The Norman Transcript

October 27, 2012

School grades hard on teachers

By Caitlin Schudalla
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Days after the release of the state’s new report card system for school performance evaluation, district administrators are already feeling ramifications.

According to State Superintendent Janet Barresi, the new system is meant to send a message of transparency and accessibility to parents and community members, a message that many educators say comes at the expense of hardworking teachers.

Leaders of smaller districts, like Noble Superintendent Ronda Bass, are especially aware of this effect.

“Right now, my teachers are breaking down on me. April and May are hard times for teachers. That’s when I usually have steady appointments of teachers needing advice and support. This year, I’ve had a steady stream of worn-out, beaten-down teachers since September, when the school year isn’t even halfway over,” Bass said.

Critics of the system from hundreds of districts across Oklahoma have cited multiple flaws in the formula, ultimately agreeing it results in unfair representation of schools to the target audience of the community.

Noble’s five public schools fared relatively well against the state’s average, but Bass said it’s the timing of a school evaluation reform with high benchmarks and less-than-favorable verdicts that has teacher morale plummeting.

“This year, we’re already working on Common Core and the Teacher Leader Evaluations, which are ambitious and stressful but doable. With these grades and the low funding, we’re not getting the support from the state that we need,” Bass said.

In conjunction with the release of the grades, Barresi announced the “Raise the Grade Together” initiative, calling on the collaboration of community leaders, parents and educators to generate expanded mentorship and volunteering in low-scoring schools.

Thus far, “Raise the Grade Together” has culminated in the release of a resource guide on the SDE website and a symposium for school leaders, with Barresi announcing her upcoming community visits to Bartlesville, Altus and Enid. All three cities’ schools saw a majority of B grades, with no schools scoring lower than a C.

“I love that we have the opportunity to analyze data and identify problems. We’ll zero in on those problems and never make excuses. I say with every bit of confidence that it’s the right thing to do. We just want it to be fair,” Bass said. “This judgment call from the state seems to suggest that we’re in this for something other than helping our children.”

For dedicated educators like Bass and her teachers, that’s a miscalculation that transcends numbers and formulas.

“Our job as superintendents is to represent our local school boards and speak up for our children,” Bass said. “It’s hard not to take this personally when we’re being made to feel like what we’ve dedicated our lives to is meaningless and like our best efforts aren’t good enough.”

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