OKLAHOMA CITY — Students get report cards evaluating how well they’re doing in class. For the past several years, Oklahoma schools have received similar grades.
Now, lawmakers are taking a new look at the letter grades given to schools. Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, called it a “wonderful metric” but said, “I’m not sure it’s where we want it yet.”
The Legislature has revised the criteria several times, but Denney noted that education officials are “very concerned” about the program’s direction. She did not elaborate, and Department of Education officials did not weigh in at the hearing.
Lawmakers adopted the A through F grades to make it easier for parents, businesses and the community to know how schools are doing. A school’s grade depends upon a combination of student achievement and how well the lowest performing students are improving.
Bonus points are given to schools for advanced coursework, low dropout rates and high attendance.
Last year, 4 in 10 public schools received an A or B grade, according to analysis from the Foundation for Excellence in Education. That’s down from 57 percent in 2012 when schools were first rated.
Nearly 30 percent received a D or F last year — up significantly from 8 percent when grades were first given, said Christy Hovanetz, a policy analyst for the foundation.
Hovanetz said the flip-flop from top performers to under-performers reflects a “fairly rigorous” grading system, and lawmakers over the past four years have continued to revise the system to make it even tougher.
She told lawmakers that more transparency with the grades has improved outcomes for students, in part because schools are held more accountable.
Since 2011, she noted, Oklahoma fourth-graders have outpaced the nation in reading and math. Eighth-graders are also doing better than their peers in reading, though they’re lagging in math.
However, Hovanetz she said the state should eliminate its bonus points, include a component that measures the proficiency and progress of English language learners, and incorporate four-year graduation rates in high school grades, as well as a measure of college and career readiness.
Plus, she said lawmakers need to give schools the flexibility to decide how to meet the expectations because what might work well in urban districts might not work well in rural areas.
Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, said bonus points help balance the grading system for rural schools that don’t offer Advanced Placement courses for college credit or concurrent enrollment programs, which allow high school students to take college classes.
Hovanetz said it’s up to lawmakers to ensure that college or career preparation courses are available to all students, regardless of where they live.
“As a state, you need to decide is it a priority that these opportunities are awarded to students,” she said.
While every state has different grading criteria, Oklahoma is among 17 states where public schools are given letter grades.
Just last week, some parents showed up at Cottonwood Public School Superintendent John Daniel’s office to inquire about building a home in the community because the schools’ report card score is so high.
With an A+ rating, the Coalgate district is thriving under the new system. A little over a decade ago, though, the district southeast of Ada was classified as failing.
The district, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, is doing so well that Daniel told lawmakers that some of his peers have questioned whether his students are gaming the system. He insists they’re not.
“I have no idea what the formula is,” he said.
Daniel said his district spent time visiting successful districts to learn what works. School officials there revamped their teaching methods. Data from the report card helps the district further improve.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.