Rather than answer questions about the 2021-2022 school report cards, a spokesman for the Oklahoma State Department of Education announced the department is looking at overhauling the system.
After the 2021-2022 state report cards were issued in mid-April, the Tulsa World submitted a list of questions in writing to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, including specifics about attendance metrics and why per-pupil expenditures and other contextual data are still missing from the online interactive dashboard, despite the more than four-month delay in the grades’ release.
After multiple follow-up attempts via phone, email and text, Oklahoma State Department of Education spokesman Justin Holcomb responded Wednesday with a two-sentence, prepared statement:
“The report card policies of the previous administration lead to several discrepancies and inconsistencies throughout the entire program. Superintendent (Ryan) Walters intends to introduce a new report card system in the coming months that will totally revamp and streamline Oklahoma’s outdated process.”
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The revelation that the report card process may be changing was news to officials at several of the area’s largest school districts.
When reached Thursday and Friday, officials at Bixby, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Owasso, Sand Springs, Tulsa and Union each said that they have had no direct communication with OSDE about the possibility of changes to the report card system, nor had there been efforts to solicit feedback about what changes they would like to see.
Holcomb did not respond to follow-up inquiries seeking details about the proposed changes, including whether the nature of Walters’ planned “revamp and streamline” efforts would even be allowable under current state statutes without legislative action and if the Oklahoma State Department of Education would seek out school districts’ opinions before attempting to make any changes.
State law requires report cards to be issued annually and that certain criteria be taken into account when calculating schools’ grades, including English language proficiency for English language learners, student attendance, student performance on statewide assessments and, for high schools, graduation rates and access to post-secondary opportunities, such as concurrent enrollment, internships and apprenticeships.
However, the law does not stipulate how those metrics are to assessed or how much weight each category must carry when determining the overall grade.
Oklahoma grades its public schools using a bell curve. That means every year, 5% of schools will receive an A, 25% will receive a B, 40% will receive a C, 25% will receive a D and 5% will receive an F.
At the state level, academic achievement received a C grade, academic growth a B, English language proficiency progress a B, chronic absenteeism a D, postsecondary opportunities a C and graduation a D.
The first report cards issued since before the pandemic, the release was delayed due to calculation errors that were revealed in December.
Among Tulsa Public Schools sites, 15 of its 72 campuses received an overall grade of C or better: Carnegie, Council Oak, Dolores Huerta, Eisenhower, Eliot, Grissom, Mayo Demonstration, Lanier, Patrick Henry, Salk and Zarrow elementary schools; Carver and Edison middle schools and Booker T. Washington and Edison high schools.
Overall letter grades were not issued for Tulsa Virtual Academy or three of the district’s alternative sites: North Star Academy, Street School and Tulsa MET Junior High, which is now Tulsa MET Middle School.
TPS issued a written statement in response to the release of the grades.
“While the last three years have been difficult for families, students, and schools, our overall scores on the Oklahoma State Report Cards have held steady, and we are seeing continued improvement in our Academic Growth indicator.
“We have, however, also seen that Oklahoma’s school grades reflect the economic challenges their families face; the higher the percentage of economically disadvantaged students, the lower the school grade. This has been the case statewide for many years.”
Among Tulsa’s charter schools, Dove Science Academy and Dove School of Discovery had the highest overall grades, with each earning a B.
Overall grades were not issued to three charter schools: KIPP Tulsa University Prep, Deborah Brown Community School or Tulsa Honor Academy’s high school.
Among the larger suburban districts, no secondary sites received an overall A. Five elementary schools earned an A: Sand Springs’ Angus Valley and Pratt; Union’s Andersen and Darnaby; and Jenks West Intermediate.
Bixby Superintendent Rob Miller said that while he and other area superintendents agree that there needs to be accountability for school districts, the current report card system does not provide a full picture of a school’s progress, particularly when issued almost a full year after the conclusion of the grading period.
“My honest opinion is that it (report card data) is not useful at all, especially post-pandemic,” he said. “We understand that kids are going to have some academic gaps and our teachers have been working extremely hard to identify those gaps.”
Instead, BPS is using grant funds to bring in a third-party contractor to help develop district assessments based on feedback from parents.
“We shouldn’t shy away from accountability,” Miller said. “In fact, we should embrace it, but make it more transparent. We need to build trust with our families so that they see we’re focused on the priorities that are important to them and that we are taking steps to improve in ways that are measurable locally and can have a real impact on students in our schools.”