Three local school corporations flunk state scrutiny

2013-01-13T00:00:00Z 2013-01-13T22:39:06Z Three local school corporations flunk state scrutinyCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

While the Indiana Department of Education released school grades last November for schools across the state, it did not make a formal announcement.

Three local school districts flunked -- Gary Community School Corp., School City of East Chicago and School City of Hammond.

The Hanover Community School Corp. dropped from an A in 2010 and 2011 to a C last year. The Lake Ridge Schools dropped from a B in 2010 and 2011 to a D in 2012.

Some school districts showed improvement. For example, Lake Station Community School Corp. had a D in 2010 and moved to a B in 2011 and 2012. Griffith Public Schools went from a C in 2010 to a B in 2011 and 2012.

Four school districts had an A for all three years: Lake Central School Corp., Crown Point Community School Corp., School Town of Munster and Portage Township Schools.

Beginning with the 2010-11 academic year, the Indiana State Board of Education changed the labels for school categories based on student performance from the terms Exemplary, Commendable, Academic Progress, Academic Watch and Academic Probation to what it said was an easy-to-understand letter grade — A, B, C, D and F. The state board approved the letter grades in November.

The School City of Hammond did not have any individual school earn an A or B. Lafayette Elementary and Morton High School earned a C. All other schools earned a D or F, with more than 60 percent of the Hammond schools showing a decline.

Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins said he gives "no validity or credibility" to the school district grade.

"I think they are the most incredulous way of evaluating schools and all of the complex issues that urban schools have to deal with on a daily basis," Watkins said. "When you consider all of the programs and responsibilities that we have for children, a single grade does not reflect the complexity of the work we do."

In addition, Watkins said the criteria changes every year, becoming increasingly more stringent, making the ability to meet the goals even more difficult.

"I just don't feel it (a single grade) accurately reflects all of the work that we do for the 13,000 children we have, 80 percent of whom are at poverty levels and nearly 2,000 (who) are in special education. I also know that our data shows we are making significant progress in terms of student achievement but when you factor in the issues that the state considers, it brings us down," Watkins said.

East Chicago Superintendent Mike Harding did not respond to email messages or calls.

Gary Community Schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said the district has put together a "courageous plan" to transform Gary Community School Corp. to create schools of excellence. She said the School Board approved the plan Tuesday, and approved hiring a variety of new positions, geared to helping children.

"I presented a three-year transformational plan," she said. "Our goal is to do best practices. We need to have coaching embedded at all of our schools. We want all of our stakeholders involved."

Pruitt said she has been in conversation with incoming state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, and previously discussed those same ideas with outgoing Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Ritz said Friday that she has "no real comment on the district grades at this time." She said she is not sure how they were calculated and the process needs to be reviewed.

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