The state Board of Education on Thursday approved the school report card system as proposed in a unanimous vote following a 3.5 hour meeting.
Oklahoma schools would continue to receive a single letter grade from the state Department of Education under a new plan for school accountability released Tuesday, but the components of the grades would be expanded.
The new system, if adopted by the state Board of Education and the state Legislature, will add measures of chronic absenteeism, post-secondary opportunities and academic growth of English language learners, in addition to student assessments in math, English and science.
The proposed system eliminates the “bonus points” currently awarded for meeting benchmarks in high school graduation rates and attendance. Instead, all measures are weighted within the total calculation.
Schools would receive simply an A, B, C, D or F (no pluses or minuses) unless fewer than 95 percent of students in a particular group, such as special education students, participate. In those cases, schools would have a minus added to their letter grade.
A 95-member task force met multiple times to develop the proposal.
The Legislature adopted the A-F school grading system in 2011, and though it has been tweaked previously, this proposal represents the first major overhaul. Currently, school grades are calculated based on student performance, overall student growth and growth of students in the bottom quartile.
Many of the changes are being made to comply with Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law. Early versions of the law did require states to give schools a single rating or grade, but final rules released Nov. 28 give states the option of using a dashboard or other “user-friendly” approach.
Not all states give schools a single letter grade; some use more of a dashboard like approach with multiple grades or use another type of rating scale.
Oklahoma, though, has been unwilling to give up its single letter grade format, despite criticism from educators and academics. Superintendent Joy Hofmeister herself has called the system deeply flawed, referring to it as a “wavy carnival funhouse mirror.”
Hofmeister’s office said Tuesday that she has not opposed using a single overall grade.
A page on her 2014 campaign website states, “Our current school performance accountability system has many worthy components, but research and evidence show that such a complex system of measurement cannot be reduced to a single indicator.”
In an interview Wednesday, she said the new grading system offers multiple measures, which she said is “very important.”
The system is valid, reliable and meaningful and “corrects glaring shortcomings of the previous A-F system,” she said.
Several task force members say the single-letter grade system has lost validity with the public and they hope that aspect will be changed before it is finalized.
Rocky Burchfield, superintendent of Fairview Public Schools, said even though the revisions are more meaningful and easier to use, he’s concerned about pushback if the state keeps the overall letter grade.
“Regardless of whether it’s a low mark or high mark, it’s going to be a tough sell to say I now value it because it’s changed,” he said.
The Oklahoma Education Association also disagrees with the use of a single letter grade, said Vice President Katherine Bishop.
“There’s such distrust in our educational community – parents and stakeholders – on what this means. We would truly like to see it called something different,” said Bishop, a task force member.
The Board of Education is expected to vote on the final proposal at its Dec. 15 meeting.
Under the plan, elementary and middle schools would be graded on performance in English language arts, math and science; growth in English language arts and math; proficiency of English language learners; and chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year.
While growth isn’t a recommended indicator for high schools, the system would add graduation rate and postsecondary opportunity, such as college course enrollment or industry certification, to the other measures.
Report card scores would be calculated with a maximum of 90 points and converted to a letter grade on a scale intended to reserve As and Fs for a few schools on each end of the spectrum. Most schools would fall in the B, C and D range.
Hofmeister said the new system will look even more like an actual report card, where schools’ grades are displayed on each measure plus additional information such as demographics and per pupil spending.
Task force members represent teachers, students, parents, higher education, Career Tech, business and community leaders, tribal leaders, legislators and other stakeholders.
The task force is being led by Marianne Perie of the University of Kansas.
Notably absent from the task force are the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University researchers who issued a report critical of the state’s accountability system in December 2015.
Patrick Forsyth, lead researcher for the study, said after the report was issued, the state Education Department discontinued the three-year contract it had with the universities.
“When we issued a report that, once again, suggested A-F was meaningless and caused harm, she (Hofmeister) suspended the contract,” he said, adding, “She was under a great deal of pressure to not naysay or in any way cast aspersions on the A-F system.”
Hofmeister terminated the contract in March. In a letter to the University of Oklahoma, she explained it was to reduce the Education Department’s expenses following state revenue failures.