Election-year conversion on school grading pause

Everyone at the Statehouse was singing Kumbaya this week over the idea that Indiana should pause A-to-F school accountability as a result of the more demanding ISTEP exams that students took last spring.

Gov. Mike Pence announced that he was in favor of holding schools harmless for any drop in their grades. House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long issued a statement saying they were on board with the plan.

So did Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who declared her “strong support” for Republican-sponsored legislation to suspend school grades for the year.

Their vehicle of choice is Senate Bill 200, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and scheduled for a committee hearing Wednesday. The measure says the State Board of Education, which issues grades for schools, can’t give any school a lower grade for 2014-15 than it received for 2013-14. The school grades are scheduled to be announced this month.

Kruse’s approach sounds reasonable. ISTEP scores plummeted in 2015 as a result of a shift to new state standards and a tougher test, and school officials across the state insist the resulting grades aren’t fair.

But it will be terribly disappointing if the state board doesn’t report the scores that schools would have received if accountability weren’t paused. At the very least, the public should know how much difference the testing changes made – and for which schools. We can expect that much transparency.

Remember that Ritz first called for an accountability pause a year and a half ago, knowing the new test would produce lower scores and worse grades. But Pence and legislative leaders would have none of it.

Their attitude started to change this fall when it sank in that over a quarter of Indiana schools could receive Ds and Fs. It’s an election year, after all, and the prospect of hundreds of thousands of parents, teachers and community members outraged that their previously exemplary schools would now struggle to get a passing grade … Well, it’s bound to concentrate a politician’s mind wonderfully.

 

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