The Woodward News

October 8, 2012

Administrators say delay in releasing grades may be a positive sign

Chris Cooper
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — The State Department of Education's release of the A-F School Report Cards for all Oklahoma schools has been postponed.

The report cards were originally scheduled for release following a special meeting Monday of the State Board of Education, in which board members were slated to discuss approval of the report cards.  However, according to an Education Department press release, the state board tabled a vote on acceptance of the report cards until the full board meeting on Oct. 25.

"The State Board of Education has some questions about the way state average growth was calculated, and they asked for staff to consider an alternate growth calculation formula," said Tricia Pemberton, communications specialist for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Woodward Superintendent Tim Merchant said he believes the delay may be a positive thing.

"We're pleased, not because we're hiding anything or because we expected to be disappointed with the results,  but because it means the state board is listening to the schools' and the public's concerns with the equity, fairness, and clearness of how these scores are figured," Merchant said.

Mooreland Superintendent Terry Kellner expressed similar concerns regarding the fairness of the grades, stating "The biggest problem is getting one report card to fairly judge all the different dynamics of different school sizes."

Fort Supply Superintendent Pat Howell also said, "It would appear in some cases that it can be a distinct disadvantage to be a small school district."

However, Howell noted that he realizes that creating a fairer system may be challenging.

"I don't know if it'd be possible to come up with a system like that that isn't skewed in some way," he said.

Beyond the belief that the new A-F school grading system might be skewed against smaller schools, local superintendents also had complaints about the way the Education Department has, or has not, addressed concerns about the new system.

"What disappoints me," Merchant went on to say," is the general positioning that school officials feel they have to do in order to be heard. There has not been a great deal of communication or collaboration between the State Department of Education and schools."

Kellner expressed similar dissatisfaction, stating that when Mooreland officials called the Department of Education with questions about the A-F school grading system, "it was weeks before we got an answer back."

"The truth is when questions or concerns were raised by schools, they've been pushed to the back burner," Merchant said.

In addition, the Woodward superintendent said it was "a major concern" that the Education Department seemed intent on "releasing the grades regardless of wether they were correct or not."

Merchant explained, "For a long time we've had to validate multiple omissions in the tests. There have been differences in the state data and school data, and at one point the scores first ran had flipped data from Individual Education Program students and English Language Learners. If that data was flipped, it raises questions."

So now that the release of the school grades have been delayed, Merchant said, "I'm glad they're stepping back and saying 'We may have a problem, let's take a deeper look at the fairness, equity, and reliability of these grades.'"

However, just revising calculations used to determine a school district's grade won't be enough for Merchant, unless those calculations go beyond state testing scores.

"My argument will always be that a one day snapshot of how a student does on one test does not accurately reflect the performance of that student or that school," he said.