NOW what? That's the question everyone from school leaders to teachers to parents to community leaders to policymakers should be asking themselves after last week's release of A-F grades for the state's schools.
A few suggestions:
It's November. Weeks ago, educators had to review what student data they had to adjust instruction for in the current school year. That's been done and should continue to happen as schools deliver local tests that assess areas of strength and weakness.
We expect many schools have made or are making adjustments to science curriculum and instruction, since the state raised the standard for students to score at a proficient level. No doubt, schools also are continuing to look at early childhood literacy as they prepare students for the law that requires most students to read at grade level by the end of third grade or face possible retention.
What we don't want to see is continual public griping about the A-F system. School leaders have wasted enough time and energy on that. By all means, continue to push through normal channels to refine the system. Offer constructive input.
Parents should be asking what the data behind the letter grade means. What are the biggest areas of strength? Where is the largest opportunity for improvement? What's happening in the school to improve student achievement, and how can parents support that?
Community leaders (including those in the faith community) should ask the same questions of their local schools and then carefully consider the answers. Schools at every level can benefit from community involvement, whether it's a daily commitment or a once-a-year event.
School leaders must be prepared to answer the questions and have productive options for parents and those in the community who want to help. They can't afford to miss the opportunity to connect the community with their schools and students.
Policymakers now have a short window of opportunity to reflect on this year's A-F process and results before the next legislative session begins in February. Those in leadership within the state Education Department and at the Capitol have some work to do.
As we've noted before, the grandstanding by some school officials in opposition to the grading formula was over the top. However, this doesn't offset the struggles the state had in producing the grades in a timely and accurate manner.
If you believe in the saying that “perception is reality,” then the process must get better. Even House Speaker T.W. Shannon said implementation of the grades “did not go as we in the Legislature directed it to go” and raised questions about whether A-F has achieved the “fair and understandable” standard.
What's required of everyone is patience and humility. The days and weeks leading up to A-F weren't the state's finest moment. Schools are under severe pressure, as are state education officials — all of whom are trying to implement a menu of reforms to improve public education. Throwing an election into the mix compounds the pressure, at least for the grown-ups.
What the data tell us is that Oklahoma still has much work ahead. Scores went up for high school students in a number of areas but the tests will soon be more difficult. More than a quarter of last year's third-graders didn't read at grade level, according to the results. That's not good enough.
Oklahomans talked a lot these past few weeks about public education. Let's direct that energy and effort to helping schools improve student learning, and A-F will have accomplished a core part of its purpose.