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Oklahoma policymakers shouldn't retreat from A-F grading system

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: January 22, 2013

FOR months, some administrators have loudly objected to the state's new A-F grading system for schools. Now, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators and the Oklahoma State School Boards Association have released a study declaring the grades “have statistical limitations that jeopardize their validity, reliability and usefulness.”

Gosh, who would have guessed a study commissioned by administrators would line up so perfectly with the views of those administrators?

The report is the latest attempt by opponents of accountability and transparency to roll back the A-F grading system, which they view as flawed mostly because it's easily understood. The report tries to obscure that clarity by applying a thick layer of statistical jargon and obsessing over minutia.

We don't doubt revisions could fine-tune school-performance measurements and increase the grading system's effectiveness. But that doesn't require trashing the whole system, particularly given the debatable claims of this report and its authors.

Under the current system, University of Oklahoma researcher Patrick Forsyth declared, when you are “confronted with the grade for one school, you're not sure what that means.” Really? We've noticed no such problem. Parents seemed to quickly grasp that a D or F grade indicates lackluster school performance.

Researcher Robert L. Linn argues attendance and graduation “are poor indicators of school effectiveness.” We doubt that parents agree. Most people believe the goal of a school system is to get kids across the graduation finish line with a diploma. No one looks at a dropout factory and thinks, “I hope my child gets sent there!”

The A-F grading system's focus on attendance has led some communities, such as Tulsa, to consider beefing up truancy regulations. That's a good thing. Children can't learn if they aren't in school.

While Forsyth had no problem declaring the current A-F system is “not salvageable in its current form,” the report's recommendations for improvement were notably vague. It called for using “multiple school indicators” (something already occurring) and developing a “balanced performance measurement plan” aligned with schools' “strategic goals.” What does this mean? Your guess is as good as ours.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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