- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - An increasing number of Oklahoma’s public schools received a D or an F grade on annual report cards released Wednesday by the state Department of Education that have been fiercely criticized by superintendents and the state’s largest education union.

The State Board of Education gave final approval to the letter grades, which will be posted to the department’s website.

Of Oklahoma’s nearly 1,800 public schools, this year’s report shows 499 schools, or 28 percent, received a grade of D or F. That’s an increase from the 437 that received a D or an F grade last year. A total of 289 schools, or 16 percent, received an A grade this year, compared to 354 schools, or 20 percent, that received an A grade last year.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, a strong proponent of the A-F grading system, acknowledged that schools in Oklahoma are not performing well.

“No matter what report card you look at, we clearly know that Oklahoma’s public education system is in dire trouble,” said Barresi, whose four-year term in office will end in January after she was soundly defeated in June’s Republican primary. “Unfortunately, many of our reforms have been watered down or weathered constant attacks from defenders of the status quo.”

Pushed by Republicans like Barresi who were elected as part of a Republican sweep of statewide offices in 2010, the grading system was supposed to foster more parental involvement by making it easier for parents to see how their child’s school was performing. But the rollout over the last few years has been marred by delays and resistance from some superintendents to the formula that’s used to determine the grades.

The Oklahoma Education Association, which represents about 40,000 educators and staff members, opposes the grading system.

“The report card did what it was supposed to do: label students and teachers as failures without providing additional funding, resources or support to help schools improve teaching and learning,” OEA Vice President Alicia Priest said in a statement. “It is our hope that over the next few months we can make changes to the system so that it accurately reflects what truly makes for a great school.”

The A-F grading system, approved by lawmakers in 2011, is one of several GOP-led education initiatives that have come under increasing scrutiny. Earlier this year, the Legislature abandoned national academic standards known as Common Core that resulted in Oklahoma being stripped of authority over $29 million in federal education funding. The U.S. Department of Education said it was hitting Oklahoma with the sanction under the No Child Left Behind Act because the state could no longer demonstrate that its school standards were preparing students for college and careers.

Gov. Mary Fallin initially supported the Common Core standards but later signed the bill to repeal them amid opposition mostly from grass-roots conservative groups who feared the standards were part of a federal takeover of the state’s education system.

Fallin said in a statement that the letter grades, especially those in districts that received a D or F, should be a “call to action.” Fallin also said she was committed to increasing funding for public education in Oklahoma.

“Moving forward I am committed to delivering those resources, some of which I would like to see go toward pay-raises for teachers, so we can attract and retain the best and brightest professionals to our classrooms,” she said.

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Online:

Oklahoma Department of Education: www.ok.gov/sde

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy .

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