OKLAHOMA CITY — Every public school in the state received an A-through-F letter grade on Thursday after the Oklahoma Board of Education approved the new grading system despite objections from some parents and school administrators who say it’s flawed.
The board unanimously agreed to release letter grades that score schools based on student achievement, student growth on test scores and whole-school improvement, which include measures for student attendance, dropout rates and the number of students in advanced courses. The board also approved a proposed budget that includes $235 million more in state aid for schools that could be used to fund teacher pay increases.
The new grading system, which is based on a similar program in Florida, was touted by Republican lawmakers as a way for parents to more easily determine how their local schools were performing.
But superintendents across Oklahoma have been critical of the system, particularly for the way it measures student growth, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of a school’s letter grade. They also complained that they weren’t invited to work with state administrators to help develop the system alongside the Oklahoma Department of Education.
“They’ve now taken the next step to give information to parents in a way that’s supposed to be valid and simple enough to understand, and it’s not based on the kind of valid measures that could have been done if we had taken our time to do this more appropriately,” said Cathy Burden, superintendent at Tulsa Union, one of the largest districts in the state.
“Really, the expertise within the state department has not been great enough to do that kind of sophisticated measure, so we all think that through collaboration we could have come up with a better system.”
After hearing from more than a half-dozen school administrators and parents critical of the system, board members expressed frustration with the constant barrage of criticism over the new program.
“What are you doing to help other than coming down here and bellyaching every time there’s a change?” asked board member Bill Shdeed, an Oklahoma City attorney appointed to the board last year by Gov. Mary Fallin.
Retired Gen. Lee Baxter, another new appointee to the board, acknowledged the new system needed improvement, but criticized some superintendents for being resistant to change.
“This A-through-F system, I’m sorry to say, isn’t perfect, but by God ... we’re going to have it,” Baxter said. “If you’re going to have change, one of the things you have to do is change. What I hear today is not an appetite for change.”
State Superintendent Janet Barresi, a strong proponent of the new system, said the idea is to empower parents by giving them an easy way to monitor how their children’s schools are performing. But she also acknowledged improvements need to be made to the formula.
“It’s not a perfect system,” Barresi said. “We are absolutely dedicated to continue to work to make sure the system is continually improved.”
Also on Thursday, the board approved a more than $2.3 billion budget request from Oklahoma lawmakers that includes additional funding for teacher pay hikes. The request represents a $289 million increase over the funding levels for the current fiscal year.
The budget includes a request for $235 million more in state aid to schools that could be used to fund teacher pay hikes. Other areas targeted for large increases include $23 million more to help districts pay for benefits, $13 million to implement school reforms and a $6.5 million boost for administrative and support functions.
Lawmakers will consider the budget request after they convene in February.