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Oklahoma superintendents attack accountability system as 'flawed, biased'

Superintendents from across the state are met Thursday in Oklahoma City to express concern and frustration about the A-F school evaluation reform.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Modified: October 4, 2012 at 9:17 pm •  Published: October 4, 2012

Edmond Superintendent David Goin cited one part of the formula that focuses on the lowest-performing students. For each school, 17 percent of the overall grade is the achievement of the bottom one-fourth of students who scored “limited knowledge” or “unsatisfactory” on state exams.

“If you define that very small population, you're talking about children who have a variety of serious needs — the most at-risk of the at-risk students,” he said. “It's really unfair to the circumstances in which those children live and to the teachers who work so hard.”

Feeling left out

State workers haven't taken educators' concerns into account, Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard said. School workers and communities were hopeful for the simplicity that an A-F could provide, but the formula used to determine those grades is complex and skewed, he said.

Ballard said the Education Department has been slow to respond, if there's a response at all.

“From the very beginning, we have sought an audience with state department officials so we could have input,” Ballard said.

The skewed grading equation is designed to unfairly embarrass schools, Ballard said.

“In Tulsa, we have achievement problems, and we know what they are,” Ballard said. “And we've worked around the clock. ... We support accountability. We support measurement of performance. It just needs to be done in a fair, concise, easily understandable manner.”

Districts had the chance to have a say in the process, but few took it, Gardenhire said. The rules for the process were first proposed in February. Since then, state workers have “exhaustively communicated with districts,” including offering personal assistants, technical training and a series of guidebooks.

“Districts should have nothing to hide and should embrace the transparency and accountability offered by this reform,” Gardenhire said. “Parents have a right to know this information. These report cards are clear-cut, straight forward and fair.”

Though letter grades are something people will understand, Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said districts are concerned the grades won't reflect what parents really want to know.

“We're struggling and working every day to improve,” Springer said. “It's just as important for us. We want it to be an accurate measurement of what performance is in the schools. Somehow we've lost the guiding principle that the Legislature had and that was to talk about the quality of instruction. And the quality of instruction somewhere in this process was totally left out of the calculation.”

State board power

The superintendents said they don't plan any legal action.

So the one recourse left would be for the state Board of Education to not validate the grades at the board's meeting Monday, which would delay the release of the information.

“The state Board of Education has an opportunity and hopefully (will) see it as a responsibly to listen to the complaints and problems that we have brought forward,” said Burden, the Tulsa Union superintendent.

That doesn't look likely.

“We're moving forward,” said Gardenhire, the Education Department spokesman. “And the report cards will be released to all citizens on Monday.”