There will be no school report cards this year, one of many disruptions caused by COVID-19.  

That’s because the grades rely significantly on student test scores, and exams were canceled last spring. The Board of Education in January approved pausing the Oklahoma School Report Cards for the 2019-20 school year, though graduation data will still be displayed. 

But there are other ways the public can evaluate a school using records and data. 

Oklahoma Watch is marking Sunshine Week (March 14-20) with a series of stories promoting open government.

Oklahoma’s A-F school grading system was adopted by the state Legislature in 2011 and  significantly revamped for 2017-18. Lawmakers said the system was needed to help parents understand school performance and encourage community involvement. It has also been criticized as an oversimplification. 

Under the current version, all schools are assessed on students’ academic achievement, chronic absenteeism and progress of English language learners. Elementary schools also are graded on growth and high schools receive additional marks for postsecondary opportunities and graduation rates.

“A more useful tool for parents might look something like a district or school summary,” said Melissa Abdo, a Jenks school board member and education advocate. She said parents tell her they want opportunities in what the district calls the 5 A’s: academics, arts, activities, athletics and attitude. 

Here are three measures that matter, and where you can find the data.

SUNSHINE WEEK STORIES

Class Sizes 

Though small class sizes are frequently cited as a priority for parents, Oklahoma stopped collecting data on class sizes in 2012, though the department says it’s working to restart for next school year. 

A similar metric, student-to-teacher ratio, is available from the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. The measure is the number of students divided by the number of teachers. Student-to-teacher ratio is nearly always smaller than the class size because it includes teachers in specialized roles, like special education, music or art. Oklahoma’s student to teacher ratio was 16.5 to 1 in 2018-19. District-level data is available to search here

Teacher Quality 

Research has found time and again that a good teacher makes the biggest difference in a child’s education. Student learning gains have been tied to teacher certification, preparation and experience. 

Some of those metrics are included in the school profiles compiled each year by the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, a state agency that is separate from the Education Department. The profiles are full of information but the teacher quality measures include average years of experience and percent of teachers with an advanced degree.

Statewide, Oklahoma teachers averaged 12.1 years of experience and about 25% had advanced degrees in 2018-19. Profiles for each district are available here

One indicator of a lack of preparation is the use of emergency certified teachers. These teachers are teaching subjects they are not fully trained for. The state Education Department has data on emergency certified teachers from 2007 to 2018 and Oklahoma Watch has 2018-19

School Spending 

How a district chooses to spend its funding can be a reflection of its priorities. For instance, parents and the public expect the bulk of a school’s spending to be for instruction, a category that includes classroom teacher salaries and textbooks. 

School districts’ financial reports are available on the Education Department’s transparency website: Oklahoma Cost Accounting System, or OCAS. There, the public can access spending information for every district in the state in actual dollars and a per student amount (indicated by “PPE” on the site), which is useful for comparing districts of varying sizes. 

School-level per-pupil spending, newly required under federal law, is also available, which is useful to identify inequities within districts. Oklahoma Watch has a breakdown for 2018-19.  

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or jpalmer@oklahomawatch.org. Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC


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