A-F Grading on School Performance: The Myths and Facts

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MYTH - At least 80% of Oklahoma schools would receive an F under this system, with little chance to improve to C and never an A.

➢ FACT - Early simulations of calculated grades show that no more than 2 percent of schools would receive F’s under the new system. Upwards of 10 percent would receive A’s. It is likely that 60 percent of schools would receive A’s and B’s in the first release of letter grades planned for August 2012. Fundamentally, however, an A-F reform should incentivize excellence, not reward mediocrity. The new A-F reform should not be stacked to inflate grades, but should instead focus on real results.

MYTH - The A-F system is an “unnecessary expansion of bureaucracy.”

➢ FACT - The new A-F system is a step forward in transparency and accountability. An essential first principle of such reforms is that taxpayers deserve to see a return on their investment. Taxpayers invest in public education throughout the state and deserve to see unambiguous information.  Currently, the state operates on two systems: API and No Child Left Behind.  Both systems are more complicated and less transparent than A-F.  Because A-F is replacing two systems, it is actually streamlining accountability and cutting through the clutter of information.

MYTH - People will move away from areas with low-performing schools.

➢ FACT - There is not evidence of this occurring in other states with similar A-F reforms. And in Oklahoma, where performance data has been available to the public for some time, it has not occurred.

MYTH - Schools will not have adequate opportunities to improve under the new A-F scale, and the system will be “rigged” to punish them.

➢ FACT - There is no constraint on every school getting an A. It is not a rank-ordered system based on a forced bell curve. Indeed, schools will have the chance to continually improve.

MYTH - Schools and districts will have no opportunity to appeal or try to correct perceived mistakes in data.

➢ FACT - There is a deliberative and fair process for schools to correct any errors in data, and they are given multiple opportunities to do so within a reasonable period of time.  Schools will have thirty (30) days calendar days to correct any errors in data prior to grades being released.

MYTH - The new A-F system will not be transparent and the rules are confusing.

➢ FACT - By the very nature of rules, some may find them technical, and they are certainly detailed. The SDE will develop score sheets that clearly explain school grades for the general public. But perhaps more importantly, who doesn’t understand an A-F letter grade system? It makes intuitive sense, which is why the reform has widespread support among the general public.

MYTH - The new A-F grades will not be a valid indicator of school performance.

➢ FACT - The A-F grades will be based on student performance and student growth, as well as other common indicators of success.  These indicators are commonly used and speak for themselves.

MYTH - Only affluent schools able to offer robust course offerings will be able to achieve higher grades.

➢ FACT - Advanced Placement classes are one of many criteria that can be used to develop a letter grade, and only have a marginal impact on whole school grade. Students in CareerTech classes or concurrent enrollment programs count the same as Advanced Placement classes.

MYTH - Originally, only Adequate Yearly Progress would have been used to determine letter grades. Now, schools will be graded on a variety of factors.

➢ FACT - From the very beginning, the law has clearly spelled out that schools would be graded on a variety of factors, and the law is quite specific about the percentages used to calculate grades.

MYTH - One of the categories involved in an elementary school's grade for whole school improvement will be how many elementary students are taking middle school classes.  In order to receive a C in this category, 20% of elementary students must be taking middle school classes.

➢ FACT - Elementary schools will be able to achieve a bonus based on students taking middle school classes, but this will not be a part of the calculation for the base letter grade.

MYTH - Most elementary classes in (fill in the blank school) are self-contained classrooms and it’s likely that our district will have 14% or less of eligible elementary students in advanced classes leading to an "F" rating in this category.   

➢ FACT - Those criteria are not applied to elementary schools for the base grade. Schools may earn bonus points for those criteria.

MYTH - The calculation is complex and inscrutable.
➢ FACT - The computation of grades is quite straightforward and transparent.   It can be calculated at a 5th-grade math level.

MYTH - The rules make it impossible for high-performing schools to do better. Schools that are doing well will be punished.
➢ FACT -  The credit schools receive for growth will be equally applied to high performing school that maintain proficiency

MYTH - One would have to be intimately familiar with the inner workings of a school to understand why a school received a particular letter grade.

➢ FACT - Clear-cut guides and score sheets will be publicly available to assist members of the public and all stakeholders to understand how and why grades were given, the implications of the grades, and the context behind the grades.  This accountability system can in no way be more complex than the current system.  This accountability system was created in part because so many citizens have complained either that the current system is confusing and lacking in transparency – or that they hadn’t realized that the current system even exists.

MYTH – The SDE did not seek input or comment from educators and administrators across the state before developing the rules.

➢ FACT - When ESEA Waiver working groups with school administrators met in October, the groups discussed the connections of the waiver to the A-F law.  The working groups shared thoughts that informed the writing of the initial draft of the A-F rule.  The law's authors were consulted routinely in developing the draft. The governor’s office reviewed the rules draft. Also, SDE convened a group of superintendents (or their representatives) and assessment directors (or their representatives) that met on December 20.  They gave specific feedback on A-F rules and provided a great deal of the content for the rules.  SDE also met with Senator Jolley on December 7, Representative Denney on December 19, and had a larger stakeholder conference call on January 9 that included CCOSA, OSSBA, legislators, and others. Additionally, the public had a 30-day comment period to make substantive comments on the rules draft, which was available for anyone to review online.  All of this feedback informed the final draft of the rule approved by the State Board on 3/39/2012.  The extraordinary level of input the SDE received and the lengths at which the SDE worked with stakeholders across the state to get this rule right reflect the high level of interest and importance of this rule.

MYTH – Opponents to the reform who appeared at a public hearing on the rules draft represent a wide swath of public opinion, and there is widespread opposition to the law.

➢ FACT – There is widespread public support for this straightforward and common sense reform. The will of the people has been expressed in the Legislature, which includes deadlines that the SDE and the State Board of Education must meet.  The timing of the Board vote on 3/29/2012 was in keeping with the legislated deadline and the requirements of the rule making process.

MYTH – It is preferable at this point to delay implementation of the rules, perhaps appoint a commission to study the rules for an indeterminate period of time.

➢ FACT - The rule-making process is deliberative and judicious, and it allows for the opportunity for modifications in the future, as needed.

MYTH – The rule making process is a time where opposition to the law can be useful and constructive in influencing implementation of A-F.

➢ FACT - Public comment is intended to address the rules for implementing A-F, not for “relitigating” the law passed by the Legislature a year ago.  The State Department of Education must comply with laws passed by the Legislature.  Compliance means the department must promulgate rules.  While the department welcomes and encourages public comment on the rules, it is unhelpful to challenge the law at this venue because the State Department of Education has no choice but to comply with the law. Supt. Barresi advocated for this reform and is very supportive of the law.  Again, the will of the people has been clearly expressed in the legislative process.

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Last updated on October 1, 2013