Stillwater News Press

January 30, 2013

Panel: Evaluation system ‘falls short’

By Mark Rountree
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Research teams at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma have concluded the state’s new school assessment model “falls short” of providing a clear and meaningful picture of individual school performance.

Responding to a request from the Oklahoma School Boards Association and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, the nine-person panel produced a 32-page report lauding the intention of the Oklahoma A-F School Report Cards but is critical of numerous elements of it.

“Although achievement data are obviously important for assessing schools,” the report states, “an accountability grade based almost exclusively on test scores does not account for numerous critical factors that contribute to school performance.”

The report states, “Despite good intentions, the features of the Oklahoma A-F grading system produce school grades that are neither clear, nor comparable; their lack of clarity makes unjustified decisions about schools.”

Stillwater Public Schools earned two A’s and the rest B’s when the grade reports were released late last fall. Stillwater High School was given an overall grade of 3.67, falling only percentage points below a 3.75, which is an A. Stillwater received A’s in student achievement, overall student growth and bottom quartile student growth. What brought Stillwater’s score down was an 87 percent in graduation rate and a 63 percent in advanced coursework participation.

The state’s highest ranking school administrator said efforts are being made to improve the assessment model.

“There is always ways to make systems better,” State Superintendent Janet Barresi said. “We have put forth some recommendations, really based on the input of superintendents, on meaningful changes that can be made to A-F and to make it a better report to parents about how children are doing.”

State Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, said he anticipates amendments to the grade report during this legislative session.

State Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, said she expects changes in the school evaluation model.

“It’s a work in progress,” Denney said.

Dialogue with superintendents has been helpful, Denney said.

“I have been told (superintendents) embrace this report,” Denney said. “They want (the assessment model) to be truly reflective of their school district.”

Barresi joined a panel of state lawmakers and area school administrators Wednesday during a 90-minute discussion at the Stillwater Public Schools Administration Building, the latest stop on her statewide Raise The Grade Tour.

Barresi said that the restoration of school funding is the top priority in common education.

“At the top of our agenda is making sure districts have the monetary resources they need to begin to provide appropriate services to the children,” Barresi said. “(The budget) has been cut for many years in a row. It’s time to start climbing out of that hole, and we will be very focused on doing what we can to make sure that we educate legislators, visit with them and hear their concerns, but then also press our case to assure that funding is restored back to our schools.”

On Tuesday, Barresi asked a joint House and Senate budget committee for $37.7 million in supplemental funding to finish out the fiscal year, and called for an additional $289 million next fiscal year.

“I’m going to be pounding the pavement to increase funding for education,” Barresi said. “Not to make government bigger, but to make it more efficient and productive for our children.”

Even while state funding for education has decreased more than 10 percent in the last four years, schools are being forced to comply with new requirements that students demonstrate reading proficiency before advancing to third grade and pass a series of end-of-instruction tests before graduating high school.

“I think we are going to see more money for education,” Denney said.

Barresi met with Stillwater Public School principals and curriculum teams Wednesday morning before going to Stillwater High School for a round-table meeting with students and teachers.

“It has been most instructive to me,” Barresi said. “I started doing it the second week I was in office, and I have learned so much. There is nothing like being in a school district, hearing concerns, visiting with teachers, sometimes visiting with students, to hear their perspective. No report that is sitting on my desk can convey that information.”