Superintendent Janet Barresi Defends A-F Grading System

Tuesday, November 12th 2013, 6:57 pm
By: News 9

Superintendent Janet Barresi said her office was looking at possible changes to the A through F statewide grading system.

The grades were released last week and since then, there have been questions about the meaning of the grades. Barresi defended the system, but said she was working with superintendents from around the state to improve the grading process.

10/29/2013 Related Story: BA Superintendent Calls For 'No Confidence' Vote Against Janet Barresi

Tuesday, Barresi spoke to News 9 at length about the grades and how best to improve school that received low grades. In Oklahoma City Public Schools, 39 out of 93 schools received an "F" as their overall score. Barresi said these school often have extra challenges on top of teaching the material because they tend to be in high poverty areas where English is often not a student's first language.

11/6/2013 Related Story: Board Of Education Releases Grades For Oklahoma Public Schools

Lee Elementary School, for example has 99 percent of its student body on free and reduced lunches. About 90 percent speak English as a second language. Many of the students come from an unstable home life, where parents work multiple jobs, are incarcerated and in some cases deported. The school received an "F" despite hard work by the staff there.

"I'll tell you why it's disappointing. Because our kids made gains. Our teachers worked very hard," Principal Shelley Deas said.

Despite the improved test scores, Lee Elementary School actually dropped from a "D" to an "F" this year. Deas said it would be impossible to compare her school to one that does not face the same challenges.

Dr. Barresi agrees and said she admits the system is not designed to do that.

"The grade card gives us an idea about how that individual site is doing," explained Barresi. "Comparing one district to another district, I'm not interested in that. I'm interest in what that district, that site, that classroom is doing."

Barresi said the grades are designed as a tool for teachers and parents to hyper-focus on the students that have fallen behind. The goal is that families become more engaged with the school to improve a student's experience at school. That being said, many times in these lower-income areas, parents who are already working two and three jobs, just do not have the time. That could undermine Barresi's philosophy of the letter grades.

"Those schools are beginning to form very strong partnerships with volunteer organizations and with businesses to come in an assist," Barresi said.

She added that the grading system is not perfect, but it has been a move in the right direction. She said she is working to improve the grading system and the standards of Oklahoma's public education system.

11/8/2013 Related Story: OK Education Association Gives State Superintendent An 'F'

"We are already focused. We had some debriefs last week and we're very focused on that," she said. "There's always room for improvement, we're looking for that improvement."

Barresi said she was pleased to see that even the school that are struggling to make a good grade are changing the way they engage students. She also explained that the new assessments in development will help move teachers away from teaching to the tests, which has been the norm.

The focus, will be on applying the skills students learn, rather than regurgitating facts.