Monday, March 25, 2013

Prepared Remarks to Ok State Board on A-F Grading System

Prepared Remarks
Oklahoma State Department of Education
School Board Meeting
February 28, 2013
Jenni White
Restore Oklahoma Public Education

Board Members and Guests,

I taught in public school nearly 10 years.  I loved teaching.  My classroom was my own little microcosm of the world where I interacted with all sorts of young people in all sorts of stages of intellectual development representing many different layers of society.

I can remember standing in the hall across from my classroom at Independence Charter Middle School - where I taught Science on the same team with my mother, who taught English – leaning against the lockers, watching the kids go by and thinking there really couldn’t be a better job.  I got to interact with kids – which was good AND bad some days; sometimes all in the same class period!   I got to see recognition of a particular concept light up their faces.  I got to re-learn some of the concepts I taught them and see those in a new light.  I loved sharing what I knew with others and making it new to them.

I quit teaching nearly 10 years ago to stay home with our oldest son.  When I left, my responsibilities included; turning in yearly lesson plans, meeting the Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS objectives) for my grade level in science and meeting the needs of parents, students and my building administration to the best of my ability.

I wouldn’t return to teach in the public system today.

The teachers I have known and worked with were all self-starters.  Teachers really have to be.  You can’t possibly handle a room of 7th graders AND teach a lesson if you’re not.   Teaching can’t survive micromanaging.  Ten years ago, we teachers used to grouse about assemblies, because, after turning in a yearly lesson plan you worked all summer to put together, you couldn’t possibly miss a day or even an hour and still have the kids prepared to leave the classroom knowing what they needed to know.  Not just to pass a test – but to be where they needed to be developmentally.  If lesson plans are thrown out of whack by snow days and assemblies, what in the world happens when you add state and federal teaching mandates?

Education ‘reform’ today is killing the teaching profession.  Accountability is all well and good, but teacher accountability should rest with the building principal and finally, the superintendent and school board – not a school grade calculated utilizing factors over which many teachers have no control.  How in the world do you keep a high school student in school?  Chain him or her to a desk?  How many factors can contribute to a child’s poor grade on a test?  How many of those are the responsibility of the teacher?  How can nebulous factors ever be quantifiable?

This A-F grading system is clearly not appropriate.  For all the lip service we give to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and its level of importance in the lives of American children in the ‘21st Century’, to think our state can’t understand and/or apply the basic tenet of Scientific Inquiry to a system that will affect every child and every student in public school in Oklahoma, seems completely inconsistent.   Many categories for calculation in this A-F grading system are not replicable.  The first tenet of scientific inquiry is that the system be replicable.  If it is not replicable, it is not valid.  How can you justify grading a school on a system that isn’t valid?  How is it the state’s job to grade a school?  Isn’t that the job of the community which it serves? 

Recently, a letter released from the Department of Education by Dr. David N. Figlio (as released in an Oklahoman editorial) indicated support for the A-F grading system.  Of note, the letter didn’t speak to the validity of Oklahoma’s grading system of which there is dispute, but more to the ‘idea’ of a grading system.  In fact, in an earlier paper, “What’s in a Grade?  School Report Cards and the Housing Market”, Dr. Figlio’s research suggests,
 “school rankings under these systems tend to be quite unstable”.
He goes on to say,
“…school accountability measures such as the Florida system and the new federal system are largely unrelated to the school’s contribution to student performance and are likely measured with considerable noise.”
Accountability in ANY taxpayer funded system  is absolute necessity.  Micromanagement through the employ of non-valid systems of measurement is not.

Let’s step back here a bit.  Instead of following the education ‘reform’ measures of other states and those prescribed by the federal government in order to get a waiver from the already overreaching No Child Left Behind law, find out what works in Oklahoma – what works on local levels in local communities.  If we can’t do that – if we refuse to do that – we will continue to bleed good teachers from the system and micromanage public schools out of existence.