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Waiting on School Designations

December 16, 2013

For the last few months, much of the public education narrative has been focusing on the release, problems with, and reactions to Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards. Soon – eventually – the less publicized, but more impactful accountability measure will be released. I’m talking about federal designations.

While the letter grades schools receive don’t require them to take any action, being placed in one of the school improvement designations does. In accordance with Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver, there are three improvement categories.

Focus Schools

  • The 10% of Title I and non-Title I schools in the State that either have the lowest performance for any of the three lowest achieving subgroups in the State within each grade span (elementary, PK-8, middle/junior high, and high school) for reading and mathematics based on the detailed criteria in Section 2.E of Oklahoma’s approved ESEA Flexibility Request and has not been designated as a High-Progress Reward School; or have the lowest graduation rate for either of the two subgroups with the lowest graduation rates in the State

Targeted Intervention Schools

  • Any Title I or non-Title I school that is identified as a D school based on the State’s A-F School Report Card System that has not been identified as a Priority School

Priority Schools

  • Any Title I or non-Title I school that is identified as an F school based on the State’s A-F School Report Card System
  • Any Title I school in the bottom 5% of Title I schools as well as any school in the bottom 5% of all schools (Title I and non-Title I) in each grade span (elementary, PK-8, middle/junior high, and high school) for reading and mathematics based on the detailed criteria in Section 2.D of Oklahoma’s approved ESEA Flexibility Request and has not been designated as a High-Progress Reward School
  • Any Title I-participating high school, Title I-eligible high school, and non-Title I high school in the State with a graduation rate below 60% for three consecutive years
  • Any Tier I school receiving School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds to implement a school intervention model

I know that all sounds confusing, and perhaps a little repetitive, but as always, I’m here to help.

The state selects the three lowest performing subgroups and then ranks all schools for their performance within those subgroups. There is a list for Title I schools, and a separate list for non-Title I schools. Within those lists are separate lists for elementary, middle and high schools. If a school is in the bottom 10% of any of those lists, it is on the Focus School list. If it is in the bottom 5% of any of those lists, it is on the Priority School list. Additionally, any school with a D is placed on the targeted intervention list, and any school with an F is placed on the Priority School list.

(I should also mention that the state will put out a list of Reward Schools as well. However, last year, most schools on the list were less than eager to claim their “prize.” Only 14 of 229 eligible schools applied.)

Here we are, the last week in December before Christmas Break, and schools still have not received their designations. This is problematic for many reasons. First is that each school on one of these lists has to complete an improvement plan. We know that all of the D and F schools will be on a list. We know that all of last year’s Focus and Priority schools will be on a list. But it’s possible that a D school could have been placed on the Priority School list and not even know it. It is also possible that a C school could be on either the Focus or Priority school lists. Each list comes with different requirements.

It is also important to note that last year’s Focus and Priority schools remain on the list (because they have to meet Annual Measurable Objectives for two years after being placed on the list). They have not been told if they made AMOs either, and this also impacts the work that goes into planning. In short, schools do not know how to tailor their improvement plans to satisfy the state’s requirements.

This is inexcusable. Once the testing company certified the data in October, the SDE had all the information it needed to calculate the A-F Report Cards. It also had all the information it needed to calculate the school improvement lists. If school improvement is something meaningful – something more than checklists, boring PowerPoints, and meaningless tasks – then schools need this information in a timely manner. It is also worth noting that the School Status Designation Appeal Form lists a due date of January 14. Actually it lists Friday, January 14, 2014, which isn’t even a real date (I swear I’m buying the SDE an editor for Christmas).

The form states schools will have 10 days to appeal their status. That means they are likely to remain in limbo until after New Year’s Day.

The A-F Report Cards are just window dressing. They require no work from schools, other than answering questions from patrons who seem more than capable of understanding how flawed they are. The NCLB waiver designations require a tremendous amount of work. It’s unfortunate that the SDE is causing that work to be delayed.

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