Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sommers addresses new attack on A-F school grading system

The Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administrators (CCOSA) this week released a new report critical of Oklahoma’s A-F school grading system. The report complains that the school grades are based on student achievement as measured by standardized tests. 

“[S]chools do affect test results, but the effect size is routinely found to be between 20 and 30 percent,” the report states. “Thus, composing school letter grades from student test performance alone will frequently give false credit or blame to schools for effects that are mostly unrelated to what they do.”

In a memo to its members, CCOSA refers to a similar report issued in January which claimed that basing school grades on student achievement, student growth, and whole school performance is flawed.

The reports are part of an effort by CCOSA to discredit the new A-F school grading system. The basis for the new school grading system is similar to that of the Academic Performance Index (API), the previous school grading system. The API used a 0-1500 scale that few people understood.

The Legislature made changes to the A-F school grading law earlier this year to address many of the concerns raised by CCOSA after the first A-F school grades were issued last year. CCOSA and the report’s researchers dismissed these changes saying the problems identified in the first report “have possibly been intensified.”

Dr. Robert Sommers, Secretary of Education and Workforce Development, issued a statement critical of the assumptions used in crafting the report. He expressed alarm at the contention that schools have little influence on student success. 

“You suggest that no more than 30 percent of the variation in student achievement is due to a school and its teachers,” said Sommers. “We reject this notion outright. We think high quality teachers and high quality schools, such as we have in Oklahoma, have significantly higher impact.

You also suggest that to be valid, any form of performance measurement should include school processes and conditions. We strongly disagree. Results come from process decisions.  

There are other issues with the report according to Sommers’ statement.

“The analysis only includes 63 urban schools and 15,000 kids, which is not representative of the over 1,800 schools and 655,000 students in Oklahoma.  

Second the entire analysis is based on the number of questions answered correctly on the Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP).  OSTP is not scored based on percent of items correct, it is based on scoring that does not yield the same interpretation as a percent correct method because it does not equate one item with one point. Therefore the very premise of the report is flawed.

“We value our schools and our teachers and the critical role they play in student learning and achievement.

We know of schools and teachers who have beaten the odds and have helped students learn in spite of external hardships. These schools and teachers disprove your assumptions. Conditions such as poverty and minority status are factors that should not be ignored, but neither should they be an excuse for having low expectations for the students most in need. Certainly time and time again we have seen such obstacles overcome with great success.  

It is unconscionable to give up on any student especially those who have the most to gain. It has been proven that we can defy the odds and the future of our state depends on it.”

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