SDE: Supt. Janet Barresi's Regular Newspaper Column

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From the Superintendent's Desk

EDITORS: Below is State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s newspaper column for October 5, 2012. 

Making the Grade

By Janet Barresi, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Friday, Oct. 5, 2012

As a child, I was always a little nervous when it came time for report cards. I wasn’t the best reader in my early grades, and I knew that might be reflected in my grades.  My parents knew my grade was composed of all of the assignments I had completed in class, and took into consideration other factors such as my behavior.

Legislators passed A-F in 2011 with the intention of giving parents, community members and other stakeholders a more transparent, easy-to understand look at how their local schools are performing.

Everyone understands an A-F grade. It is the same system schools use to communicate student grades to parents.  The system previously used, the Academic Performance Index, rated schools on a zero to 1,500 scale. Very few parents understood what it meant when their school had, for instance, a score of 1100.

To help schools understand the formulas used in calculating school A-F grades, the State Department of Education last spring issued a technical guide for districts, and has since released other guidance. This is something districts specifically requested to show them line by line what figures would be used to calculate grades and how computations would be made. Parents and other community members are welcome to view this guide as well.

Districts have taken issue with several areas of calculation. Several administrators have claimed that the State Department of Education has refused to listen to their concerns or answer their questions. This is untrue. We have exhaustively communicated with districts. We’ve sought and used their input. We’ve had multiple meetings where members of my staff have listened to concerns and answered questions. We’ve written responses to questions. We’ve talked to districts by phone.

We have heard the concerns of districts; in many cases, they just prefer we used a different formula than the one required by law. Of course there are areas where we may request the law be tweaked in the future to address certain calculations, but my staff stands behind the calculations and the grades. 

I’ve heard the argument that the report cards were designed to show the quality of instruction at a school, not the performance of students. I would ask how you measure the quality of instruction if you don’t measure it on student outcomes.

The report cards will show student achievement based on tests scores in subjects such as reading, writing and math. It will show overall student growth. It will show whole school improvement, counting such things as student attendance, dropout rates, and advanced coursework. Schools earned bonus points for parent and community participation and for school climate.

Parents have a right to know this information. They should know areas where their school is exceeding expectations and areas where more work is needed. They have a right to make choices about the best options for their child’s education.

The A-F report card that will be available to parents and the public at will be clear-cut. They will be accurate, and they will be fair. This is not about pointing fingers at districts. This is about starting a dialogue between all stakeholders to improve local schools. Isn’t that the goal? 

For more information, contact Damon Gardenhire, State Department of Education, (405) 310-9323,, or Tricia Pemberton, (405) 521-3371, (405) 431-7195,