State board looks at changes in A-F School Report Cards

The Oklahoma State Board of Education will study ways to improve the state’s A-F School Report Card system in light of some new federal legislation and an upcoming state budget shortfall.

Fifty-two schools – mostly elementary schools – in Tulsa Public Schools got failing grades in the 2015 A-F Report Cards from the Oklahoma Department of Education. Tulsa had 28 percent of all the failing schools in the entire state. Eleven schools got worse scores than last year. In Oklahoma, the number of schools that got As (212) fell by 72 while the number that got Fs declined slightly by 13 schools. Statewide this year, there were 212 As, 497 Bs, 536 Cs, 333 Ds and 183 Fs. In the 2014-15 school year, there were 284 As, 470 Bs, 492 Cs, 292 Ds and 196 Fs.

The report last week was the result of House Bill 1823. Signed into law in June, it directed OSDE to study how to strengthen the A-F School Report Cards and present a report on its findings by Dec. 31. The agency commissioned a study by researchers at The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University plus advisory councils and the Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said her office got the researchers’ report just one day before last week’s board meeting and her staff needs a more thorough review of its recommendations.

“A valid and reliable accountability system is critical for improving Oklahoma schools, but strong accountability doesn’t come about by trying to beat the clock,” she said. “The well-documented problems with our current A-F system began under a compressed time frame. Then legislators tried to fix those issues and inadvertently caused other problems that even jeopardized Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver. If there is one thing we know, it is that developing strong accountability cannot be a timed event.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaces the controversial No Child Left Behind law. President Obama signed ESSA on Dec. 10 after its overwhelming passage by Congress. The act necessitates a host of rules and guidelines by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) that will not be finalized until October 2016.

U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, voted against the ESSA.

Hofmeister thinks strengthening A-F is further complicated by an expected $1 billion state budget shortfall for next fiscal year. She wants more tax money to update the accountability system. Earlier this month, Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger announced a possible revenue failure for the remainder of FY 2016.

Hofmeister and her staff think evaluations should address academics (especially reading, math and science); truancy; state testing; career readiness (course work and exams); tracks for graduation; higher education readiness; and other federal mandates.

“We are committed to a valid, meaningful and tough accountability system,” said Hofmeister, “one that is easily understood by educators, parents and communities and provides transparency of how schools are performing. I am confident we will get there.”