Was That a Threat? (Tulsa Kids)

By Betty Casey

The long-awaited, controversial A-F assessment of your child’s school will be released by the State Department of Education this week. After several miscalculations by the State Department and many postponements, the grades are ready to be released, despite claims by third party researchers at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma that the system is essentially a meaningless assessment. What was supposed to be a “transparent” assessment of public schools so that parents could quickly and easily see which schools were making the grade has become so fraught with errors that no parent could ever take this report card seriously.

And Gov. Fallin has weighed in on the controversy by telling those pesky state superintendents to keep their mouths shut about it or she’ll make sure the schools won’t get funding.

In a Sunday (11/2) Tulsa World article by Kim Archer, it appeared that Gov. Mary Fallin was threatening educators if they didn’t stop their criticism of the A-F grading system of the state’s public schools. The article states:

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is warning educators that continuing public criticism of the state’s A-F school grading system may affect whether common education gets additional funding next fiscal year.

“It’s not helpful to anyone’s cause. It seems to be some opponents are absolutely bent on undermining the credibility of the entire system,” said Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz. “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.”

So administrators and teachers should not point out that the system is flawed and essentially meaningless because…..?? Because it’s the system that Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change use in Florida? It’s a flawed system in Florida, too, and we shouldn’t let Superintendent Barresi pull the wool over our eyes. Our children are too important. If we allow Oklahoma public schools to be decimated, we will all pay a steep price, socially and economically. Here is a good explanation by Ryan Miskell, an OK Policy Research Fellow and a research associate with the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy, of the flaws in Oklahoma’s A-F system.

I applaud Dr. Mendenhall, Superintendent of Broken Arrow Public Schools (BAPS) for posting information that parents can understand on the BAPS website. Parents need this information to write and call their legislators, to become better advocates for public schools and to really understand the facts behind the recent “reforms” and what effects they are having on the schools.

The recent standardized testing debacle has been overshadowed by the A-F School Report Card debacle, but let’s not forget. Do you really want your child taking one standardized test after another? Not only is it a bad way to educate a child, it’s a very poor use of time and money. Millions of dollars go to outside testing companies. Make no mistake, parents, education is big business these days; otherwise, there wouldn’t be so much attention paid to it (sadly).

I’ve been a teacher. Most teachers want their students to succeed. They can tell you which students in their classrooms are doing well and which ones need extra help. Standardized tests can be used as one tool to assess what students know, but that assessment is a limited and narrow picture. Standardized tests are also a one-day, one-shot picture. When my daughter was in high school, she had a wreck (a semi-truck rammed her car) on the Broken Arrow Expressway on the way to school. Thankfully, she was fine, but she had to take a standardized test that morning. How many students go to school on test day with major problems? Maybe they’re hungry? Maybe their parents are divorcing. Maybe they’re homeless. Maybe they live in an abusive household and there was a flare-up that day. Maybe the child is not feeling well. Maybe the child has anxiety. Any number of things can affect test results.

According to the testing article on the Broken Arrow Public Schools website, next year, students in grades 3-12 will be taking more than 30,000 tests in one year. These are high-stakes tests that will influence policy decisions, so if I were a teacher now, I would be teaching to the test. No time for having students write essays or engage in critical thinking.

Maybe policy makers should take a step back and put the horse in front of the cart. Just what are they trying to accomplish? How effective is it to endlessly test students and then to use those tests to make important policy decisions? Cut scores can be moved and changed to give students a passing or failing grade. The same can be done with the A-F grading system — cut scores and assessment criteria can be changed to change the final grade. In fact, that was one of the delays with this year’s report card. If the way the assessment is done is flawed, then the grades are random. If only 3 missed questions lie between an F and an A grade, then how can parents take this seriously?

Is this the best school environment for your children? While private schools are touting small class sizes, critical thinking, writing and deeper understanding of mathematics, science and technology through hands-on learning, public schools are going in the opposite direction.

Successful schools look at the needs of the students and address those needs, but it takes courage from all of us to take that hard look, and it does take funding. For example, you can’t tell third grade teachers to make sure that all of their students are reading on grade level before they go on to fourth grade, and at the same time, increase their class size to 40, take away their materials and get rid of the school’s reading specialist. You can’t increase class sizes and depend on the PTA to come up with the salary to save a teacher for one year. It defies logic.

Public schools are the foundation of our country and of our economy. Administrators, parents and teachers are crying foul on too much testing and on the A-F system because it does a disservice to our children. It insults us as parents. Are we to believe that this simplistic system is the best learning environment for our children? I hope Oklahoma superintendents, parents and teachers don’t stay quiet. I hope they keep fighting for our kids.



Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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