Some Oklahoma Superintendents Oppose New Assessment System

Superintendents of districts across Oklahoma gathered together in the conference room at the State School Boards Association to express their dissatisfaction with the numerical formula used to determine the quality of the state’s public schools. The state uses the formula to assign A-F grades to the schools, but superintendents say that the formula doesn’t accurately reflect factors like teacher quality.

According to Oklahoman.com, the news conference was timed to preempt the release of the first set of school report cards scheduled to be published next week. In total, 80 superintendents, who represent only about 15% of the state’s school districts but about half of its students, either showed up to the press conference or expressed their support for it from a distance.

The new A-F system takes the place of the previously used formula mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, where each school was assigned a numerical grade on a 1500-point scale. A federal waiver approved for Oklahoma earlier this year allowed the state the flexibility to design their own assessment system, deployed for the first time using the data from the 2011-2012 academic year.

Each school site will be assessed on student achievement information in five subject areas — reading, science, social studies, writing and math — and the new formula will be used to translate that information into a letter grade. Each district will also be assigned a grade based on the performance of all its schools.

Cathy Burden, the Tulsa Union superintendent, said the equation used to determine school grades is “flawed and biased.”

For example, what is considered “average” for student improvement from one year to the next isn’t really an average, Burden said. The average is only calculated using scores from students who improve — not those who stay the same or fall behind. Also, certain parts of the formula are unfairly weighted to count against schools that serve poor students, she said. For example, she said absenteeism and mobility negatively affect a school’s score, while factors like school climate and parent involvement are only considered bonus points.

In response to the press conference, Governor Mary Fallin said that a new system was needed to make sure that schools were held accountable for the academic progress – or lack thereof – of their students. She called the press conference “a political stunt,” and said that it was a trick by a small minority of the state’s superintendents who were too invested in maintaining a status quo at the cost of what is best for the state’s students.

Damon Gardenhire, the spokesman for the State Education Department, expressed a similar view.

“We’ve met with districts many times, heard their concerns and answered their questions,” Gardenhire said. “To hold a news conference a few days before the report cards are set to be released is nothing more than political posturing meant to derail implementation of a law that was passed in 2011.”