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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Pence’s 180-degree turn

Today is the day when dramatically lower ISTEP+ test scores could become a reality. Maybe that helps explain Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s surprising about-face on whether to pause accountability for schools and teachers based on spring 2015 test results.

As Shaina Cavazos with Chalkbeat Indiana documents, Pence had refused to consider a pause for over a year, even though Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz suggested the idea several times. In February, the Pence-appointed State Board of Education wouldn’t even discuss the topic.

U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan invited states to request a break from test-based school grades and teacher ratings when they shifted to new standards with tougher assessments. Many states jumped at the idea, but Pence and Indiana Republican legislative leaders insisted it wasn’t on the table. Continue reading

Grading pause an easy call? Not in Indiana

Glenda Ritz called a meeting of the State Board of Education in February 2015 to suggest pausing Indiana’s A-to-F school accountability system to let teachers and students adapt to new standards.

But board members would have none it. They deleted the state superintendent of public instruction’s proposal from the agenda without even acknowledging it – then questioned why she called the meeting.

Glenda Ritz (Department of Education photo)

Glenda Ritz (Department of Education photo)

Gov. Mike Pence also acted as if pausing accountability were some kind of radical idea. “We grade students every day in Indiana,” he said. “We should be willing to grade schools once every year.”

Never mind that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had invited states to request the delay under waivers from strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. The rationale was that school ratings would suffer as states rolled out new tests aligned with the Common Core standards. Indiana dumped Common Core but adopted new standards that, educators say, are quite similar.

Ritz made her proposal again in the summer, arguing schools should get a pass on having their grades drop as a result of tougher tests. This time the board didn’t refuse to talk, but members suggested that only the legislature had the authority to pause accountability.

Continue reading