A-F grading for schools – still a bone of contention
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Published: 12-May-2012

Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE), a conservative activist group focused on what it deems accelerating federal efforts to erode local control of public education, has continued to criticize the state government's move toward the new “A-F” grading system for schools. 

ROPE's founder and leader, Jenni White, asserts that legislators – who authorized the system last year in House Bill 1456 as a means to give parents and school patrons a means to assess effectiveness – could not have envisioned the state Department of Education would employ the program as a means to advance federal school curricula, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers and related objectives.

In one of her recent postings on the ROPE blog, White said, “I can't imagine they had any idea at the time that this would be used as part of the NCLB waiver and all the punitive rules for 'failing' schools that came along with them.”
White and other critics of the school grading system say that a majority of public schools may get failing grades under the system. 

The agency counters, in a compilation it calls “myths and facts about the A-F school grading system,” that early simulations of the system project that “no more than 2 percent of schools would receive F's under the new system. Upwards of 10 percent would receive A's. It is likely that 60 percent of schools would receive A's and B's in the first release of letter grades planned for August 2012.” 

Supporters say the grading system for schools is intended to mirror reforms begun in Florida under former Governor Jeb Bush, which have contributed to an improvement in school performance in the Sunshine State. The state Education Department's rules were designed to incorporate a number of factors in the letter grades, including student assessment test scores, student test gains, annual gains for students for lower performing students, and “whole school improvement – including graduation rates, ACT test scores, attendance rates, and related criteria.

As opposition to the agency's rules for implementation of the A-F system built this spring, Governor Mary Fallin restated her support as she approved administrative rules for implementation

However, the House Administrative Rules and Governance Committee a week ago passed a resolution disaproving the rules, setting the stage for a potential inter-branch clash. When that happened, Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi commented, 

"This last minute effort is really a red herring. It's about taking a good law and gutting it and weakening it so parents don't have a good idea about how their child's school is performing."

State Rep. Mike Shelton, an Oklahoma City Democrat, said when he filed House Joint Resolution 1125, “The administrative rules are contrary to the purpose of the law, and that is why I have filed a House Joint Resolution to disapprove those rules.” 

After passage of the resolution of disapproval, Shelton said in a comment sent to CapitolBeatOK, “Our intent was to give parents an easy, transparent system for determining the effectiveness of their local schools. These rules written by the 

Department of Education create a grading system that is convoluted, difficult to understand, read or follow.”

White said the push for an A-F school grading system has become part of the press for national curriculum and federal direction of public education – and, ultimately, a matter of dollars and cents rather than educational quality and local control. 

Barresi has a different view, pointing to recent announcement that the state has received another $5.6 million for low-performing schools, including Oklahoma City's Centennial High School and Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, an alternative public charter school. She commented, in a release sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations, “We’re grateful for this funding to improve our low-performing schools. This will help ensure each student in our state will be college, career and citizen ready by graduation.”

The Oklahoman, the Sooner State's largest newspaper, backed Barresi and Fallin in a recent editorial, saying the A-F system is easier to understand than the Academic Performance Index (API) that it would replace. 

White remains steadfast in her critiques, concluding a recent narrative with a rhetorical question “Is education 'reform' is it about the kids, the parents, the schools - or is it really, only about money?” 

The Legislature will have to pass Shelton's resolution disapproving the rules before adjournment, anticipated on May 25. Otherwise, the rules will take effect.

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