Ballard releases TPS district grades, says system is flawed


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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 11/05/2013 6:24 pm Published: 11/05/2013 2:30 pm


On Tuesday, Tulsa Public Schools released district grades on the state's A-F School Report Cards.

The grades are expected to be certified Wednesday in a special meeting of the Oklahoma State Board of Education.
The district said it expects 36 schools to receive a letter grade of "F," among them 27 elementary schools, eight middle schools and one high school.

In addition, TPS said it anticipates having seven "A" schools, 10 "B," four "C" and 17 "D" schools.

"In my view, these grades are flawed and completely inconsequential," said Dr. Keith Ballard, superintendent. "They do not match up with the reality that parents, teachers and students see firsthand in our schools every day. To say that 36 of our schools and 1,066 teachers are deserving of an 'F' is ludicrous, especially given the progress we are making with our district's reform efforts. In fact, we had six schools this year – Anderson, Burroughs, Chouteau, Emerson, Hawthorne and Kendall-Whittier – that had significant growth –in some instances even double-digit gains—in the percentage of students scoring proficient or above that the State Department dropped from a ‘D’ to an ‘F.’ The reason this happened is because the formula does not fully recognize and reward the increased academic achievement of the students at these schools. Last year, there was at least partial credit awarded for modest growth, which is important in an urban district."

Dr. Ballard provided examples of six TPS schools that made significant progress, yet the school's grade moved from a "D" to an "F":
  • Burroughs Elementary: the new leader and teachers at this turnaround school knocked it out of the ballpark last year. They had some of the best gains in student proficiency in the District, if not the state. Specifically, the number of student scoring proficient or better grew by 19%.
  • Hawthorne Elementary: the state deemed Hawthorne a failing school and lowered their grade, also had unparalleled growth last year. The teachers and leader at this school grew the number of students scoring proficient or better by 18%.
  • Anderson Elementary: amazing work took place at this turnaround school. Their new leader and teachers had a 13% gain in the number of students scoring proficient or better, and yet the state lowered their score.
  • Emerson Elementary: 15% overall increase in “Proficient and above.”
  • Chouteau Elementary: 9% overall increase in “Proficient and above.”
  • Kendall Whittier - 5% increase in “Proficient and above.”
"You can imagine how demoralizing this is to teachers and principals who have worked so hard to achieve student achievement gains," said Dr. Ballard. "To suggest these teachers, their schools and students are deserving of an 'F' does nothing but pay lip service to their efforts. I welcome parents and members of the news media to visit any one of these 'failing' schools. We are willing to throw our doors wide open so you can come in, visit and make up your own mind about the effectiveness of our teachers. I also think it’s important that we reassure parents that your children are well cared for. When they come into our school buildings, they are in an environment that is 100% dedicated to learning. We have made great progress to ensure there is an effective teacher in every classroom."

Many of the district's children come from backgrounds of poverty, but Ballard says the district has a "no excuses" policy. "We are very intentional in this work, as we try to balance the playing field for children who may not come from the best of circumstances. We believe that every child is capable of learning, and our teachers and principals rise to the challenge every time."

Ballard said these A-F grades are of little significance to Tulsa Public Schools. "TPS has a plan, and we are working the plan," said Ballard. "We are putting practices into place that research shows will improve student achievement. We are interested in data that guides teaching in the classroom and addresses specific student needs, like Lexile [reading] scores, value-added measures that show student growth, climate/culture surveys and other data. A simple letter grade given to a school does nothing to guide classroom instruction."

Tulsa Public Schools is in the midst of a turnaround strategy in many of its schools that includes:

  • A Teacher and Leadership Effectiveness initiative based on having an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective principal in every building. Research suggests that having a good teacher (in the 85th percentile) for three to four years in a row will generally overcome the average achievement deficit between low-income students and others.
  • Teacher evaluation system: the district's evaluation system is one that has been adopted by more than 500 school districts in the state and that has helped the District make unprecedented improvements in teacher and leader retention and placement decisions.
  • Developing great teachers: TPS recently received a $300,000 planning grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a teacher professional development system. The district could be eligible for as much as $3 million more for implementing the system over the next several years.
  • Instructional Leadership Directors: the district has seven Instructional Leadership Directors who are in schools at least three-and-a-half days every week checking on progress. Their focus is on working with principals to improve classroom instruction and student outcomes.
  • Developing great principals: TPS is one of only two schools districts in the nation to be awarded a school leadership grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The $4.4 million grant will help the district to develop a program to recruit, train and mentor principals and assistant principals.
  • Read 180: this reading intervention program using a "balanced literacy" approach is being implemented in every school building.
  • Reading Partners: a program with a proven track record of significantly improving elementary literacy rates by training and partnering volunteer mentors with children in need of reading assistance.
"I have been an outspoken critic of this iteration of the state's A-F school grading formula, as it is a deeply flawed system, and for that I will not apologize," said Dr. Keith Ballard, superintendent. “As a superintendent and guardian of our children, I have a responsibility to communicate with parents and to keep them informed of important issues affecting their child's education. Given the gross miscalculation of the initial grades and repeated misfires by the State Department of Education, I had no choice but to share my concern with parents. That said, I am confident that an A-F grading system that is structured appropriately could be constructed if educators are included in the discussion."

