Opinion: School struggles obvious in A-F, and many other evaluations

Opinion: School struggles obvious in A-F, and many other evaluations

By: The Oklahoman Editorial Board

September 22, 2014

THE state has released the latest A-F report cards for 1,795 school sites in Oklahoma. Just over 70 percent received a C or better; more than a third of the schools improved their scores since last year. Yet many school administrators still echoed the partisan diatribe issued by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Joe Dorman, who called the grades “meaningless and a completely inaccurate measure of Oklahoma’s schools and educators.”

Here’s the problem for critics of A-F school grading: Numerous independent measurements also suggest Oklahoma is failing many students.

Just 22 percent of Oklahoma graduating seniors in 2014 demonstrated college and career readiness in all four core subjects on the ACT college entrance exam — English, reading, science and math — according to ACT’s 2014 Condition of College and Career Readiness report. And roughly one-fourth of seniors didn’t take the ACT.

A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report gave Oklahoma failing grades for academic achievement, academic achievement by low-income and minority students, and international competitiveness. Oklahoma also got D’s for post-secondary and workforce readiness, parental options and data quality.

THE “Quality Counts” report from Education Week found just 13.6 out of every 100 Oklahoma students taking advanced placement tests achieve a high score. That’s about half the national average.

The percentage of Oklahoma students rated “proficient” or better on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests for reading and math in the fourth and eighth grades is below the national average, in some cases substantially lower. Students in neighboring Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri outperform Oklahoma students in NAEP math and reading proficiency. And a much larger share of students in Arkansas and Texas achieved high AP scores.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 39 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates who attend college take at least one remedial course (meaning they have to retake high school classes).

Those wishing to serve in the military must achieve a minimum score on the ASVAB test to enlist. A 2010 Education Trust report, which examined ASVAB results from 2004 to 2009, found that 23.2 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates (including 39.5 percent of black students) failed.

Prior to issuing A-F school grades, Oklahoma used the Academic Performance Index. Under API, schools were given scores from 0 to 1500. State Board of Education member Bill Price notes there was an 86 percent correlation between API scores and last year’s A-F grades.

A review of Oklahoma City school scores bears that out. Bodine Elementary got a 469 on the 2011 API and an F this year. Lee Elementary School received a 606 on the API and an F this year. Willow Brook Elementary School got a 562 on the API and a D-plus this year.

Yet few administrators criticized the API system. That’s probably because they believe few parents understood it.

Aurora Lora, the new associate superintendent of student achievement and accountability in the Oklahoma City district, was frank in her response to Oklahoma City’s school grades: “Academically, we have a long way to go. I’ve been out to about 50 schools so far to observe the quality of instruction, and my observations reinforce that we have a lot of work to do across the system. The report card grades confirm that.”

Give Lora credit for her willingness, unlike so many of her colleagues, to face reality and state the obvious. Denial is a poor battle plan for school improvement.