Oklahoma schools need to get comfortable with the idea of selling themselves to parents

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: March 23, 2012

JUDGING by a recent hearing at the state Education Department, grading schools isn't such a popular idea. But then again, that's the sort of response one would expect from a public hearing.

People don't typically flock to such hearings — especially not one held during spring break — to tell pubic officials what a great job they're doing. The hearings are a forum for people to share their thoughts, in this case on the rules governing a letter-based grading system soon to take effect. And share they did.

Educators in Oklahoma have made it loud and clear that they're uncomfortable and sometimes downright mad about the direction of education reform in the state. They were none too thrilled when some of the reform proposals met with legislative approval last year or when the state's No Child Left Behind waiver was approved. They're even less happy now that the reforms are weeks away from becoming reality.

Educators should offer their critique of school reform measures. Their input matters. Unfortunately, public education advocates in Oklahoma do a shockingly poor job of stating their case in a way that resonates with policymakers. Shouting “fire” with every new proposal is not effective. People stop listening. Even worse, the voices of reason presenting detailed and valid concerns are drowned out.

Educators have some valid concerns about some of the reforms, including an A-F letter-based grading system. Policymakers at the Capitol and lower down the food chain should listen, even if it means sorting through the rhetoric to get at core concerns.

But here's what we'd urge policymakers, educators and especially parents to remember about a letter-grade system: It will never be inclusive of all that parents should or do consider when making school decisions.

The system is designed to include a variety of factors to arrive at the letter grade. Test scores are a major factor along with graduation and dropout rates, attendance and participation in advanced courses. The goal is to give parents and taxpayers better information about how a school is performing. It certainly has the potential to be an improvement over the existing Academic Performance Index.

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