Friday, November 15, 2013

A-F: Their words, not mine

An interesting phenomenon happened this week with regards to the A-F grading transition system.  The 3 biggest players in Oklahoma politics (my apologies to the esteemed Senator from Edmond) lined up to defend the A-F accountability system.  I would point out that the A-F accountability system is useless; simply pointing to the fact that it is inaccurate (changing as many as 10 times), it’s flawed (see researchers from Oklahoma State, Oklahoma University, University of North Carolina, and the University of South Carolina), and it doesn’t do what it is designed to do (more on this later).  But there they were, staunchly defending this accountability system that is getting more bad press than Obamacare.  Our Governor, Secretary of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction wrote OP-EDs, conducted interviews on TV shows, wrote letters, and held press conferences in an attempt to defend the system and it’s catastrophic implementation.  Here is the thing; although they each defended the system, they should have choreographed their message. I’ll use their words to make my point.

From our Governor (you can read her OP-ED here)

     The Governor issued an OP-ED saying that Oklahoma’s A-F grading system is a “system that accurately measures success and failure”.  She goes on to say A-F gives “parents an accurateeasily understood method of measuring the quality of education their children are receiving.”  Furthermore, she states that “superintendents and teachers of schools receiving a D or an F must remember: a bad grade is not a punishment; it is a call to action.”

Our State Secretary of Education said this (you can read his response here):

“Reporting school performance in a transparent and understandable way is a valuable tool for educational improvement
He continued his defense of A-F by proclaiming that grades are a great way for parents to compare schools.

And from our State Superintendent of Public Instruction (in her letter to Guthrie Parents)

She starts off with this:  “it is intended to be a clear and accurate report to you and other stakeholders regarding the progress of your child’s school and its current academic status … therefore, parents and stakeholders must have an accurate report about each school’s performance.  The A-F Grade Card is part of an overall information packet that provides you with a comprehensive picture of each school’s effectiveness.

So it appears that every member of the defense committee has the same theme: accurate measure, easily understood, school performance, comprehensive picture.

Now let’s read what the State Department of Education’s website says about A-F (it is listed under “intro to Oklahoma’s A-F School Grading System”

You really should read the entire introduction; it is full of comical contradictions to the big 3!
It starts with: “As this is still a relatively new system, however, we must ensure that A-F system is both understandable and interpreted appropriately” What!? I thought this was supposed to be easily understood as indicated by our Governor and Secretary of Education.  I thought it was clear and accurate as indicated by the Secretary and State Superintendent.  Then why is it necessary to have a 30 page technical document to explain it?  Why the need for the State Department of Education to place a “What is and what isn’t” intended to be measured by the A-F report card?

What is next is what I like to call the death blow to any credible defense of A-F by the big 3!

“The A-F Report Card is not:
·     A measure of the “school” or “teacher” effect on student learning
·     A statement about a school’s overall quality of services provided

In other words, much like a student report card, the A-F grade tells us how students at a particular school are doing…”

Right there in black and white print on the SDE’s own webpage with the State Superintendent’s smiling picture! 

It is not a measure of the performance of a school or the effects of teacher effort!”
It is a measure of the students in a school

So, if it is NOT a measure of the school or the teachers of that school, then why do the Governor, State Secretary, and State Superintendent continue to tell the public it is a measure of a school performance?  Why do they continue to insist on providing a public grade for the quality of students at a school? After all, that is exactly what the SDE claims the intent of the report card does!  And I haven’t even mentioned according to Teacher, Leader Effectiveness legislation 50% of a teacher’s and principal’s evaluation will be based off a report card NOT intended to measure the teacher effect on student learning!

But hey, if you don’t like me saying the A-F system doesn’t make sense, then let me leave you with the State Superintendent’s own words (in a letter to the Guthrie parents). “I agree that this does not make sense. It does not reflect the direct instructional impact of teachers on your child’s performance”.  I couldn’t have said it any better!