Parents, just imagine working with your child daily on a difficult subject. In fact, you formed a study group with all your child’s classmates, and every child earns an 80 or higher for their final grades. What a celebration! Nevertheless, a rule limits the number of A’s to 5% and requires 5% of all grades be F’s. Consequently, your child’s 93 is rebranded as a “B.” Or worse, your child’s 80 is reclassified as an “F.” This is the reality forced upon Oklahoma schools by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The new Oklahoma State Department of Education (OKSDE) A-F School Report Cards were released this week, but these new report cards are mostly controlled by ESSA guidelines and parameters – a federal law. Oklahoma’s ESSA plan was approved on July 18, 2018, so for 8 months, we have been working on the rules according to that approved plan to meet the federal law.
According to ESSA, school report cards must provide “meaningful differentiation,” which simply means Oklahoma grades must be redistributed until 5% of schools receive an “F.” Oklahoma chose to also limit A’s to 5% of schools. This forces all schools into a “bell curve,” regardless of the results. Two areas on Oklahoma’s Report Card failed to provide the required quota of A’s or F’s: Chronic Absenteeism and Graduation Rates. Many of Lawton’s school grades were lowered as a result.
We expected all LPS schools to earn a “C” or higher in those indicators, based on the July 18, 2019 ESSA plan. Unfortunately, statewide scores were redistributed to ensure that 5% received F’s and only 5% A’s. Many schools expecting C’s or B’s in Chronic Absenteeism or Graduation Rates now have D’s or F’s – not because they earned a D or an F under the plan but because the formulas were changed last minute. The changed calculations do not follow Oklahoma’s ESSA plan, but OKSDE officials apparently had no choice but to make adjustments under federal guidelines.
Now that the grades are public, I am very proud of our schools’ performance overall. Nevertheless, many LPS schools’ grades were lowered by the unexpected changes. Under the original rules for these two areas, we earned many more A’s and no D’s or F’s. Consider Lawton High School as an example. LHS expected a “C” for chronic absenteeism (75.7) but was awarded an “F” after the rule change. Furthermore, we expected the LHS graduation rate to have been a “B” under the original rules, instead of the “D” awarded. I struggle to see this as fair or meaningful.
Despite these issues, this report card is an improvement over previous versions, even with these last-minute changes in calculations. It provides much clearer student level data that can be used for planning next year. For that, our educators are thankful, and I suppose we should also be thankful that federal social engineers do not require the same failure quotas for kids. Our students can all still earn A’s if they work hard, and none are forced to accept an “F” in the name of meaningful differentiation. Under ESSA logic, every student succeeds, except the 5% we need to fail?
I am impressed with our schools’ results despite the last-minute rule changes, but I am most impressed with our students and educators: they are phenomenal. We will focus on these results, and we will improve where we need to improve. I will proudly place their report cards on the district refrigerator because I am proud of each school in Lawton. Each teacher and each student. You truly are the Best in the Southwest.