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A-F Report Cards: Legislative Intent

April 11, 2013

Probably the second-most noteworthy thing in the news this week – behind Sonic’s secret menu – is the fact that legislators are talking openly about the failure of last year’s launch of the A-F Report Cards. Not only did the administrative rules under which the report cards were released fail to meet legislative intent, they also came up short of some of the interpretations the SDE used to calculate school and district grades. This resulted in the following truths:

  • Schools received grades at the end of October, two months after they had begun working to improve student performance.
  • Schools with good grades put very little stock in them.
  • Schools with middle of the road grades were even less impressed.
  • Schools with low grades scratched and clawed for every possible relief or appeal.

None of these things helped students.

Schools have always been eager to receive their test scores. Over the years, they have come in at inconsistent times – really any time between June and September. I have known principals who were off-contract to cut a vacation short to go into their district offices and see the results. Principals are invested in the success of their students. They care about their teachers. Ultimately, they want validation that their efforts are meaningful. The A-F Report Cards didn’t provide that. They were nothing but noise. And the response to them was cacophony.

This is why Sen. Clark Jolley and Rep. Lee Denney are working with representatives from the Governor Fallin’s office to craft a new grading plan. From yesterday’s Tulsa World:

The authors of the law that created Oklahoma’s controversial A-F school report cards are now sponsoring legislation that would dramatically alter the method of grading schools.

Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said he and Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, worked together with a group of other legislators and representatives from the Governor’s Office on identical bills, one of which will become their vehicle for reforming school report card calculations.

“We have had a lot of input, especially from superintendents. What we’ve done is try to fashion a response through legislative changes that will answer a lot of the complaints – at least as many as we agree with. There were lots of criticisms that we thought were valid,” said Jolley.

After the state Board of Education approved the state’s grade calculation methods in October over the concerns of more than 300 superintendents, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the Cooperative Council for School Administrators commissioned an analysis.

Authored by three senior research scientists from the University of Oklahoma and two senior research scientists from Oklahoma State University, plus four research associates from OU, the report found that Oklahoma’s new A-F school grading system is “neither clear, nor comparable.”

It questioned the statistical “validity, reliability and usefulness” of all three components of the new school report cards, which measure student achievement and growth and school performance.

House Bill 1658 and Senate Bill 635, which contain the same language, are now both working their way through the legislative process. Current drafts indicate that legislators heeded superintendents’ wishes for grade calculations that heavily factor the lowest-performing 25 percent of students as well as their desire for a typical grading scale like the one used to determine student grades.

But Jolley said the bills’ language was intentionally written with no involvement from university researchers, superintendents or the Oklahoma State Department of Education “because we wanted to have ownership over it.”

“We’ve had everybody yelling and screaming in public, but because the two sides were so very public, we wanted to make sure what we were doing was independent,” he said.

“We have read their letters, had meetings with them in our districts. We probably will be criticized that we didn’t have them in the room while we were negotiating, but we felt like it would be better to listen to their concerns and take those with us but not base the reform on a barter or exchange.”

Yes, Jolley and his cohorts will be criticized – but not in this space – not immediately anyway. You see, the devil is in the details. The inevitable disconnect from statute to administrative rule to nuanced execution of public policy will determine the extent to which the criticism comes. The more proscribed the rules are, the less wiggle room there is at the SDE. Schools were mad at the lack of meaningful input prior to the rules being codified last year; but they were furious at the liberty taken by Superintendent Barresi and her staff with areas that were neither included nor excluded in the rules. Giving a school points for a student exceeding state average growth was in the rules. Defining state average growth was left up to interpretation. Giving high schools a letter grade for dropout rate was in the rules. Weighting that single component of the Whole School Growth section of the report card so heavily that the other criteria didn’t matter was not.

This action at the Capitol this week will likely render what happened last month at the Hodge building meaningless. That is a good thing. The revised rules adopted by the State Board of Education are even worse.

Ultimately, none of this will matter if another year passes with rules that make no sense. Get it wrong again, and the public will never trust the outcome – even if three, four, five years down the road, they happen to get it right.

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  1. Rob Miller
    April 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    The current version of SB635 still does not give points in the growth categories for students who maintain proficiency. A student has to improve a level or increase substantially within the level for a school to earn a point. Since all students are included in the denominator of these calculations, a student who stayed the same (one year’s growth assuming tests are aligned) would count AGAINST the school. The growth portions must be changed or this version would actually be worse that the current model.

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    • April 11, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      Very good point. I’d like to see something meaningful happen, but an A-F Report Card will never be anything more than an oversimplified explanation of school performance for the public. It will either be too complex and unwieldy or too simplistic and … well, simple.

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  2. Rob Miller
    April 12, 2013 at 5:33 am

    You’re exactly right, just another exercise in futility. However, in a few years when we start closing schools because of this, the real agenda of he reformers will become more apparent, as it has already in Florida, NY, Tennessee…

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