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
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
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.