State grades schools; majority in region gets A or B

2012-10-31T09:35:00Z 2012-11-01T18:35:04Z State grades schools; majority in region gets A or BCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Schools in Northwest Indiana were in line with those in the rest of the state as more than 61 percent of Indiana's schools received A or B grades for the 2011-12 year, though some also received failing grades.

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 easy-to-understand letter grades — A, B, C, D and F. The state board approved the letter grades Wednesday.

Portage Superintendent Ric Frataccia is pleased all the schools in his district earned an A or B except two: Central Elementary School and William Fegely Middle School, which each earned a C.

However, Frataccia said he is not sold on the concept the grade truly reflects the school's quality.

"I could have told you that we have high-quality schools without the letter grade," he said. "I don't see Central or Fegely as C schools. I'm proud of what our students and our educators have been able to do."

Frataccia said the grading system has major flaws, one of the biggest being that while Indiana Code calls for schools to be compared to themselves, not to schools across the state, that is not what is actually happening.

Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux agreed. Lux said Fieler Elementary School, which received a D, is a great example of the flawed system because Fieler has improved greatly yet its grade does not reflect that.

"Fieler has shown steady growth over the years," Lux said. "Four years ago, 67 percent of the students passed ISTEP. Today, 79 percent of the students at Fieler passed ISTEP. Fieler just missed the cut that would have thrown the school into a higher grade."

Lux said the formula used to calculate the letter grades is "complex and complicated," and "statistically speaking, everyone disagrees with how that formula is being applied." Lux and others are concerned schools are being graded not just on their own improvements but also against schools across the state.

The other problem with the formula is that it only looks at one grade of growth, Lux said. At the elementary level, it measures growth from third grade to fourth, he said.

"You can't determine how a whole school is performing based on looking at one grade. That's a very narrow view," Lux said.

Hebron Elementary School was the only one of three schools in the MSD of Boone Township that received a C. Hebron Elementary Principal Jim Martin said when students are already performing at a high level, it's difficult to show growth, citing another complaint echoed by other superintendents.

"We had too many students with low growth. It's very difficult to meet the growth target the state has developed," Martin said.

Gary Roosevelt, which was taken over by the state several years ago and is operated now by a management company, earned an F. Hammond High School and East Chicago Central High School, which both escaped takeover a couple of years ago, dropped a grade, each earning a D.

Benjamin Banneker Achievement Center in Gary is the only school in the Gary Community School Corp. to earn an A. Frankie McCullough Academy for Girls and the Glen Park Academy for Excellence in Learning each earned a C. All other Gary schools earned a D or F.

The School City of Hammond did not have any 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.

The only charter school in Northwest Indiana to receive an A was Discovery Charter School in Porter. Only one school in the state is in the fifth year of probation, and that's Glenwood Leadership Academy in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp., unlike a couple of years ago when 18 schools were on academic probation.

All Catholic schools in Lake and Porter counties earned an A or B, except St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago, which scored a D.

Indiana's new A-F model holds schools and corporations to higher standards and provides a more accurate picture of their performance by incorporating student academic growth and graduation rates, as well as college- and career-readiness, as measures of success, according to the state Board of Education.

"I think we are moving in the right direction with accountability," Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett told the state board meeting this morning in Indianapolis.

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