Q&A: Oklahoma’s New School Grading System

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A view of the web page for Oklahoma’s new school report cards.

Updated on Feb. 28 to reflect release of the report cards.

Oklahomans can now find out how each school in the state stacks up under the newly revamped school accountability system.

Much is at stake. For low-performing schools, there will be additional funding to support improvement programs. For high-performing schools, there will be accolades for exceptional offerings, like fine arts and advanced math. High marks can attract new families to a school and low marks can drive them away.

Find Your School’s Report Card

And for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, the new report cards’ release marks fulfillment of a campaign promise five years in the making. She has long been critical of the old A-F grading system, which she has said distorted reality like a wavy carnival mirror.

“This is the old way, where there was a scarlet letter and a focus on the single indicator,” she said Tuesday, holding up a report card from 2016, the last year school grades were issued. “That is gone.

“We believe it’s very important to tell a more comprehensive story of the work schools are doing,” she said.

When will the new grades be released?

The new website – www.oklaschools.com – is now live.

What school information can the public expect to see on the site?

The new report cards contain significantly more information and the letter grades are calculated in a more complex way. All schools will be graded on academic achievement, progress of English language learners and chronic absenteeism – defined as students who are absent for more than 10 percent of the school year. In addition, elementary and middle schools will be assessed on academic growth and high schools will be assessed on graduation rates and postsecondary opportunities. Some of this is required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, but other pieces are specific to Oklahoma. There will also be contact information for the school and student demographics. Eventually, the Education Department plans to add school spending, teacher qualifications, class sizes and other measures.

What’s new and what’s different?

The first noticeable change is the way they look, with a de-emphasis on the letter grades. “We were very careful in the way we displayed this to provide that balance that was missing in the past,” said Hofmeister. But there are a lot of new features in the data too, like the ability to disaggregate most measures by student demographics. Also, chronic absenteeism is something Oklahoma has never measured before, and the shift away from an attendance rate is intended to encourage schools to focus on individual students who are missing a significant amount of class time. The way growth is measured is another significant change. The old system measured growth to proficiency, but the new system gives schools points for incremental growth even among students who are already proficient.

Will the new system be more equitable?

The old system was sometimes criticized as doing little more than identifying poverty gaps among schools but the new system attempts to do better. Hofmeister said early comparison data shows a 40 percent decrease in correlation between overall academic achievement scores and poverty and a 50 percent decrease in correlation between growth and poverty. Also, Oklahoma has a unique way of separating students into priority subgroups under the academic achievement indicator, and critics say that giving students different targets based on demographics is discriminatory. Hofmeister, however, says all students are given the same goal but with incremental targets based on actual test scores. The change, she said, does away with the old method of “double and triple counting students.” The new growth measure also highlights the successes some schools are having, such as with students in poverty or English language learners, even if they’re not yet proficient — successes that were obscured under the old system.

What do we know about the lowest performing schools?

The last time school grades were released, 213 schools were given an “F.” But this time the bottom 5 percent will automatically be given an “F”, which amounts to about 90 schools. Those schools will qualify for federal school improvement funding for three years. By identifying the minimum number of schools under ESSA, the funding will be more focused, Hofmeister said. Underperforming schools will receive a grant immediately to assess the school’s needs and plan how they would utilize future funding. Then, there will be a competitive process for a larger grant awarded to about a third of the schools. “I’ve already called and spoke with those district superintendents, and they are ready to partner,” Hofmeister said.