NORMAN — With a public debut set for Monday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s controversial new A-F school evaluation system has garnered passionate criticism from educators and lawmakers across the state.
Though critics cite multiple factors in questioning the system’s fairness, Norman Public Schools superintendent Joe Siano said the district will not see any big surprises in the grades each school site receives next week.
“Overall our performance is still strong, and that’s clear in the fact that what would be considered ‘average’ students and ‘high challenge’ students are still at 83 to 84 percent proficiency,” Siano said.
Though Siano and the Norman Board of Education have raised many concerns with the new grading system, Siano emphasized that the system is ultimately another piece of data and a welcome avenue for identifying each school’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We embrace accountability and are glad these systems are in place, we’ll use the data from this system the same way we used the API (Academic Performance Index) to make decisions on resources, programs and areas of gaps and acceleration,” Siano said. “We have students who are excelling and students who have gaps, just like we’ve always had and will continue to address.”
The A-F grading system was approved by the legistlature in 2011, and Norman board members have been anticipating the conclusion of the grading process with substantial concern.
“The system’s GPA makes no sense to me — I’ve never seen a grading system like this. It gets the GPA and the letter grade backward. It would be like me changing my standards for an A halfway through the semester because too many of my students were doing well,” said board member Julie Raadschelders in May.
Indeed, according to Siano, two schools in the Norman district which are high-performing will receive a B, due largely to the fact that an A grade requires a minimum 3.5 GPA, or a 93-100.
State Representative Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, expressed his open opposition in a press release, berating Oklahoma lawmakers for their silence on what he feels is a damaging move for the state’s schools.
“The political leadership in both parties knows there is a huge problem with the roll out of state school ratings and it’s time for the governor and legislative leadership to intervene in this bizarre process before irreparable damage is done,” Morrissette said. “I believe that ever legislator wants to make Oklahoma’s education system the finest in the nation, but a vindictive roll out designed to place public education in a bad light could harm our state’s economic development efforts.”
In all, Siano said more than 150 superintendents have agreed they share “concerns” about the A-F system’s formula for deciding each school’s letter grade.
“The data in the system, is, I think, perfectly accurate. It’s the formula with which it’s being applied that is not. It doesn’t accurately reflect school performance and in particular instructional performance,” Siano said. “It grades schools’ student population and not their instructional quality.”
Since the grades’ intended audience is parents, Siano’s recommendation to Norman parents is keep up the good work.
“There’s plenty of data from the district on our website available to interested parents, and parents also have access to teachers and principals, who can give the most insight into each student’s individual performance,” Siano said. “I encourage parents to keep doing what they always do, data or no — they know best how to interact with instructors to determine and aid their child’s progress and needs.”