Advocates and education officials went to the state Education Department on Monday to comment about the proposed grading system that would give all Oklahoma public schools an A through F grade.
“Rural, urban and suburban schools are all different, yet you want to judge them all the same,” said Anna King, president of the Oklahoma PTA. “I’m concerned about this, and we are going to use a loud voice from this day forth. In the state of Oklahoma, our kids deserve the best. Is this the way to get it? No.”
Nearly 75 superintendents, teachers and parents asked questions and made comments to the state Education Department’s legal team at a hearing about the new school improvement and accountability system.
Superintendent Janet Barresi did not attend the hearing because she had a meeting about teacher workshops, a spokesman said.
A-F system replaces No Child Left Behind
The system would give each school and district a grade of A-F.
The A-F system replaces the federal requirements of No Child Left Behind, which Oklahoma no longer has to follow.
It was one of 10 states to receive a waiver from the federal act last month.
The board will vote on the rules at its meeting March 29.
If approved, the rules will need to be approved by the state Senate, House and governor.
About 4 percent of schools would earn an A and about 1 percent would receive an F this year, according state Department of Education calculations. The other 95 percent of schools would be graded B, C or D.
The system does not give very many schools a chance to earn an A, said Paul Hurst, superintendent of Putnam City Schools.
“Should an A not correspond more closely to what people think an A is?” he asked.
Would system hurt businesses?
The quality of schools affects quality of life and business development, said Chris Deal, president and CEO of the Duncan Chamber of Commerce. A town with one school district labeled with a D or F might deter companies looking to open shop.
“What affect will this have to our ability to attract business to Duncan and Oklahoma?” Deal asked.
“Workforce development is one of the building blocks of economic development, and education is the cornerstone.”
The new grading system should not affect business development because the information is already available to the public, said Damon Gardenhire, a spokesman for the state Education Department.
“All of this information about how a school’s performing is available now,” Gardenhire said.
“It’s just that the metrics are somewhat confusing for an average citizen or parent now. … Putting it into a clear-cut format doesn’t change the information. It just makes it more available.”
Will rules scare away teachers?
Gardenhire said the system would rally surrounding communities, not drive people away.
“Communities rally around schools to find ways of improving them,” Gardenhire said.
“If a school receives a somewhat lower grade, the pattern that we’ve heard about from other states is that parents and citizens step forward.”
The grading system holds school officials accountable for things that are out of their control, Dale Superintendent Charles Dickinson said.
For example, Dale Public Schools offers five Advanced Placement classes, but Dickinson said the district would have to double that number to earn an A rating.
Adding enough new staff members to do so isn’t financially possible, he said.
“We simply don’t have the financial capability of doing that,” Dickinson said.
“Therefore, through no fault of our own, we have no chance at success.”
Another factor is parent and community involvement.
This is unfair for schools in poor areas, where parents have no transportation or work multiple jobs, said Sue Kuntze, assistant superintendent of elementary education for Putnam City Schools.
The volunteering rule is vague at best, said Terry Fraley, executive director of federal programs for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
“How many parent volunteers do schools need to have before additional points are awarded?” Fraley asked.
Questions left unanswered
Several speakers said the rules were not detailed enough about how certain factors would be judged. One of the more hotly discussed issues was rewarding schools that encourage students to take courses above their grade levels.
“What constitutes an upper-level class for an elementary student? What constitutes an upper-level class for a middle school student? That still has not been defined,” said Kevin Burr, associate superintendent for secondary schools for Tulsa Public Schools.
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