The state Board of Education voted unanimously Monday morning to delay the release of the much-anticipated A-F letter grades assigned to nearly 1,750 schools statewide.
The board asked the state Education Department to re-evaluate the grades after pleas from a coalition of about 260 Oklahoma superintendents who said the evaluation system was skewed.
“Are we all wrong?” Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard asked. “We're not all wrong. We're not opposed to A-F. We're opposed to the calculations.”
The board is scheduled to revisit the issue at its regular meeting Oct. 25.
Educators, administrators and parents packed the board room during the special meeting Monday, and attendees stood outside in the halls.
More than a dozen people representing districts statewide signed up to address the board. Public comments about the issue lasted for nearly an hour with all speakers asking the board to delay the grade release.
Wendy Hardwick, a parent from Broken Arrow, asked the board to take time to reconsider the formula.
“I'm supportive of the A-F system itself but want to be sure the grades are fair and accurate,” Hardwick said. “ ... They're representative of our schools, our students and our parents. I request a delay until these concerns have been addressed.”
Though many concerns have been discussed, school officials and the state Board of Education zeroed in on one: the word “average.”
“We all know how to calculate an average, but this state formula has misrepresented the term,” said Sherri Fair, director of student data and assessment for Tulsa Union Public Schools. “ ... This correction will more accurately portray the information we want to provide to parents and stakeholders.”
State employees determine a school's grade by calculating three factors: student achievement, whole-school performance and student growth.
To determine growth, student progress is measured against the statewide average of only students who passed state tests and showed positive gains from one year to the next. The superintendent coalition has said this calculation is distorted because it isn't a true average of all students.
For example, some students are unable to earn points for their school grade because they score “unsatisfactory” or “limited knowledge” on state tests, even if they make dramatic progress from one year to the next.
“If the state average is negative growth, and that student has positive growth, that means something,” Board Member Brian Hayden said.
Board member Joy Hofmeister agreed: “And that means something to their parent, their teacher, their school and their community.”
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi said it wasn't good enough.
“If you have a student that is unsatisfactory one year and remains unsatisfactory, let's talk about that,” Barresi said. “How is that child going to be successful in life?”
System was meant
to be easy
The A-F grading system replaces the previous assessment tool.
The Academic Performance Index gave schools a score on a 1,500-point scale mandated by No Child Left Behind, which no longer applies to Oklahoma because of a federal waiver granted to the state this year.
In addition to the overall letter grade each school will receive, schools also will receive letter grades in five subject areas: reading, math, science, social studies and writing.
Letter grades also will be given to each district and the state overall.
One of the goals of the A-F reform was to give parents and the public an easy-to-understand snapshot of how schools are performing. Board member Gen. Lee Baxter said the complex formula for calculating the grades may not fulfill that mission.
“I'm just concerned about whether or not it's right,” Baxter said.
“I know it's not easy, and we said it would be. We said it would be something everybody could understand. I can't. I can't get through it. Analytically, I can't get through it.”
But board member Bill Price said the intricacy of the formula is a trade-off.
“That's one of the problems generally in doing this,” Price said.
“The more you introduce fairness, the more you increase complexity. That's the nature of it.”
Barresi said adjustments will be made to the formula and data collection process as needed in the future.
“Some of it needs to be adjusted in law,” she said. “Some of it needs to be adjusted in the rules.”