Look for some push-back Tuesday morning when the State Board of Education conducts a public hearing on its plan to change the way letter grades are calculated for Indiana schools. It’s the only chance people will have to comment in person on the change, and critics are determined to make the most of it.
Vic Smith, a retired educator who helped start the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, has written detailed criticism of the proposed grading system, and he’s urging parents and public-school supporters to show up and make themselves heard.
Officials with Bartholomew Consolidated Schools in Columbus are also upset about the plan to change how schools are evaluated. In a guest column in Sunday’s Indianapolis Star, Bartholomew school board member Jill Shedd argued that the system focuses too narrowly on reading and math, ignoring much of what schools do for students.
Smith argues that the rule is flawed because it relies on statistical quotas to determine whether schools should get credit for improvement.
Using the state’s “growth model” for measuring year-to-year student gains on test scores, the DOE will arbitrarily determine that one-third of students show high growth, one-third show normal growth, and one-third show low growth. Schools can earn bonus points if a high percentage of their students show high growth; they can be penalized if too many students show low growth.
But growth is measured by how students perform compared to their peers, not whether they improve their ability to meet academic standards. “We might have a great year when everybody learns, but we’ll still have 34 percent with low growth,” Smith said Wednesday at a Bloomington forum on public education.
The DOE reported that, if the proposed rule were in effect this year, 26 percent of Indiana elementary and middle schools would have earned Ds or Fs. That compares with 7 percent that get Ds and Fs in Florida and 19 percent that earn Ds and Fs in New York City, two locales that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett often cites as models for school reform. Yet Indiana schools outperform those in Florida and New York on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Smith points out.
Tuesday’s hearing starts at 10 a.m. – obviously an impossible time for teachers and most parents – in the Riley Room of DOE headquarters at Ohio and Capitol streets in Indianapolis. If you can’t get there, you can watch the hearing online and submit comments via the department’s website.
The state doesn’t seem to have done anything to help the public understand what it wants to do, other than to post the dense legalese of the proposed rule. Smith’s “At the Statehouse” post on the ICPE website may be the best explanation available.
Figures don’t lie, but …
Gov. Mitch Daniels is a master of making statements that are true but misleading. He did it in his State of the State address Tuesday, when he said that Indiana spends 56 percent of its budget on K-12 education, “the highest percentage of any state in the nation.”
As Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, pointed out, that may be true, but it says nothing about how well Indiana schools are funded. Unlike almost all the other states, Indiana relies entirely on state revenues, and not local property taxes, to pay for school operating expenses — so of course education is a big share of the state budget.
“There’s only one other state that doesn’t use property taxes to fund schools,” Costerison said. “That’s Hawaii, and Hawaii only has one school district.”
Superintendent doesn’t mince words
Steve Kain, superintendent of Richland-Bean Blossom schools, got some of the strongest applause at the Wednesday forum in Bloomington with this:
“Tony Bennett is a bully. He has some good ideas, but he never heard the part about a little sugar making it go down easier. He just rushes in and says, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”