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Pandemic disruption and a data error: why Oklahoma's school report cards are so late

Backpacks lined the halls of Monroe Elementary School in Oklahoma City on the morning of Aug. 11, 2022, the first day of school.
Whitney Bryen
Oklahoma Watch
Backpacks lined the halls of Monroe Elementary School in Oklahoma City on the morning of Aug. 11, 2022, the first day of school.

A calculation error created a months-long delay in the 2022 school report cards, which still have not been released to the public.

The error caused some schools to receive inaccurate letter grades late last year. The Oklahoma Department of Education corrected the scores and gave school leaders until Monday to review.

Grades are expected to be public after the review period, but what parents see may not be the corrected version.

In an email to district leaders, the department said it will “honor the original letter grade.”

Some school leaders say they aren’t sure if that means they’ll automatically get the original letter grade or the higher one, and Education Department officials wouldn’t clarify to Oklahoma Watch.

Department Press Secretary Justin Holcomb did not respond to questions sent by email Tuesday. Neither Holcomb nor Superintendent Ryan Walters answered Oklahoma Watch’s phone calls.

The error occurred before Walters took office. The Department planned to announce the new grades in December but held off once the mistake was discovered. Individual student test scores were released in September.

“Here we are about to test this year’s kids, and we still don’t have our A-F grades from last year. They’re kind of irrelevant at this point,” said Rick Cobb, superintendent of Mid-Del Public Schools.

The state’s A-F school grading system has been disrupted multiple times since it was adopted by the Legislature in 2011. There was a two-year hiatus in 2016 and 2017 while the Department redesigned the system to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. There were no letter grades in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s intended to provide high-quality data to parents and school leaders about how schools are performing in several key areas: academic performance and growth, student absenteeism, English language proficiency, postsecondary opportunities and graduation rates. The U.S. Department of Education requires states to assess schools annually and make the data public.

Under Oklahoma’s system, schools are graded on a bell curve. Five percent of schools receive an A, 25% receive a B, 40% receive a C, 25% receive a D and 5% receive an F. Schools given an F receive extra funding for added resources.

Some administrators say delays and inconsistencies devalue the whole grading system.

“There hasn’t been a lot of consistency, which is what you really need,” said Shannon Woodson, dean of academics for Moore Public Schools. “If you really want to track a school’s growth, much less a student’s growth, you need consistent measures and consistent timing. Because when the target moves, it’s hard to aim at the target.”

Sean McDaniel, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, said he’s been looking forward to celebrating schools whose letter grades improved, but the extended delay has caused some uncertainty.

“State results are an important piece that we need and so we look forward to receiving our final data,” he said.

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education.
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