New measure to grade schools clears first hurdle

2013-11-13T13:20:00Z 2013-12-09T02:17:41Z New measure to grade schools clears first hurdleDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
November 13, 2013 1:20 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | The State Board of Education reluctantly approved the framework of a new A-F school grading system Wednesday to meet a legal deadline, but members insisted there remains much work to be done before the revised accountability model is ready to be used.

On a 9-1 vote, the board agreed to replace the 1-4 grade point average-type scale now used to calculate school grades with a 100-point measure, where schools must earn at least 90 points to get an A, 80 points for B, 70 points for a C, 60 points for a D and schools with fewer than 60 points rated F.

The new categories for rating school performance were recommended by the Accountability System Review Panel, a 17-member ad hoc committee chosen by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican House and Senate leaders, and Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction.

Several board members chafed at having to vote on the proposal less than two weeks after receiving the recommendation, including Andrea Neal, of Indianapolis, who voted no. Gary's Tony Walker expressed similar concerns Friday but was absent from Wednesday's meeting.

Neal urged her fellow board members also reject the plan, notwithstanding a legal mandate the board adopt new school performance categories by Friday.

"As of today we do not know what academic proficiency standards we will be using when the categories take effect: Will they be Common Core, our previous standards, other model standards or some unique Indiana hybrid?" Neal said. "We also have no idea what standardized assessment we'll use to judge proficiency.

"How can we approve an accountability framework before we know to what standards schools and teachers will be held accountable?" she asked.

Ritz said she plans to continue working with the review panel to develop, validate and statistically test the school grading model over the next year as the Legislature and state education board approve Indiana's educational standards and a replacement for the ISTEP+ exam.

"Our primary goal was to make sure we were building a framework that wasn't dependent on a specific kind of assessment because we knew we had to wrestle with all of that," Ritz said.

The board, after much grumbling and doubt, embraced Ritz's plan but insisted staffers in Pence's Center for Education and Career Innovation, which operates separately from Ritz's Department of Education, have privileged access to the advisory panel and the board as the new model is developed.

That gives Pence near-complete control of the result since CECI staff will be advising the panel, including the four members appointed by the governor, and CECI can reshape panel recommendations prior to a vote by the board, whose entire membership, except Ritz, Pence appointed.

School grades are used in part to determine teacher pay. Schools with consistent F ratings can be shut down or taken over by a turnaround operator selected by the state Board of Education.

State lawmakers this year ordered the board to devise a new grading system for use starting with the 2014-15 school year because the current model is difficult to understand and doesn't clearly tell schools how they can improve.

In addition, former State Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican, has been accused of manipulating the existing grading system in 2012 to boost the rating of a favored charter school that also resulted in the boosting of grades for 165 other Indiana schools — without board permission.

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