In Oklahoma, schools now will be given an “A-F” letter grade based predominantly on whether students show improvement on state tests.
School officials at the Oklahoma History Center on Thursday for the announcement said they were optimistic about the move to a growth measure and more flexibility. But they expressed trepidation about some aspects of the waiver.
Ranet Tippens, superintendent of the El Reno School District, said administrators are thrilled for the new emphasis on student growth, something that will ensure excellent teachers in underprivileged school zones get recognized for how much their student improves.
Tippens cautioned that the state's current exams are not currently conducive to measuring growth.
“Getting a test that reflects growth, that will be a big challenge,” Tippens said. The current state exam is based on grade-level proficiency, rather than on measuring a student's growth.
Barresi said the state is in the process of developing a student growth measure and also will look at implementing benchmark tests for students throughout the year. Now exams are given one time a year in the spring.
Maridyth McBee, interim assistant state superintendent of accountability and assessment, said the state already has developed a way to measure student growth using the current exams and is working toward tying those to teachers.
Of the 10 states that received waivers, Oklahoma's was one of three that came with conditions.
The condition is that Oklahoma fully implements all of the reforms, particularly the A-F grading system, that it proposes in the waiver.
Barresi said her department is in the process of writing the rules for the grading system that was created by lawmakers last year and it will be before the state Education Board in March. The rules will then head to both the Senate and House for approval and finally to the governor's desk.
“We've been very, very careful in writing the rules,” Barresi said.
In a conference call with reporters, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised all 10 of the states that received waivers for laying out thoughtful plans “to empower educators at the local level.” He noted that Oklahoma's application addressed school culture, parental involvement, student attendance, dropout rates and high school rigor.