On A-F, keep Oklahoma students out of the political crossfire

The Oklahoman Editorial Modified: November 5, 2013 at 6:14 am •  Published: November 5, 2013
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GOV. Mary Fallin’s message to schools about the A-F report card system could not have been more clear: Don’t bite the hand that signs the state budget. But here’s another phrase that seems appropriate when it comes to education politics: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Frankly, it’s hard to keep up with the back-and-forth over education reforms, in general, and the A-F grades, in particular. Every day brings a new statement, study, letter or some other form of endorsement or slam. All this comes even before the release of this year’s grades.

Education reform is hard. Fallin’s frustration over the constant barrage of criticism over A-F is understandable. The goal is simple enough: Help educators, families and communities better understand how schools are performing as a means to improvement.

But the truth is that implementation hasn’t been smooth. Each flub provides ammunition for critics. From technology issues with testing to the challenges in providing schools with accurate preliminary grades, hiccups make it increasingly difficult to believe proponents’ assertion that the A-F grades are simple and transparent. There’s also that 30-page guide to understanding A-F that could easily undermine the “simple and transparent” testimony.

It’s a sign of the increasingly divisive nature of politics in education that school leaders seek to exploit the implementation issues. That’s disappointing, too.

What is truly the value of letters home or PR campaigns heavy on why parents should ignore or at the very least discount the state’s A-F grading system? Those same letters are light on detail about what’s happening to improve student achievement. Many educators also would have the public believe a study from researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University highly critical of A-F should put a definitive death knell in the report card system, but the study fell far short of that mark.

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