Gov. says criticism of school grades unproductive

By Randy Bruce

November 5, 2013

TULSA (AP) — Criticism from educators of Oklahoma’s A-F grading of schools is unproductive and could affect funding for public schools, according to Gov. Mary Fallin.

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz told the Tulsa World that the criticism is hindering Fallin’s ability to make the case to the public and to lawmakers that increased funding can help improve schools and student performance.

“It’s not helpful to anyone’s cause” Weintz told the newspaper. “The fact of the matter is this grading system, regardless of whether or not you believe it should have been put together differently, is the law.”

Weintz said the governor is “dismayed” to see groups representing the education community touting a report issued by researchers at University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

Educators statewide, who have criticized the grading plan since its debut in 2012, point to two analyses by OU and OSU researchers that concluded the formula the grades are based upon “has very little meaning and certainly cannot be used legitimately to inform high-stakes decisions.”

Weintz said Fallin disagrees and believes the conclusions are harmful to public education.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi has released an education budget request for fiscal year 2015 of $2.5 billion, an increase of $174.9 million over the current budget. On the same day the request was released, the governor’s office urged education supporters to get behind the grading system and stop endorsing reports that criticize it.

“The governor believes that increased resources — if allocated appropriately — can help improve the quality of schools and improve student performance,” he said. “She is an advocate, if we have extra funds, of trying to funnel those into education.

“It is crippling her ability to make that case to the public and to other lawmakers if the education community itself is touting a report which in essence says schools can have very little effect on student performance.”

Weintz said that a number of school officials are engaging in “personal political vendettas,” pointing specifically to Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall, who last week called for a no-confidence vote on Barresi and whose district published a four-part series on Oklahoma education on its website.

“That’s an example of the kind of thing that is unhelpful, inappropriate and legally questionable,” Weintz said. “This is essentially campaign material that is being put together on state time and state resources.”

Mendenhall defended his actions.

“Part of my duty as a superintendent is to educate parents and patrons about the issues affecting schools,” Mendenhall said. “That was the intent of this series and, after reading it, I hope citizens have a better understanding of the reality that exists for public schools and the students they serve.”

The A-F grading formula replaced Oklahoma’s previous school accountability system, which gauged schools with an Academic Performance Index score of zero to 1,500.

The grades for schools statewide are expected to be released this week.