Fort Wayne Community Schools took a bold step in deciding not to recognize school grades awarded under the A-to-F system created by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. But will others follow the lead of Indiana’s largest school district?
There seems to be considerable agreement the grading system is flawed. But almost 900 Indiana schools were awarded an A last year. Those schools have a pretty strong incentive to think the system got it right, at least where they are concerned.
And Bennett’s adjustments to the grading system had the effect of raising grades for more than 160 schools, as NPR State Impact Indiana showed last week. Does that make it less likely that some teachers, parents and elected representatives will shun the system?
A-to-F was looking shaky this summer as a result of the widespread computer disruptions of the state tests that are the main inputs for school grades. Richard Hill, a testing expert hired by the Department of Education, found the disruptions didn’t hurt students’ overall test scores. But individual students may have been affected, Hill conceded. And school officials will say that a handful of scores can make the difference between an A and a B – or between a D and an F.
Then came the revelation that Bennett, as state superintendent, altered the grading system last fall in a way that boosted a charter school run by a campaign donor from a C to an A. Maybe getting an A wasn’t such a badge of honor.
Indiana political leaders aren’t ready to jump ship, however. Gov. Mike Pence’s response was to call for a “thorough and timely evaluation” to restore faith in the grades. “The governor supports our A-F grading system and believes that the people of Indiana should have confidence in the integrity of that system,” spokeswoman Kara Brooks said. Senate President Pro Tem David Long said he supports A-to-F grades and called the Fort Wayne schools action “premature.”
In fact the legislature mandated A-to-F grading this spring as part of House Enrolled Act 1427, its catch-all education bill. So the question isn’t whether schools will be graded — they will. The question is what schools will do with the grades they receive.
Here in Bloomington, the Monroe County Community School Corp. has incorporated the grades into its branding efforts. It boasts on its website that it’s an “A” school corporation and highlights the local schools that were awarded As by the state.
But celebrating “A schools” suggests the grades were earned. If those schools deserved their As, does it mean other schools in the district deserved the D and F grades they received? Is that really the message that school officials want to send to students, teachers and the public?