Ray Carter | February 28, 2023

Too easy to understand? Committee targets A-F school grades

Ray Carter

Citing concerns that the system is too easily understood by the public, members of a state House committee have voted to scrap A-F school grades that inform parents of how their local public school stacks up against other public schools.

“Language matters,” said state Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa. “There’s a big difference between saying this is a school that’s in need of improvement and saying this is a school that has an F, because it tends to cause people in this building to refer to them as failing schools.”

House Bill 1882, by Waldron, eliminates the A-F grades given local schools on an annual state report card based on several criteria that include student academic outcomes and graduation rates. The bill would also eliminate measurement of chronic student absenteeism from the report.

Instead of letter grades, Waldron said schools would be categorized as “meeting standards,” “exceeding standards,” or “in need of improvement.”

Waldron called the A-F grades “over simplistic” and said the new version would be “more nuanced.”

“Failing schools, we punish them,” Waldron said. “But a school in need of improvement, we give the school what it needs to meet the needs of the children at the door.”

But state Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, said a major benefit of the A-F system is its clarity.

“Couldn’t you do a ‘more nuanced’ and detailed explanation using the existing A-F?” Caldwell said. “One of the ways we ended there is that under the old system parents complained that no one knew what it was. We put a bunch of labels on things that didn’t mean anything. I think most people kind of understand A through F. We’ve all been to school.”

Waldron said there are no failing schools in Oklahoma.

HB 1882 passed the House Common Education Committee on a 10-1 vote. Caldwell was the only lawmaker to oppose the bill.

According to the most recent round of state tests in 2022, only 29 percent of Oklahoma third graders read at grade level or better. Results on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests showed that between 2019 and 2022 Oklahoma students’ scores on the fourth-grade reading test declined at nearly three times the national norm. Student scores on the ACT college-admission test have been declining or flat for seven of the past eight years. And the head of the state’s college system recently said that nearly 19 out of 20 Oklahoma high-school graduates enter college unprepared to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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