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 ccoppernoll@opubco.com Modified: October 4, 2012 at 9:17 pm •  Published: October 4, 2012

An ad hoc coalition of superintendents from across the state gathered Thursday morning to express frustration and concern with the Oklahoma Education Department.

The group said a mathematical formula used to give more than 1,750 school sites in the state an A-F letter grade is flawed and does not reflect teacher quality.

“As superintendents from rural, urban and suburban districts, we express no confidence in the current methodology utilized,” Tulsa Union Superintendent Cathy Burden said.

Dozens of superintendents crowded into a conference room Thursday morning in the office of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association near the Capitol. Dozens more didn't attend the meeting but gave their support.

In all, more than 80 superintendents supported the meeting.

Gov. Mary Fallin said communities need the A-F school grades to encourage accountability, transparency and reform.

“I'm disappointed that a small group of superintendents continue to cling to the status quo by staging last-minute political stunts designed to sabotage a solid reform,” Fallin said.

The group represents about 15 percent of state superintendents but nearly half of the state's students.

State Education Department spokesman Damon Gardenhire said the meeting was immature.

“We've met with districts many times, heard their concerns and answered their questions,” Gardenhire said. “To hold a news conference a few days before the report cards are set to be released is nothing more than political posturing meant to derail implementation of a law that was passed in 2011.”

The new A-F grading system replaces the previous assessment tool. The Academic Performance Index gave schools a score on a 1, 500-point scale mandated by No Child Left Behind, which no longer applies to Oklahoma because of a federal waiver granted to the state this year.

Each individual school site will receive a letter grade. Schools also will receive letter grades in five subject areas: reading, math, science, social studies and writing.

Letter grades also will be given to each district and the state overall.

Formula debated

Burden, the Tulsa Union superintendent, said the equation used to determine school grades is “flawed and biased.”

For example, what is considered “average” for student improvement from one year to the next isn't really an average, Burden said.

The average is only calculated using scores from students who improve — not those who stay the same or fall behind.

Also, certain parts of the formula are unfairly weighted to count against schools that serve poor students, she said. For example, she said absenteeism and mobility negatively affect a school's score, while factors like school climate and parent involvement are only considered bonus points.

Norman Superintendent Joe Siano said his community expects accountability but that the grades don't give that. Siano said the formula is biased against schools with poor students.

“The A-F grading system was meant to represent to the parents the quality of instruction, not represent those populations within those schools,” he said as superintendents behind him nodded.



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