KGOU

State Board Of Education Approves New A-F School Grading System

Dec 16, 2016

The way Oklahoma's A-F report cards are calculated may soon change. 

The State Board of Education approved a new grading system Thursday, and it will now go before the Legislature for final approval.

The new system, set to go in to effect for the 2017-2018 school year, proposes using a single letter grade with no pluses or minuses. However, the overall report card will be presented like a dashboard, with seven different criteria adding up to one score.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she thinks parents will like it because they will be able to learn about a school quickly, but can also dig into the data further if they are so inclined.

The Department of Education is changing the A-F grading system to be compliant with new federal education regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act, and in order to comply with House Bill 3218, an Oklahoma law that mandates a new testing and accountability system for state schools.

The evaluation system for elementary and middle schools is focused on growth. These schools will be evaluated on student's test scores in science, math and English Language Arts, but also how well students progress in those subjects from year to year. Schools will also be evaluated on their rates of chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing more than 10 percent of the school year.

The rubric for high schools places greater emphasis on college and career readiness. High schools will also be evaluated on how students perform in English, math, and science, but not growth over time. The Oklahoma State Department of Education says measuring growth will be problematic in the short term, given that OSDE recommends an off-the-shelf college-readiness exam for 11th grade. However, the OSDE’s final report details how a growth indicator could be added within several years.

High schools will also be evaluated on their graduation rate, what kind of post-high school opportunities are provided, how well English language learners are progressing, and their rate of chronic absenteeism.

This new system is the result of a months-long process and the work of a 95-member task force led by Marianne Perie, co-director of the Center for Assessment and Accountability Research and Design at the University of Kansas.

Although many educators across the state publicly supported the new system, many also had concerns. Multiple people made public comment at the board meeting saying they were not in favor of using a single letter grade.

The executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, Shawn Hime, asked the board to not approve the proposed system, and instead do more research and come back to the table in a few weeks.

He said his chief concern is that by using a single letter grade- the system boils school effectiveness down to one indicator that undermines other beneficial features of a school.

“I’m highly disappointed,” Hime said in a statement after the board voted to approve the system. “The board refused a reasonable request from parents, educators and the business community to delay the vote so more time could be dedicated to addressing the concerns and the final requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

Others were worried that the system lowered expectations for special education students, students in poverty, and students of color.

However, Hofmeister said that’s not true.

“We need to be very careful. It may appear to be something that has a bias to it, yet that is not the case," Hofmeister said.

She said the end goal is to have all kids meeting proficiency levels in all subjects within eight years, but to do that we have to be realistic about where they’re starting from.

The researcher, Perie, said students in poverty, and students of color are more likely to go to underperforming schools. And she said it’s unrealistic to set really high expectations for those schools in the first year. So, at first, it may seem like their bar is lower, however, those schools are expected to improve more, over time, than a well-performing school.

“The expectation for the school is that we’re starting with where the kids are,” Perie said. “So, your lowest performing kids, you have to get moving up at a faster rate than you do the kids who are already at the top.”

Oklahoma’s current A-F system has repeatedly been criticized as being unfair and inaccurate.  Grades are calculated using student scores on state-mandated tests for 50 percent of the grade. The other 50 percent was determined through an analysis of a school's scores on math and reading tests, and how they compared to the previous year’s.