INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana's plan to rate schools using grades A-F is an inadequate measure of student learning and unfairly holds teachers and schools responsible for students' lives outside the classroom.
That's the message Superintendent Tony Lux, of the Merrillville Community School Corp., presented Friday to a panel of state lawmakers reviewing the controversial program that grades schools based mostly on how much students' standardized test scores improve regardless of whether students achieve at their grade levels.
Lux said using student growth as the evaluation tool wrongly assumes all students are alike and that their learning is determined only by teacher effectiveness. Lux said research shows poorer students from families in which education is not valued do not have the same non-classroom opportunities for learning.
"The cold fact is teachers of disadvantaged students face challenges much more difficult to overcome than teachers of advantaged students," Lux said. "Comparing these teachers and these schools without taking this into consideration is totally misguided and wrong."
He said if Indiana truly wants to improve student learning, it should require summer school attendance for students not achieving at grade level. Instead, Lux said the state has cut Merrillville's remedial learning funds from $160,000 in 2010 to $20,000 this year.
"You can't on one hand raise standards and with the other hand take away the tools to reach those standards," Lux said.
State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said the Indiana Department of Education has forgotten the point of testing students — to ensure those who need help get it.
"What we're doing now is shifting the emphasis on evaluation to ranking schools and ranking teachers," Smith said. "I think it's fraudulent and demeaning to the profession."
A representative from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and superintendents from Carmel, Fort Wayne and Lafayette also questioned whether A-F grades are the best way to hold schools accountable.
State lawmakers are set to hold six more sessions this summer assessing the school grading system.