Chesterton Tribune



New Indiana school grading plan goes to panel Friday

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A revamped formula for grading Indiana’s schools goes before the State Board of Education on Friday as education leaders try to decide on a new rating system for a third year in a row.

The formula approved last week by the bipartisan Accountability System Review Panel would grade schools on a 100-point scale based in part on how their students perform on standardized tests year-to-year. It would also expand testing to first and second grades while potentially lowering the number of overall tests students take throughout their schooling.

The Republican-controlled state board, the target of a lawsuit by schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, has until Nov. 15 to give its approval to the new formula.

The (Munster) Times reports it’s not clear whether the board will approve it or reject it. Daniel Elsener, who’s engaged in a power struggle with Ritz over control of the board, has said he’s inclined to stick with the grading formula put in place by former Superintendent Tony Bennett, despite a legislative mandate that it be replaced.

The Bennett formula became the center of controversy after The Associated Press reported Bennett altered it last year to benefit a campaign donor’s Indianapolis charter school.

Ritz has told local school superintendents that school grades for the 2012-13 school year supervised by her will be delivered Nov. 22. The 10 other state board members accused Ritz of dragging her feet on the grades in a letter two weeks ago that asked the General Assembly’s bill-drafting agency to calculate the grades instead of Ritz. That sparked the superintendent’s lawsuit, which is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in a Marion County civil court.

Ritz campaigned against the current A-F grading system and won election a year ago in part due to parents, teachers and community leaders exasperated with school grades that did not provide logical ways for schools to improve.

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said in the wake of the grade-changing scandal and the ongoing battles between Ritz and the State Board of Education, the simplest thing would be for Indiana to stop trying to label schools using A-F grades.

“People will never fully trust grades doled out by politicians for political purposes,” Pelath said. “The grades are for rewarding friends and punishing the weak.”

Indiana adopted school accountability measurements in 1999. They compelled local school leaders to focus on improvement by having the State Board of Education rate schools based primarily on ISTEP standardized test scores.

Schools were designated using the labels Exemplary, Commendable, Academic Progress, Academic Watch and Academic Probation. After six years on probation, the state board could close a school or turn it over to a private operator.

Bennett, a Republican elected in 2008, led a successful 2011 effort to substitute letter grades for the labels. He claimed parents could better understand school quality by using an A-F scale. Letter grades also were intended to make it easier to compare public schools with charter schools and private schools in a “choice” era where Indiana students can attend any school nearly free of charge.


Posted 11/4/2013