Indiana lawmakers to hear from public on A-to-F grading standards

The Select Commission on Education of the Indiana General Assembly will have another meeting Friday. On the agenda: public testimony on the rules that the State Board of Education adopted earlier this year for grading schools on an A-to-F scale.

Of course, the state board had a public hearing back in January, before it adopted the A-to-F rules. What’s the difference? For one thing, several of the legislators who sit on the Select Committee are likely to actually attend Friday’s meeting.

At the January hearing, the Indy Star’s Scott Elliott reported, only one state board member was present, and state Superintendent Tony Bennett wasn’t there either. Apparently it’s standard procedures for board members to skip rule hearings and rely on staff to tell them what they missed. Even so, when the board is fundamentally remaking the state’s accountability system for schools, you would think members could show up and listen to what the public says.

Pretty much every person and group that weighed in at the January hearing – from the Indiana Urban Schools Association to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, from public school superintendents to charter-school advocates – urged the board to hold off on adopting the grading metrics. Continue reading

Select Commission on Education meeting today

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and his staff will give a presentation on “turnaround academies” today to the Indiana Select Commission on Education, according to an agenda for the meeting.

The commission, made up of members of the Indiana House and Senate education committees, was created this year by the legislature to review some of the reforms that have been implemented by Bennett and the State Board of Education.

Turnaround academies are schools that, because of a history of poor performance, are taken over by the state and turned over to outside charter-school operators or school-management teams. So far, they include six schools in Indianapolis and one in Gary.

According to the agenda, there will also be time at today’s meeting for public comment on the state’s new A-to-F system for grading schools. Bennett and his team made a presentation on that topic last month and fielded a few questions from legislators, but there was no input from the public.

The meeting starts at 1 p.m. It’s scheduled to be webcast at www.in.gov/legislative/2441.htm.

Parent letter to Indiana Select Commission on Education

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer sent the letter below to the Indiana Select Commission on Education, established by the state legislature to review Indiana’s new A-to-F school grading system, teacher evaluation and licensing rules and other policies established by the state Department of Education. The commission, made up of members of the House and Senate education committees, had its first meeting last week. Fuentes-Rohwer is a Monroe County parent and chair of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education of Monroe County and South Central Indiana.

It’s an example of how much of the opposition to reforms pushed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and others is coming not from teachers’ unions but from ordinary citizens. See also retired Monroe County principal Mike Walsh’s op-ed column on vouchers in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (also published Sunday by the Indianapolis Star but apparently not posted online there), recent posts at the Northeast Indiana Friends of Education blog, and the national resolution against high-stakes testing spearheaded by Parents Across America.

Dear Committee Members,

I am the mother of four children in our Indiana public schools. I am also a concerned citizen worried about the state of our democracy and the special interests which seek to undermine it.

I understand that your commission is reviewing the recent educational issues at the center of Superintendent Bennett’s reforms. I am so glad that you are pausing to look things over. We as a state have been racing at a breakneck pace in our efforts to reform public education and it would be a full time job in and of itself to keep track of the measures and legislative changes that have taken place. I am thankful to you and all of the committee members for your attention to these matters.

Take for example, the IREAD-3 and its implementation. No one could argue with the state’s desire to have all children read competently by third grade (although any parent knows that children learn different things at different times, on a continuum of growth). But there is virtually no research or data which shows that retention will help in that effort. It is common sense to know that a test reflects a child’s test-taking abilities and a test score is likely a better reflection of a child’s socioeconomic status than his or her ability. I am not against all assessment. I think there is a place for evaluation. But to punish children and label them for life as failures at age 8 or 9 is irresponsible and unfair.

What does the research and data show that WORKS for having children competently reading by 3rd grade? Early intervention. Preschool. Addressing the effects of poverty for children. How can a child read competently when she is hungry or distracted by stressful home environments? Continue reading

No raking, no coals for Bennett at Indiana education commission hearing

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett seemed to employ a strategy from football Tuesday at the first meeting of the legislature’s Select Commission on Education: If your defense may be leaky, try to keep your offense on the field.

Called to answer questions from lawmakers about Indiana’s recent education reforms, Bennett and several assistants went through a lengthy, detailed presentation on Indiana’s growth model for measuring student improvement, along with the state’s new rubrics for awarding A-to-F grades to schools.

By the time they were done, Democrats on the panel took some verbal shots, but there seemed to be little time or energy for substantive discussion.

The legislature voted overwhelmingly last month to create the oversight commission, made up of all the members of the House and Senate education committees. It’s supposed to review the new grading system, teacher licensing and evaluation rules, and any other education issues the members want to investigate.

“I was disappointed no Republicans asked any tough questions,” Indianapolis Star reporter Scott Elliott says on his blog. “This commission only happened because there also are a lot of Republicans who have questions about the new grading system and are getting an earful from constituents, too. I thought we’d at least get a taste of any hesitation about how education reforms are being implemented from the GOP side.”

Maybe the Republicans got the message to be on their best behavior. Continue reading

Legislature’s education oversight commission in action this week

The first meeting of Indiana’s Select Commission on Education takes place Tuesday. On the agenda: a review of the state’s new A-to-F grading system for schools and how it was developed by the Indiana Department of Education.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is scheduled to speak, along with several of his top aides. Also on hand for the Department of Education will be Damian Betebenner of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment. He is the primary architect of the Colorado Growth Model for gauging student improvement on standardized tests, the basis for the Indiana Growth Model.

Lawmakers created the Select Commission because of a sense that the Department of Education and the State Board of Education were adopting policies without due deference to the legislature and the laws it enacted. Members include everyone on the House and Senate education committees – a majority of whom are, like Bennett, Republicans.

Readers of this blog may assume that Bennett and the Republican legislators are on the same page. In the 2011 legislative session, for example, Bennett relied on partisan votes to push through his package of charter schools, vouchers, teacher evaluation and merit pay, and limits on collective bargaining.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

Some of the most vocal critics of the state’s new A-to-F grading rubrics have been operators of charter schools, some of whom have close political ties to Republican officials. For example, Christel DeHaan, founder of Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, has given $2.3 million to Indiana political campaigns since 1998, with the biggest gifts going to Republicans.

As School Matters reported, the new A-to-F grading system could reflect poorly on charter schools; only one of the almost 100 Indiana charters would have earned an A, had the system been in place last year. Continue reading