Oklahoma A-F grades provide transparency

Jonathan Small | November 1, 2023

A-to-F letter grades are a longstanding way of signifying academic achievement. That’s why some school officials in Oklahoma are now fighting to get rid of grades for both students and schools.

In 2011, Oklahoma lawmakers voted to assign A-to-F grades to schools to give parents some indication of school performance and allow comparison with other districts. Ever since, status-quo defenders have sought to eliminate the transparency measure.

During a recent study, Bixby Public Schools superintendent Rob Miller called for lawmakers to eliminate school grades. When asked why A-F grades are bad for schools if they are okay for students, Miller responded: “We are moving away from A-to-F grades as quickly as we possibly can,” but admitted Bixby still gives elementary students “a final grade, simply because our parents ask for it.”

The reason parents insist on letter grades for their children is the same reason letter grades for schools remain appropriate: Because they are easily understood. Everyone knows a D or F school is not acceptable.

Also, student performance and student growth remain major factors in the school-grading system—and rightfully so. Student-growth measurement, in particular, benefits schools because they are not penalized if a student begins the year performing below grade level so long as that child achieves a full year of academic growth by the year’s end. And if officials help that child catch up to grade level, the school’s grade improves.

Critics insist the system is not “fair” because “chronic absenteeism” is one factor in school grades. But school personnel, particularly school leadership, have a significant impact on whether a school’s culture encourages students and families to make sure students attend.

Furthermore, the grading system is not harsh. Of 1,568 school sites given a letter grade in the most recent round, only 27.4% received a D or F (with just 4.5% getting an F). That means 72.6% of Oklahoma public schools received a C or better.

In a state consistently ranked among the bottom 10 in academic outcomes that suggests a great deal of leniency is built into the system.

Even so, school officials complain: “Parents get upset when a school gets a D or an F.” “Businesses pay attention to school grades.”

Well, yes. Parents and business leaders should want their local school to be the best it can be, and to believe a D school is not the best they can expect.

The response to a low grade, whether for students or schools, is not to get rid of grading. The proper response is to reassess and work to improve your grades. Students do this all the time, and many schools have received low grades only to improve them over time.

Each year, Oklahoma taxpayers are asked to increase school funding by millions of dollars. They have every right to ask for measurement of the results.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

Loading Next