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October 26, 2012

Schools’ grades released

NORMAN — The State Department of Education released its much-debated school report cards Thursday, following widespread controversy and postponement by the state board of education.

Originally set for release Oct. 8, the grades’ release was postponed until Thursday when the state board of education unanimously tabled its official acceptance of the grades due to mass protests from hundreds of districts and superintendents across the state.

Following this decision, the Norman board of education elected to withhold Norman schools’ grades until the state release, unlike other Oklahoma districts.

Letter grades throughout the state showed 1 percent of schools receiving an F, 8 percent D, 34 percent C, 48 percent B and 9 percent A.

Janet Barresi, state superintendent for public instruction, has expressed unwavering confidence and pride in the system, stating in a press release that the grades are “a landmark first” for Oklahoma and calling the system “user-friendly, straightforward and fair” and claiming their release marks the beginning of a “new era of accountability.”

Norman Superintendent Joe Siano’s response to the system was less positive.

“It is unfortunate the State Board of Education and State Superintendent Janet Barresi have chosen to use an A-F grading formula for schools that suppresses the success teachers, certainly those in Norman, are having in the classroom. Other states with A-F grades for schools have different formulas than that devised by the Oklahoma Department of Education,” Siano said.

Citing previously established concerns echoed by the board of education and district administrators, Siano’s disapproval was centered more on the formula than the actual grades, namely the formula’s steep standards for measuring students’ academic growth.

“To not properly account for the academic growth of all students from one year to the next on the state’s grade level tests is not only inappropriate, it runs counter to the very intent of the law that mandated the grades in the first place: to provide the public a transparent, fair and easily understood method for reporting school performance,” Siano said.

As part of the new grading system, Barresi also has instigated the Raise the Grade initiative, in which she will visit communities and participate in events seeking to bring together parents, educators and community leaders in addressing low-scoring areas at their local schools through assistance and volunteering.

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