elementary School — for overcoming the odds to make dramatic academic improvement.
Grant, traditionally a poor-performing school, missed an A by a point, she said. And Pierce, where nearly 90 percent of student test-takers are eligible for free- or reduced-price meals, received a B- after 91 percent of students passed math and nearly 85 percent of students were proficient in reading.
Two other schools, Belle Isle Enterprise Middle School and Classen School of Advanced Studies, received grades of A+.
How were schools graded?
Schools received scores based on a 100-point index that translates into a letter grade. The scores consist of two categories, including student performance on state-mandated standardized tests (50 percent) and student growth (25 percent for overall student growth and 25 percent for growth among some low-performing students).
Schools can earn up to 10 bonus points for factors including attendance, dropout rate, high school graduation rate and advanced coursework.
The most recent calculation was passed this spring by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.
Critics of the grading system said it doesn't recognize the work that teachers and principals are doing to increase student achievement.
Among the schools making gains was Wilson Arts Integration Elementary School in northwest Oklahoma City, which improved from a B- to an A-. Wilson was the only elementary school to receive an A grade.
Principal Kirk Wilson said a key to the school's improvement was improving attendance, which it did by offering incentives and recognition.
The school received 10 bonus points that made the difference between an A and a B.
“Wilson is blessed with a huge amount of community and parent involvement, and we could not do the things that we do without their support,” Principal Kirk Wilson said. “I'm proud of teachers and staff. I knew that we had worked really hard last year with all of our kids.”
Students affected by a two-day testing interruption in April were not included in the calculations.