Oklahoma educators work to reform assessment system 

click to enlarge Joy Hofmeister during a town hall meeting at Capitol Hill High School, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Joy Hofmeister during a town hall meeting at Capitol Hill High School, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.

Once viewed as a novel approach to accountability and transparency for Oklahoma schools, the A-F Report Cards were more widely considered disastrous for education in Oklahoma after their implementation in 2012.

A single letter grade based heavily on the state’s standardized tests drove good teachers and administrators away from the field, confused the public and unfairly tainted the reputation of public schools, according to a number of the state’s education leaders.

“I am in favor of an assessment system that holds us accountable, a system that requires ownership of our academic achievements, both good and bad,” said El Reno Superintendent Craig McVay during the Dec. 15 State Board of Education meeting. “I don’t believe the current system is reliable or valid. It hasn’t been since its inception. … This A-F debacle was created under the guise of providing parents with a simple tool to gauge their home school. It became useless and a complicated way to punish teachers and educators. It wasn’t simple. It wasn’t useful.”

Advocates for reforming Oklahoma’s accountability system got their wish under new mandates handed down under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind. Passed this spring, Oklahoma’s House Bill 3218 pushed the state education agency to craft a new system of assessment and accountability for public schools.

After months of work, state education officials unveiled the system and earned the approval of the State Board of Education during the December meeting. Described by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister as more reliable, valid and meaningful, the blueprint will go before state lawmakers next session and requires the governor’s signature before becoming law.

Under the proposal, Oklahoma schools will no longer be judged primarily on a single, end-of-the-year test as a snapshot of success or failure. It’s a major shift in the way schools are measured, as college and career readiness, chronic absenteeism and growth in performance gaps will be calculated into the grades. If endorsed by elected officials, schools would continue to collect an overall grade but also be assigned grades for other major indicators of school success.

The new assessment and accountability system isn’t without critics, most of which are unhappy the state will continue to assign an overall letter grade to schools. A federal rule change, which was published in November, said states were no longer required to assign a single rating.

The proposed assessment system has earned the support of education leader Cecilia Robinson-Woods, superintendent of Millwood Public Schools, a high-poverty, urban district in northeast Oklahoma City.

“There are so many schools like Millwood, where kids come to us with the bare minimum by no fault of their own,” said Robinson-Woods. “The new report card system allows us to tell the story. … The new report card will allow me to justify the growth that my teachers have worked so hard for over the course of time.”

There are three major takeaways from the new assessment and accountability system.

1. Meet the creators

Before Oklahoma State Department of Education staff began drafting a new assessment and accountability system, education officials traveled to Broken Arrow, Sallisaw, Durant, Edmond, Woodward and Lawton to meet with stakeholders and garner suggestions on how to measure schools and hold them accountable.

The feedback was later presented to the 95 members of the Oklahoma Assessment and Accountability Task Force, which included members of the Legislature, the greater community and those in the education field. OKC metro districts, including Oklahoma City, Edmond, Mid-Del, Choctaw-Nicoma Park, Moore, KIPP, Putnam City, Norman and Millwood, were represented on the task force. Education experts Juan D’Brot from the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment and Marianne Perie from the University of Kansas’ Achievement & Assessment Institute served as facilitators.

2. Emphasis on meaningful data

The current A-F report card calculated grades based entirely on state standardized test scores. The proposed replacement incorporates other school success indicators like student growth in academic areas, career and college readiness, chronic absenteeism and graduation rates to determine letter grades. Additionally, the report cards feature an overall school grade, along with grades in major indicators.

By adding chronic absenteeism, which is defined as a student missing 18 or more days during the year, schools will be encouraged to address the issues. Research suggests a link between chronic absenteeism and low academic achievement. Chronic absenteeism is viewed as a growing problem in Oklahoma schools. During the 2013-14 school year, the state reports 16 percent of high school students were absent at least 15 days.

Also new to the report cards is a measure of the proficiency of English learners, which was required under the federal law. The addition will help ensure schools are helping English learners make progress toward English language proficiency annually.

The task force pushed for a new rubric, one in which a majority of schools would be rated with a grade of B, C or D. Schools earning an “F” will be categorized as “comprehensive support schools” and targeted for support. “A” schools will be considered the state’s very best and identified as “reward schools.”

3. Report card look

Currently, Oklahoma’s report cards are single-page PDF files for each school. There is little detail in the reports, which list student outcome numbers in reading, math, science, social studies and writing, followed by a letter grade.

The new report cards, which will be accessible through the Department of Education website, will be formatted as an interactive dashboard and allow users to see the breakdown of how a school is performing in several different indicators. Users will be able to compare schools in the district and state as well as see the breakdown by student group. Officials believe by displaying the report cards in an online dashboard format, school administrators and parents will easily see where their schools are succeeding as well as areas in which they need improvement.

Print headline: New grades, With state government leaders’ approval, Oklahoma could see a new accountability system.

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