March 7, 2011

Spurring excellence with a new grading system for schools

CHICKASHA — If you're a parent, do you know how your childs' school is doing?  What if the school received an annual report card – a grade of A to F – just like the report cards students receive?

If you heard that a school had an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 921, would you know what that means?

Two measures, Senate Bill 348 and House Bill 1456 have either passe committee or a floor vote in the Oklahoma Legislature to give parents and citizens an easy-to-understand way to compare schools and to see how their childrens' schools are doing.

API measures performance and progress in schools or districts and is based on factors including state tests scores; attendance, dropout and graduation rates; ACT scores and participation; Advanced Placement (AP) credit; and college remediation rates in reading and mathematics. The possible scores range from 0 to 1,500.

But the API can be confusing. By contrast, under House Bill 1456, schools would receive a letter grade based on student performance results from a combination of state tests and end-of-instruction tests, gains made in reading and mathematics; and improvement shown by students who had previously scored in the lowest 25th percentile of the state.

State grades would be assigned as follows:

• A would mean schools are making excellent progress;

• B would mean schools are making above average progress;

• C would mean schools are making satisfactory progress;

• D would mean schools are making less than satisfactory progress;

• F would mean schools are failing to make adequate progress.

Florida has had success with a similar plan since 1999, and test scores have risen over the past decade.

In 2009, a record number of schools scored an A and the number of schools graded F was at its lowest in three years.

A grading system for Oklahoma schools will provide much-needed transparency.

Families will have a better idea of how schools rate and they will also have the tools to find the best educational opportunities in their area.

I've heard concerns from some who say this new system of grading schools would cause competition among schools – to which I say, Absolutely!

Competition spurs excellence. It works in the private sector whe businesses compete. And it will work for schools, too.

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