Lessons from Oklahoma

It’s always interesting to see what other states are doing with their public schools. If you missed it, Oklahoma schools made national news last fall when they gave A-F grades to all public schools. But their grading system got an F from experts for not being credible and clear. Here’s just one news article.

The state’s school boards association and superintendents decided to pay folks at the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy and the Center for Educational Research and Evaluation to, in their words, ” support the good intentions of Oklahoma policymakers in their school improvement efforts by identifying methods of the grading system that may be potentially misleading.”

That group  found that “although achievement data are obviously important for assessing schools, an accountability grade based almost exclusively on test scores does not account for numerous critical factors that contribute to school performance.”

You can read the full report here. Education researchers will love the detail. The report is also written in ways everyone can understand, like asking why “we expect education policymakers and leaders to diagnose the health of schools with only outcome measurements such as achievement scores and attendance rates” when we would not expect a doctor to determine health on a blood pressure reading alone.

If you read nothing else, read the conclusion:

The work of schools and school leaders might be compared to gardening, that is, tending to the growth of a great variety of life. Gardeners are not preoccupied only with the harvest alone. They bring to bear all kinds of knowledge, skill, and information, adjusting what they do constantly to enrich the environment of the garden, providing nurture and protection from everything that might harm it. Gardeners know that the harvest at hand is important, but that care for soil conditions, monitoring surrounding vegetation, and assuring availability of supplementary water and fertilizer are just as important; future harvests will benefit from the enhanced general conditions of the garden. The metaphor suggests that accountability in schools cannot be defined in the same way quality assurance is attained in manufacturing. Schooling more resembles what Thomson (1967) calls an intensive technology, in which the processing of nonstandard raw material relies on constant response to new information. The metaphor and the theory both point to accountability for process elements and capacity building as well as outcomes; a focus on outcomes alone would not adequately serve the complexities of schooling or the long-term goals of our society. The collaboration among Oklahoma’s education stakeholders could benefit by a metaphor that reminds us of the importance a long- term perspective has for effective school improvement.”

In other words, you reap what you sow.

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