EDITORIAL: System for judging school performance in Oklahoma gets an 'F'
Our View: Oklahoma needs to address social issues, not A through F grades, to create better schools.
The State Board of Education released grades for Oklahoma schools at the end of October, assigning an A through F letter grade to all Oklahoma public schools based on "student achievement," "school performance," "overall student growth" and "bottom 25 percent student growth."
While attaching a letter grade to public schools ensures transparency between the school board, administrators and teachers, the grading system is confusing.
Grades are largely determined based on calculations derived from students' scores on a state-mandated exam. Further, a school's report card is accessible only if it is interpreted while consulting a glossary of terms to best understand what values for "performance index" or "overall student growth" truly mean.
The final letter grade is reached by averaging test scores in various ways, but a definitive letter grade cannot adequately describe a school's conditions, successes or weaknesses.
Does a C mean the school offers an “average” education? Should parents, teachers and administrators settle for an average education? Does an A mean a school does not need to improve? Where does a school that received an F start to improve? These are questions the report card doesn’t answer.
Because each state government assesses public education systems differently, Oklahoma's school report cards evaluate a school's performance relative to other Oklahoma schools and do not compare schools to others in the nation. It is impossible to know how they will perform in another environment, should Oklahoma students seek education outside the state. This makes it impossible to ensure Oklahoma schools are adequately preparing students, making it problematic for students who pursue degrees outside Oklahoma.
This sets the state up for failure. Today’s students will determine the success of our state. These students need to be able to work with other people and states effectively and understand Oklahoma within the context of the nation, not within the context of Oklahoma.
Further, the grading system can create classism and make it difficult for schools with poor grades to achieve high grades.
Parents relocating their children will be more likely to move to a school district with a high grade. This encourages development in schools already performing well and discourages development in poorly-graded schools.
When pairing school grade reports with U.S. Census data, one finds the higher the poverty rate in a county, the more likely the school district in that county performed poorly on state tests and school grade reports.
For example, 2010 Census data shows 21.8 percent of children ages 5 to 17 in Tulsa County come from impoverished families. The Oklahoma State Department of Education shows 45 percent of schools in Tulsa country received a D or F grade and only 6 percent received As.
On the other hand, 12.7 percent of children ages 5 through 17 in Canadian Country come from impoverished families, while 9 percent of schools in Canadian country received a D grade and zero received a F grade. Almost 74% of Canadian country schools received As or Bs.
The grading system works best for schools that have achieved high grades, but does a disservice to those that scored poorly.
The A through F grading system was adopted "to provide incentives to schools to challenge all students to reach high levels of college and career readiness," according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The grading system will "give schools a tool to encourage more parental and community involvement" to ensure a school's success.
But a school with a D or F may not have the financial resources to improve, not matter the incentive. If a quarter of the community is in poverty, it may be difficult for parents to find the time or resources to “become involved.”
Grades cannot improve with cuts to education at more than 20 percent, especially when schools rely heavily on property taxes to fund schools.
For the grading system to best serve Oklahoma, the state and administrators need to recognize the underlying social issues that enable poverty and impair students by addressing issues such as crime rates, teen pregnancy, chemical dependency and poor living conditions.