The Indiana legislature has produced almost no good news for public schools this year. But here’s a little: Republicans and Democrats joined together this week to push for improvement to Indiana’s A-to-F grading system for schools.
The Senate Education Committee voted 11-0 to approve Senate Bill 416 and send it to the full Senate. As amended before passage, it’s a simple bill: It would repeal the grading rules that the State Board of Education approved a year ago and direct the board to adopt new criteria based on students’ test-score growth compared to established standards, not on students’ growth compared to their peers.
This is arguably a rare victory for Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction. The Indianapolis Star’s Scott Elliott writes that Ritz wants to replace the A-to-F grades with designations of reward schools, focus schools and priority schools. The ratings would be based on the percentage of students who pass state tests and a measure of student growth on test scores, Elliott writes.
But it’s way too early for Ritz’s supporters to declare victory. For one thing, getting a bill through a Senate committee is just a small step toward making it a law. For another, while almost everyone found something not to like about the current grading system, we won’t all agree on what a better system would look like.
Finally, the bill directs the state board to adopt a new grading system. Most board members were appointed by former Gov. Mitch Daniels. They were all in with the A-to-F approach, which former Superintendent Tony Bennett imported from Florida as a centerpiece of his reform agenda.
Of course, this week also brought a vote by the House Education Committee to transfer control of Indiana’s school voucher system from Ritz’s Department of Education to the Office of Management and Budget, run by Republican Gov. Mike Pence. And on Thursday, the full House approved a major expansion of the state’s private-school voucher program, sending the proposal to the Senate. The Daniels-Bennett agenda keeps on rolling.
House Speaker Brian Bosma and Education Committee chair Robert Behning eventually dropped their plan to strip Ritz of control of the voucher program after she said she would administer the program, even though she doesn’t agree with it.