Tahlequah Daily Press

November 21, 2013

Lowrey superintendent: F grade doesn’t tell truth about school

By SEAN ROWLEY
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — When the Oklahoma State Department of Education announced its grades of Oklahoma schools a few weeks ago, some of the smaller districts and independent schools did not receive favorable marks in the A-F system.

All but five Cherokee County schools outside the Tahlequah Public School system received at least a C-minus. But the five that fell short - Hulbert Junior High, Hulbert Elementary, Lowrey, Norwood and the Cherokee Immersion Charter School - were all given grades of F.

“I sound like I’m making excuses or don’t want to be held accountable,” said Bryan Hix, superintendent of Lowrey School, which received a score of 58.

“That isn’t true, and we can always improve. But I just don’t agree with this A through F system. It doesn’t help me. I feel like it shines a bad light on this school and bashes our teachers, and I believe we have good teachers and that this is a good school.”

Many teachers and administrators have expressed dissatisfaction with the grades. Hix’s comments echo dissent voiced by TPS administrators, including Superintendent Lisa Presley and Greenwood Elementary Principal Susan VanZant.

The state bases its grades on the performance of students in third through eighth grades on standardized tests. High schools are graded on End of Instruction exams.

Half the grade is based on overall student performance, a quarter on overall student “progress toward proficiency” and a quarter on progress toward proficiency among a school’s lowest-performing quartile

 Bonus points can be earned for low absenteeism, low dropout rates and enrollment in advanced coursework.

The enrollment at Lowrey is 150

 Hix said 70 percent of the students are from lower-income households and that the percentage of special needs students is higher than the state average.

“We had 15 students in our bottom quartile,” he said.

“On individual test scores, 12 of those 15 showed improvement. Some improved by two points and some improved by 60, but we still get an F because there wasn’t enough improvement.”

Hix also said the letter grades don’t reflect all facets of education.

“I believe that in small schools such as Lowrey, there is more individual attention within the teacher-student relationship,” he said.

“The teachers know the students personally. They are there to help if a student is having problems of any kind. There is nothing in the grading system to account for that.”

Messages left for Dr. Marilyn Dewoody, superintendent of Hulbert Public Schools, and Diana Garnatz, superintendent of Norwood Schools, were not returned by press time.  

A report released by the University of Oklahoma Center for Education Policy and the Oklahoma State University Center for Educational Research and Evaluation was critical of the A-F system.

The report can be read at: http://ftpcontent. worldnow.com/griffin/NEWSon6/PDF/1310/20131023151746765.pdf

Statements by the Department of Education defend the system, now in its second year.

The DOE says A-F is “not punitive,” a “tool of empowerment” and easier for parents to interpret.

The DOE press release about the 2013 grades is at:

http://ok.gov/sde/newsblog/2013-11-07/oklahoma-state-department-education-releases-f-report-card-schools-statewide

The grades given to non-TPS schools in Cherokee County through the program are: Hulbert High School, C; Hulbert Junior High, F; Hulbert Elementary, F; Keys High School, A; Keys Elementary, C-; Lowrey, F; Norwood , F; Woodall, C+; Shady Grove, B-; Peggs, C+; Grand View, C+; Briggs, C; Tenkiller, C+; and Cherokee Immersion Charter School, F.