Reading, writing and arithmetic have long been a part of education in Oklahoma. However, controversy may soon be added to the mix.
Reading, writing and arithmetic have long been a part of education in Oklahoma. However, controversy may soon be added to the mix. A little over two weeks ago, the Oklahoma State Department of Education unveiled its 2013 A-F Report Card for the state's public school districts and schools. This marks the second year of the use of these report cards. This year's grades were released on Nov. 6 by the OSDE. The following is a list of district grades for the school systems in Pottawatomie County: Asher (C), Bethel (B), Dale (B+), Earlsboro (D+), Grove (B), Macomb (D), Maud (D-), McLoud (D), North Rock Creek (D), Pleasant Grove (D+), Shawnee (D+), South Rock Creek (C+), Tecumseh (C-) and Wanette (F). The Shawnee News-Star asked Phil Bacharach, OSDE's executive director of communications how Janet Barresi, the state superintendent of public instruction, feels the grading system will benefit Oklahoma's schools. Bacharach responded that Superintendent Barresi believes that helping inform parents and communities about how their schools are doing is vital to ensuring strong, vibrant schools. “Accountability and transparency are critical to raising the bar for education,” he said. “Through the grades, we can see what schools are doing great things and which might need additional help. The A-F report card has already spurred a dialogue about our schools that didn't happen with the API.” In this case, API is short for Academic Performance Index. This was the system used to score Oklahoma's public schools prior to 2012, said Tyler Bridges, Pleasant Grove superintendent. “Previously we had the Academic Performance Index, which was a 0 to 1,500 scale,” he said. “It was changed last year to the A-F format. Last year's report card doesn't connect with this year's report card.” Bridges took issue with what OSDE calls a simple system. “They continue to say it's a simple system,” he said. “However, the way the formula is oversimplifies the impact of the school district in any town big or small. We offer counseling services to students, food and shoes on weekends, meals and transport to school. Some parents who are alums even come back and confide in teachers who they had as students.” Area administrators raised other issues with the new report cards. First, Marc Moore, Shawnee's superintendent, said that this year's underlying assessment was changed by the state. “If they used the same standard as last year, we would have scored higher,” he said. Moore said he drafted a letter to that effect and shared it with members of the Shawnee School Board and the districts' administrators. He provided a copy to the Shawnee News-Star, which will be posted with this article at http://www.news-star.com. Bacharach said the grading formula was changed by the state Legislature last year in the wake of issues raised by a number of administrators and others. Second, Bridges said that 90% of the report card grade comes from student performance in annual standardized tests for certain ages in particular subjects. He added that the remaining 10% of the grade is based on attendance and the dropout rate. “Our students are on campus for 1,145 hours per year,” he said. “From that, there are three hours where a slice of our population takes a test. Our whole school [district] is graded on that. That's what I take issue with. The accountability portion of it is not something we'll back away from.” In Shawnee, Moore said the district has seen their grades and will be reviewing them further to improve. “We are graded in two sections: student growth and student performance,” he said. “I don't have a problem with that. Parts of it, I don't give much credit because of the formulas used. The issues I have are with the statistics and quirks used to calculate the formula.” Moore also reflected on his district's grade of a D+. “Horace Mann and Jefferson (Elementary Schools) account for 650 of 4,000 students in our school district,” he said. “The remaining amounts got a C or a B. I don't think a D+ is an accurate reflection of our school.” Moore was not the only local superintendent to disagree with the grade his school district received. Tom Wilsie, Tecumseh's superintendent, said he is not pleased with receiving a C-. “We strive to reach a higher grade,” he said. “We work hard toward that. The lowest grade at any of our sites is 75, but as a district we got a 72. It really is their formula. They take all of the numbers of test takes and number who passed in all categories and get a percentage from that.” The Shawnee News-Star asked Bacharach of the OSDE about how Tecumseh's district was determined. Specifically, we asked, “One of the districts in our area, Tecumseh, received a 72 C- as a district. However, it has 5 sites with grades of 75, 75, 75, 78 and 85. How is it that the district's cumulative grade is lower than any single site grade?” Bacharach's responded, “The district grades are determined through data involving the full number of students in that district, so the calculation is the same as with a single school site.” At the end of the day, administrators and the state share one thing in common: accountability. However, the disagreement seems to be the method in which public schools are held accountable. Moore summed up his feelings on the issue. “Just because I have concerns with it doesn't mean I don't want to be held accountable,” he said. “We should be held accountable because we use public money.” However, Moore conceded that the Oklahoma public schools system don't do the best job educating the public about what they do and offer. “The report card doesn't provide a comprehensive view; it goes too far in simplifying it,” he said. “I agree with its intent. We want to be proactive in the areas we can improve in. Our teachers and administrators are focused on improving students' performance.” Bacharach explained his department's view of public school accountability. “Some of those same administrators also say they preferred the API system, which gave a single score to a school,” he said. “I would point out that an A-F report card has 10 subsections in addition to the overall grade. Taken together, they offer a snapshot into how a school is doing. Accountability means nothing if it is not accessible and readily understood; we believe that a letter grade -- a system long used by schools to assess a student's performance -- is also appropriate for the school itself.” Readers can view the ODSE's 2013 Report Cards online at http://afreportcards.ok.gov. This website includes the option to search by county, district or school.