Schools receiving a letter grade of "A" are: Zarrow International, Carnegie, Eisenhower, Lanier and Grissom elementary schools; Carver Middle School; and Booker T. Washington High School.

"B" schools: Eliot, Patrick Henry, Lee and Salk elementary schools; Edison Preparatory Middle School and Thoreau Demonstration Academy; and Edison Preparatory High School, Memorial, Rogers and Webster High School.

"C" schools: Eugene Field, Lewis and Clark, Mayo Demonstration Academy and McLain High School.

"D" schools: Bell, Columbus, Cooper, Grimes, Hoover, Lindbergh, Owen, Penn, Remington, Springdale, Wright and Disney elementary schools; Monroe Demonstration Academy and Rogers Middle School; and Central, E. Central and Hale high schools.

"F" schools: Academy Central, Anderson, Burroughs, Celia Clinton, Chouteau, Emerson, Gilcrease, Hawthorne, Hamilton, Jackson, Jones, Kendall-Whittier, Kerr, Key, MacArthur, Marshall, McClure, McKinley, Mitchell, Park, Peary, Robertson, Sequoyah, Skelly Elementary, Project Accept, Mark Twain and Whitman elementary schools; Central, E. Central, Hale, McLain, Memorial, and Tulsa Met junior highs; Clinton and TRAICE middle schools; and Tulsa Met High School.

“I’m not saying that these students are where we want them to be with achievement. They’re not. But we have shown considerable improvement, and we are getting better," said Ballard.

He said it's time for State Superintendent Barresi and Gov. Fallin to stop defending the formula and sit down with actual educators and fix the problem.

“The end game is let’s start talking and cooperating, and let’s do what’s in the best interest of kids, not building some sort of a resume.”

The Tulsa Regional Chamber president Mike Neal released this statement about the grades: 

"The Tulsa Regional Chamber and its OneVoice coalition have long supported continued accountability and metrics surrounding our state's public school system. A wide-spread school grading system is a concept the Chamber has supported in the past. While we will continue to support school performance grading, it is our belief any grading system must be transparent and have the trust of educators and administrators for it to truly work and have meaningful impact.

We agree the goal of the A-F school rankings is to empower parents to know how their children’s schools are performing. However, confusion currently exists since the system does not allow the benefit of year-over-year comparisons utilizing the same ranking formula. For example, Tulsa area schools such as Anderson, Burroughs, Chouteau, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Kendall-Whittier improved on "percent satisfactory" in all but one subject/grade, however this year's school grades dropped from a D to an F on the A-F report card over last year's. Therefore, in spite of moving the needle in the right direction, these school's letter grades went down since the revised A-F doesn't award the growth points accomplished in the previous year.

Providing clarity for parents and administrators is the goal with a ranking system. We applaud the Oklahoma Legislature for their efforts to empower Oklahoma parent's involvement in the education system. However, it is our belief there is room for improvements in the A-F grading system to accomplish this goal. The business community will remain committed to ensuring practical standards are in place to ensure Oklahoma's children are adequately prepared to receive skilled training prior to entering the workforce."


FOX23 made multiple attempts to talk to Gov. Fallin and ask her how she can defend a grading system that gives lower grades to schools that improved student achievement, but none of the calls have been returned.

State Chamber of Oklahoma Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Gwendolyn Caldwell released the following statement on the pending release of report cards for public schools in the state:

“The business community knows that the future of our economy is based on a sound public education system. That’s why the State Chamber supports education reforms such as the more rigorous Common Core standards and school accountability efforts like the A-F grading system.


The State Chamber agrees with Governor Mary Fallin that educators, lawmakers and parents need to work together to ensure that the A-F system succeeds. While there may be ways to make the grading system better, the goal of empowering parents, business leaders and the general public to engage in the education reform process is crucial. Our members, the job creators of this state, are committed to improving education which is vital to the success of our children and our economy in a competitive world.”



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