The Oklahoma House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday intended to improve the state's A-F grading system for public schools, which has drawn criticism from school administrators since the first grades were issued last year.
House Bill 1658 would lessen the effect of the lowest 25 percent of test scores on a school's A-F grade and should improve a district's score, said Rep. Lee Denney, the measure's author.
“Lower achieving students need to be counted, but not three times,” said Denney, R-Cushing.
Reading and mathematics tests of the lowest 25th percentile of students in a school district would be counted among the entire school's improvement if the measure becomes law, she said.
Currently, the scoring system looks at the entire school results, the entire school improvement in test scores and the improvement in test scores for the lowest 25 percent of students. As a result, the lowest 25 percent of the students are counted three times, which artificially lowers the scores, Denney said.
HB 1658 would shift the improvement of the lowest 25 percent with the improvement in test scores shown by the rest of the school, so the lowest 25 percent would be counted only twice, Denney said.
To compensate, the ranking of a school that is based on the improvement in reading and mathematic tests of the lowest 25th percentile of students would increase from 17 percent to 34 percent, she said.
“This percentage increase in the ranking system will ensure fairer rankings and show which schools need to focus more on their mathematics and reading curriculums,” Denney said.
The House voted 94-4 to pass HB 1658. It now goes to the Senate.
House Democrats peppered Denney during questioning on the measure about criticism the A-F grading system has received. The Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators and the Oklahoma State School Boards Association released a study earlier this year that declared the grades “have statistical limitations that jeopardize their validity, reliability and usefulness.”
Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, said school superintendents might be better suited to evaluate their schools and rate them, but Denney said it is important to have a standardized accounting system for all public schools.
Denney said it will take time to get problems with the grading system worked out, but she believed them to be minor and able to be corrected. The state law establishing the system was passed two years ago, with the first grades released last fall.
It took Florida 10 years to get its grading system developed, she said. Oklahoma modeled its legislation after Florida's.
“I want to get the formula right,” said Denney, who expected other changes to be made to the grading system this year.
The A-F grading system is easier for parents and others to understand than the previous scoring system that consisted of a numerical scale, Denney said.
“We have a basic framework that needs some work on it,” Denney said. “I don't think it should be scrapped. … Now is not the time to tuck our tail and say it's not a good idea.”