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Governor Fallin Defends A-F Report Cards

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Governor Mary Fallin, in her monthly column Monday, defended the state's new, and highly criticized, A-F School Report Card grading system.

The governor also asked the critics to back off.

The governor's spokesperson added more fuel to the already heated controversy when he told the "Tulsa World" the criticism may jeopardize any additional funding for public education.

Just a few weeks ago, researchers with OU and OSU said the system "has very little meaning" for school evaluation, "hides important differences" between schools with different grades, and "has practically no meaning or utility" for parents or policy makers.

The findings only escalated the anger from outspoken educators.

To that, Fallin said, "The full-fledged effort by some to sabotage the goals of the A-F system has created the kind of distasteful and unproductive atmosphere of obstruction and gridlock we are used to seeing in Washington, D.C.

"It has turned a conversation about improving our schools into a partisan spectacle that is not becoming of Oklahoma. Worst of all, it has taken the focus off our children and what we can do to help them."

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The executive director with the United Suburban Schools Association-an Oklahoma advocacy group-says the governor's concerns over the A-F system are in no way connected to school funding.

"We want the governor to tell us who in the legislature is standing in her way," said the group's Executive Director, Ryan Owens. "She's noted her inability to work with all these lawmakers to secure additional funding for schools, so tell us who they are, Governor, and we'll be happy to work with you. We will reach our hands out, we will help the governor in her rally cry to support public schools."

The final report cards are expected to come out sometime this week.

The governor also said, if a school is given a failing grade, it isn't a punishment, but a call to action to get those schools back on track.

Governor Fallin's spokesperson gave News On 6 a statement, regarding his comments to the "Tulsa World," saying:

"On Sunday, the Tulsa World ran a story that quoted me as saying that the Governor supported more funding for education (if possible). I then said that a report from ou/osu arguing that schools were not capable of significantly affecting student performance was undermining the justification for funding increases. It was not a threat or an ultimatum. It was an appeal for educators not to tout a report that argues education cant achieve positive outcomes."

Read Governor Fallin's full column below:

Oklahoma has great teachers and great schools. No one deserves more respect or thanks than our teachers, who are doing difficult and important jobs for modest salaries. Many teachers make a profound difference in the lives of their students, instilling them with academic passions that lead to successful careers and fulfilling lives.

These successes should be applauded and celebrated. But just as we should not ignore our many successes, nor should we turn a blind eye to our system's shortcomings. Those shortcomings are real: data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for instance, shows that 73 percent of Oklahoma fourth graders are below proficient in reading and 66 percent are below proficient in Math. Furthermore, when our high school graduates reach college, they are often doing so without the skill-sets needed to succeed in college courses. More than two in every five Oklahoma college students must take remedial courses, adding time and expense to their education, and making it more likely they will dropout without acquiring a degree.

These are problems that can only be addressed by improving K-12 education. Shedding light on school performance - lifting up the hood and seeing what is working and what is not - is absolutely essential to achieving that improvement. We cannot boost student performance if we do not first have a method of identifying schools that are exceeding expectations and those that are falling behind.

The A-F public school grading system delivers that tool of measurement. It gives parents, administrators and teachers an easily understood way of evaluating school success.

The letter grades assigned to schools are based on student performance. Fifty percent of the grade is based on the average score students receive on standardized tests in subjects like English and Math. The other half of the grade is based on student improvement on these tests – meaning a school with relatively low scores can still receive a decent grade if student performance is moving in the right direction.

The roll-out of this new system has been difficult. There have been glitches and setbacks. But the system as it stands today is simple to understand and fair. There should be little doubt in anyone's mind that a school scored as an "A" is outstanding; an "F" school is failing and in need of immediate help.

This is an accountability and transparency measure the education community can and should support. As a state, we should recognize and reward success. We should also find and correct problem spots.

Identifying problem areas is not about blaming teachers. No one has ever argued that a school with an "F" or a "D" is plagued by bad teachers. A grade of "F" is not a punishment; it is a call to action. Schools that receive poor grades need help, attention and a change in strategy so that they can get back on track.

This week, the State Department of Education will release the final letter grades assigned for all Oklahoma schools.

As these results come in, there will be some educators and school districts that are justifiably thrilled with a recognition of their success. To them, I offer my congratulations.

There will also be educators that are disappointed, even angry, at a grade which they feel is too low.

Here is my message to these individuals: Work with me, with each other, with parents and with students to improve our schools.

The A-F grading system is not going away. It was authored and passed by democratically elected legislators, signed by me, and is now being implemented by an elected superintendent of public instruction.

It is not a new or untested idea. It is being adopted in more than a dozen states, where it is supported by Democrat and Republican lawmakers.

The full-fledged effort by some to sabotage the goals of the A-F system has created the kind of distasteful and unproductive atmosphere of obstruction and gridlock we are used to seeing in Washington, D.C. It has turned a conversation about improving our schools into a partisan spectacle that is not becoming of Oklahoma.

Worst of all, it has taken the focus off our children and what we can do to help them.

Let's put a stop to that.

This week, we will finally be given a system that allows us to accurately evaluate the quality of our schools. We know the results will be mixed. Oklahoma has good schools. Like all states, it has schools that are desperately in need of help.

Let's work together — as educators, lawmakers, parents and citizens — to deliver that help, to improve education and to take care of our kids.

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