The Woodward News

November 7, 2013

Schools receive grades

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Editor's Note: Thursday's print edition of the Woodward News included the district wide grades for schools in the area. According to state edcuation department spokesperson Tricia Pemberton for the state department of education, the overall district grades were posted brieflly by mistake on the department website Wednesday, then removed because they were not fully ready yet. The department said they should be released again in a few days..

In what is now the second year of a contentiously debated statewide school report card system, Woodward School District's overall grade remained the same, but individually some schools performed better here.

The Oklahoma Department of Education released the 2013 A-F Report Card for Oklahoma public schools and school districts on Wednesday.

For the most part, communities in western and northwestern Oklahoma fared about the same as they did last year, with a few suffering from a changing grade calculation system than was used in 2012, officials said.

The grading system developed by the State Department of Education and launched in 2012 is hotly debated by education professionals throughout the state.

Earlier this year, under pressure from district administrators, the grading system underwent some changes to how it calculated the grades, according to the Department of Education.

For their part, state officials say their grading system is a part of an effort to heighten accountability and transparency for Oklahoma schools.

However, according to several superintendents, the grading system is still deeply flawed, offers them little in the way of usable data and doesn't accurately reflect the improvement or the decrease in improvement of a district.

Woodward School District made a C, this year - the same as it did last year (though apparently the overall district grade was released prematurely and will be sent out again later, see editor's note at the top of this report). Woodward High School made an A this year and Cedar Heights made a B+. The other three schools, Woodward Middle School, Horace Mann, and Highland Park all made Cs.

"Until I can truly feel and recognize it is valid and usable, reliable data, I am more or less disregarding it," Merchant said. "I can't fully celebrate the As and nor can I knock any lower grades because it is invalid data."

According to the State Department of Education, the program issues grades based on a combination of factors including; individual student achievement (50 percent of grade); overall student growth toward proficiency (25 percent of grade); growth of students toward proficiency in the bottom 25 percent of the district (25 percent of grade).

Merchant said this system not only discounts the difference in how any student may perform year to year depending on the difference in the classes they take, but it also counts the bottom performing 25 percent of the students twice.

"For instance, they figure the improvement of say one student in math, but let's say he took algebra the year before and then geometry the year after," Merchant said. 'Those are both math and yet so different conceptually. So how do you judge his performance last year against this year?"

Each district gets bonus points for things like graduation rate, advanced course work, scores on college entrance exams  and year to year growth, according to the DOE.

In a statement issued Wednesday along with the release of school grades, State Superintendent Janet Barresi was quick to calm fears of parents whose schools in this second year of measurements have lower grades. However, she aggressively defended the system while accusing some district administrators of dodging responsibility.

"This year's grade results were expected in light of the increasing academic rigor and changes made to the grade calculation," Barresi said. "Some district superintendents - knowing that some of their schools would be getting Fs- preemptively tried discrediting the grading criteria. If these administrators put that same degree of enthusiasm into turning around their challenged school sites as they did criticizing the grades, than I am very optimistic about the future of those schools."

But Merchant calmly explained his support for school accountability but the need for a better system.

"It's not a matter of being against accountability," Merchant said. "I just want it to be reliable data that can actually be used to improve."