McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

November 7, 2013

Four Pontotoc County schools earn A’s; Ada’s results unchanged

Eric Swanson Staff Writer

Ada — Four Pontotoc County high schools earned top marks in this year’s A-F report cards.

Allen, Latta, Stonewall and Roff High Schools all received A’s on their report cards, which were released Wednesday by the Oklahoma Department of Education. Stonewall Elementary School finished near the top of the list with an A-.

Latta Superintendent Cliff Johnson praised the district’s teachers and students for their work.

“Our teachers are working hard, and they’re doing a good job,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “We’re proud of our students, and we’re proud of the progress that we’re making. We’re going to continue to do the same things we’ve done over the years to work hard and strive for great academic progress.”

Stonewall Superintendent Kevin Flowers noted that Stonewall’s grades were fairly good this year.

“It is true, our overall student performance at Stonewall has been good and improving for some time,” he said in an email. “I couldn’t be prouder of my teachers and students for their improvement.  We will undoubtedly continue to analyze our strengths and weaknesses year after year.”

Five Ada schools — Ada Early Childhood Center, Hayes Elementary, Washington Elementary, Willard Elementary and Ada Junior High — earned either C minuses or C pluses, while Ada High School received a B. Ada’s results changed only slightly from last year.

Ada City Schools Superintendent Pat Harrison said the results were not surprising, since lawmakers tweaked the formula for determining grades.

“After we knew what changes were made at the legislative level last year, we kind of felt like that was going to have a negative effect on report cards as a whole — and I think it did — but not a huge effect,” he said. “I would say we weren’t really surprised by anything on the report card this year.”

More than 1,700 Oklahoma schools received their A-F report cards this week after they were certified by the state Board of Education. District grades appeared briefly by mistake on the Department of Education’s website, but they were later removed when the error was discovered.

Districts’ overall grades will likely appear on the website by the end of the week, said Tricia Pemberton, assistant director of communication for the department.

The report cards were supposed to be released in late October, but they were delayed after several problems surfaced during a 10-day review period, according to the Department of Education. Department officials made some initial mistakes in calculating grades, and the grades changed as officials handled updates based on additional information.

The report cards are designed to give students and parents an easy-to-understand way to measure their school’s performance. Schools receive individual letter grades, which are combined into an overall grade for the entire district.

The report card is made up of two sections, with each section accounting for half of the overall grade.

• The student performance section includes test scores from the summer and winter of 2012 as well as the spring of this year. Students who were affected when their testis were disrupted for two days in April were not included in the calculations.

Ten or more student test scores were needed to qualify for a grade.

• The student growth section compared current test scores with scores from the previous year. Students received one point if they boosted proficiency from one year to the next, stayed at the proficient or advanced level for both years, or met the Oklahoma Performance Index score from one year to the next.

The state calculated the index score by averaging scores from all students who demonstrated positive growth for the year.

Overall student growth accounted for 25 percent of the grade for that section, and growth among the lowest-performing students counted for another 25 percent.

Schools could also earn up to 10 bonus points for attendance rates, graduation rates, advanced coursework and other factors.

More than 350 schools received A’s this year, compared to 160 in 2012, according to the state Department of Education. The number of schools with B’s dropped from 842 in 2012 to 499 this year.

Four hundred and seventy-two schools earned C’s this year, compared to 594 in 2012.

More schools received barely-passing or failing grades this year. More than 250 schools had D’s and 163 schools had F’s, accounting for 24 percent of schools across the state.

The report cards recorded 138 D’s and 10 F’s in 2012.

Critics of the system say the report cards do not tell the whole story because they sacrifice nuances in favor of a letter grade.

Harrison said he worried about how teachers would react to the report cards.

“Our teachers work as hard and are as dedicated to their kids as anybody, and I think they take it as a direct reflection on how they’re doing in their classrooms,” he said. “They take those report cards personally, and I probably hate that the most. Unfortunately, there’s not a report card anywhere that can measure the positive effect that teachers have on students every day.”

Education officials expected this year’s results in light of stricter academic standards and changes in the way the grades are calculated, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said in a news release. She added that the results reflect similar developments in other states as schools adopt more rigorous standards and use different teaching methods.

“Our students do not know less than they did, and teachers are not doing a poor job,” she said. “Far from it. Classroom teachers are working hard, responding to more rigorous standards that will help people be prepared for successful and happy lives.”