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New plan for school report cards, some say the formula is racist

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma State Superintendent's office recently revamped the A through F grading system for schools, and it is now coming under fire with accusations of racism.

Federal law mandated a change to Oklahoma's A through F report card system for schools.

Superintendent Joy Hofmeister's office proposed a new plan for A through F, which passed the state school board in December.

But, some parent advocacy groups aren't happy about some of the changes.

Education advocates, like Robert Ruiz, work to help parents make the best choices for their family.

"We help parents find the best school for their children," Ruiz said. "A through F is a great tool for that."

However, Ruiz is concerned about the new proposed grading formula.

Specifically, the portion that weights students differently based on the color of their skin.

"It basically lowered the bar for kids within certain groups," Ruiz said. "When you set lower expectations, no matter what form, that cannot help but have a negative effect on children."

Hispanic, African-Americans and Native American students are all weighted differently under the new formula.

"Schools performing at a lower level previously would now get a bump in their grades. The change would basically set a lower goal for kids of certain skin colors," Ruiz said.

He is worried the new school grading system will give parents a distorted picture of how their school is really doing.

Ruiz expects failing schools to see a bump in their grade, even though they are not truly producing better results.

"I need for teachers to believe that my kids have the highest potential and, if they're not helping them reach that highest potential, then they need to work harder. That's what I need as a parent," Ruiz said.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education said it's just not true.

According to spokesperson Phil Bacharach, the proposed changes actually help minority students by narrowing the achievement gap, which is part of a new federal mandate.

The report card formula will now acknowledge low-income minority students often begin at a disadvantage.

But, the expectation is not lower for those students.

"Part of what A through F is doing is about is closing the achievement gap. All we are doing is acknowledging that they start from a lower point in performance," Bacharach said. "Under federal law, we have to identify groups that have been historically under-performing."

The proposed A through F report card system will need to be approved by the legislature and signed by the governor.

"Everybody has the same ending point, which is we want to get all kids proficient. But, the reality is not all kids start in the same place," Bacharach said.

The proposed grading system will head to the legislature when the session begins in February.