Governor Fallin Stands By A-F Grading System

Monday, November 4th 2013, 10:49 pm
By: News 9

Public educators across the state sound off after Governor Fallin says criticism of the new A-F school grading system could affect school funding. Some see the Governor's warning as a threat.

Governor Fallin makes it clear in her monthly "Oklahoma Now" Column, the A-F grading system is not going away, and believes there's a full-fledged effort by some to sabotage its goals.

11/3/2013 Related Story: Governor Says Criticism Of School Grades Unproductive

Here's the complete version of Gov. Fallin's monthly column concerning A-F grading system,

"Oklahoma has great teachers and great schools. No one deserves more respect or thanks than our teachers, who are doing difficult and important jobs for modest salaries. Many teachers make a profound difference in the lives of their students, instilling them with academic passions that lead to successful careers and fulfilling lives.

These successes should be applauded and celebrated. But just as we should not ignore our many successes, nor should we turn a blind eye to our system's shortcomings. Those shortcomings are real: data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for instance, shows that 73 percent of Oklahoma fourth graders are below proficient in reading and 66 percent are below proficient in Math. Furthermore, when our high school graduates reach college, they are often doing so without the skill-sets needed to succeed in college courses. More than two in every five Oklahoma college students must take remedial courses, adding time and expense to their education, and making it more likely they will dropout without acquiring a degree.

These are problems that can only be addressed by improving K-12 education. Shedding light on school performance - lifting up the hood and seeing what is working and what is not - is absolutely essential to achieving that improvement. We cannot boost student performance if we do not first have a method of identifying schools that are exceeding expectations and those that are falling behind.

The A-F public school grading system delivers that tool of measurement. It gives parents, administrators and teachers an easily understood way of evaluating school success.

The letter grades assigned to schools are based on student performance. Fifty percent of the grade is based on the average score students receive on standardized tests in subjects like English and Math. The other half of the grade is based on student improvement on these tests – meaning a school with relatively low scores can still receive a decent grade if student performance is moving in the right direction.

The roll-out of this new system has been difficult. There have been glitches and setbacks. But the system as it stands today is simple to understand and fair. There should be little doubt in anyone's mind that a school scored as an "A" is outstanding; an "F" school is failing and in need of immediate help.

This is an accountability and transparency measure the education community can and should support. As a state, we should recognize and reward success. We should also find and correct problem spots.

Identifying problem areas is not about blaming teachers. No one has ever argued that a school with an "F" or a "D" is plagued by bad teachers. A grade of "F" is not a punishment; it is a call to action. Schools that receive poor grades need help, attention and a change in strategy so that they can get back on track.

This week, the State Department of Education will release the final letter grades assigned for all Oklahoma schools.

As these results come in, there will be some educators and school districts that are justifiably thrilled with a recognition of their success. To them, I offer my congratulations.

There will also be educators that are disappointed, even angry, at a grade which they feel is too low.

Here is my message to these individuals: Work with me, with each other, with parents and with students to improve our schools.

The A-F grading system is not going away. It was authored and passed by democratically elected legislators, signed by me, and is now being implemented by an elected superintendent of public instruction.

It is not a new or untested idea. It is being adopted in more than a dozen states, where it is supported by Democrat and Republican lawmakers.

The full-fledged effort by some to sabotage the goals of the A-F system has created the kind of distasteful and unproductive atmosphere of obstruction and gridlock we are used to seeing in Washington, D.C. It has turned a conversation about improving our schools into a partisan spectacle that is not becoming of Oklahoma.

Worst of all, it has taken the focus off our children and what we can do to help them.

Let's put a stop to that.

This week, we will finally be given a system that allows us to accurately evaluate the quality of our schools. We know the results will be mixed. Oklahoma has good schools. Like all states, it has schools that are desperately in need of help.

Let's work together — as educators, lawmakers, parents and citizens — to deliver that help, to improve education and to take care of our kids."

"We've just got to fix it, but evidently, nobody is willing to do that at this point," said Blanchard Superintendent, Jim Beckham, Ph.D.

Dr. Beckham feels threatened by Fallin's recent warning of public criticism and the affect it could have on additional funding.

"It was hard for me to believe that coming out of the governor's office, that the threat was made unless that unless people like me and other superintendents like me keep their mouth shut, and not complain and defend their publicly educated students, and defend our schools, that our funding is going to be reduced," said Dr. Beckham. "I stand amazed, I really do."

Alex Weintz, a spokesperson for Gov. Fallin said in a statement,

"The governor believes that increased resources, if allocated appropriately can help improve the quality of schools and improve student performance. She is an advocate, if we have extra funds, of trying to funnel those into education."

It is crippling her ability to make that case to the public and to other lawmakers if the education community itself is touting a report which in essence says schools can have very little effect on student performance," said Weintz.

The governor says, as it stands today, the A-F grading system is simple to understand, and fair. Dr. Beckham is one of several across the state who disagrees.

"It's inaccurate, it's misleading, because it's not based on research," said Beckham. The criteria is designed so that we really don't know how the school is doing once this grade is assigned. It really means nothing, and I think people right now know that."

"I think you're hearing educators. They're dismayed, they're confused. They want a school accountability system that's valid, reliable and useful," said Ryan Owens, Exec. Dir. United Suburban Assoc.

Owens says the confusion is wide-spread.

"All we're trying to do is tell our patrons and legislatures that the A-F system they've created, doesn't work," Owens said.

"I'm not going to stop complaining about it. I guarantee ya," said Dr. Beckham. "And I don't think anybody else is either."

The state department of education is expected to release the final letter grades for every school across the state Wednesday afternoon.