A-F grades released: Big City ‘supers’ offer starkly different response

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Sooner State’s new A-F grading system for every public school has fulfilled all predictions for controversy and debate.
Leaders of the state’s two largest public school districts had starkly different reactions to the grades. 
Keith Ballard, the Tulsa district superintendent, promised to ignore the grades.
Roughly half the school’s under his jurisdiction – 36 sites — garnered a grade of “F. ”
That’s 27 elementary sites, eight middle schools and one high school. Despite the promise to ignore them, Ballard categorized the grades as “demoralizing” to teachers and principals in his system.
Dave Lopez, interim superintendent for Oklahoma City (the largest district in the state) told reporters the results “clearly a disappointment for many students, parents and teachers.”
However, Lopez continued, “We understand the law has set the higher academic standards and we also have higher aspirations as a community and a district.” He said district employees would “focus forward, redouble our resolve and improve daily.” Reflecting the city district’s mounting diversity, Lopez’s statement was issued in both English and Spanish. 
This is the second academic cycle with a new grading system approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. The grades developed over the past two years as replacement for the Academic Performance Index (API), which graded schools from zero to 1,500. That ranking, the state’s standard assessment for a 10 years, was widely regarded as too lax, but the new system’s critics now long for API’s return.
The first grades under the new approach, issued in 2012, were initially as controversial as these latest assessments. After a tougher assessment law passed last spring (House Bill 1658), many of 2013’s grades are worse, although the total number of “As” increased. 
This time, 354 schools – 20 percent of the state’s sites – garnered an A, compared to only 160 in 2012. Another 499 sites earned a B, 28 percent of all schools; another 472 got Cs (26 percent of the total). Last year there were 842 Bs and 594 Cs handed out. 
Focus of many critical responses from district leaders and teacher union officials was the sharp increase in the number of low grades. In all, 263 schools got Ds, and 263 were graded Fs. The bottom two categories amounted to 24 percent of all state schools. (The 2012 grades: 138 Ds and 10 Fs.)
Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi had predicted the overall trends – both more As and more Ds and Fs. The assessments accurately reflect a much more stringent set of expectations in public education, she said, including closer scrutiny of test results, evidence of on-site progress and other factors. 
Barresi said, “Our students do not know less than they did, and teachers are not doing a poor job. Far from it. Classroom teachers are working hard, responding to more rigorous standards that will help children be prepared for successful and happy lives.
“As I had noted in August at a state Capitol news conference, this is a transformative time for Oklahoma education. The move to higher standards and expectations will be challenging, but the rewards will be generations of young people ready for college, career and citizenship.”
Weeks ago, Barresi and her staff acknowledged initial online problems with the posted data. Even after the agency’s drafts was deemed accurate, her staff field more than 1,100 “verification changes” from local districts. 
Yesterday, Barresi matched her reputation as a blunt speaker, saying “There here has been much sound and fury from a number of quarters. Some district superintendents — knowing that some of their schools would be getting F’s — preemptively tried discrediting the grading criteria. If these administrators put that same degree of energy and enthusiasm into turning around their challenged school sites as they did in criticizing the grades, then I am very optimistic about the future of those schools.”
Barresi and her close ally, Gov. Mary Fallin, have pushed back against critical analyses from research centers at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
Fallin commented, “”The grades issued today, as expected, paint a mixed picture. The majority of our schools are performing adequately. Many are operating at a very high level, thanks largely to dedicated and skilled teachers. 
“Some schools, however, are clearly in need of immediate improvement. The superintendents and teachers of schools receiving a D or an F must remember: a bad grade is not a punishment; it is a call to action. Parents should also understand that we are absolutely committed to helping these schools succeed.”
The A-F system seems certain to be one of the crucial issues in the 2014 campaign for the state superintendent’s post. Five Democrats and one Republican have already announced their intentions to oppose Barresi’s reelection.

You may contact Pat at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com