Trying – oh so hard — to look at the bright side

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.

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3 thoughts on “Trying – oh so hard — to look at the bright side

  1. I would love to hear your explanation of the current A-F model… Problem with Ritze’s plan is what happens to a student is is significantly behind? If Student A is scoring 5 points above passing, then scores 8 points, that is +3 points growth. If Student B is scoring 80 points below passing, then next year scores 77 below, that is also +3. Is this considered the same? Are we going to allow our accountability system to perpetuate Student B’s failure because they improved 3 points? If not, then do we expect Student B to improve more than Student A? If that is the case, how do you determine how much more? The answer is, compare it to other students, or set expected or projected improvement (see why NCLB was a complete failure). The biggest problem here is, our State Supt admittedly does not understand the current accountability model, and has demonstrated a lack of understanding of school accountability as a whole. Talk to principals of a school that went from a C to an A, or the few that went from an F to an A, they support the model. If you go around and mobilize folks from schools that went from an A to a C, of course they are going to be upset. Problem is, they often do not know what they are upset about, because they dont take the time to learn the model. Would you stop a surgeon from performing a life-saving procedure on your child because you didn’t understand how everything worked? I doubt it….

    • You seem to know more about what Superintendent Ritz is proposing than I do. All I know about that is what I read in the Star.

      Re: Schools that went from a C to an A. Some that was because Indiana did away with the rule that schools couldn’t get higher than a C if they failed to make AYP under NCLB accountability. It had nothing to do with the grading model, or whether principals did or didn’t understand it. It had nothing to do with the schools’ performance. These were affluent schools that had been “artificially” held down to a C because their special-ed or FRL students were not passing ISTEP in sufficient numbers to meet AYP. No longer.

      Re: surgery. One of Tony Bennett’s primary arguments for A-to-F was that parents and the public would know exactly what letter grades mean. But if parents and the public are going to play a role in holding a school accountable, it would help if they knew why the school got a D or an F, not just that it got a D or an F. They don’t.

      Finally I’m not arguing against the student growth percentile calculation that Indiana currently uses. I think it’s a reasonable way to measure growth — the question is what you do with it. My beef with Indiana’s current A-to-F metrics is that they’re heavily weighted to absolute performance and growth is secondary. I believe this is a concern that is shared by a number of people, including the education director of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

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