BLOOMINGTON | Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said she disagrees with the school grading system promoted by her predecessor Tony Bennett, whom she defeated in last November's election. She said it unfairly labels children.
"Don't get me wrong," she said Monday. "I am all about accountability. But it must be fair and transparent."
Bennett has taken a lot of heat within and outside of the state after emails showed he changed a grade for a charter school owned by a prominent Republican donor. It also showed that grades improved for dozens of schools across the state, including some in Northwest Indiana. Bennett subsequently resigned from his position as Florida education commissioner.
Ritz was one of two featured speakers at the Education Policy Chat sponsored by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University Monday.
She also talked about the importance of students being ready for college and careers, and that both require the same reading level. Ritz said the state's math system is in a state of crisis. "Just changing the standards will not create mathematicians. We need to focus on different pathways to careers," she said.
Ritz repeated what she has often said in her eight months in office, that Indiana has too many tests and that a pass/fail test like ISTEP-Plus doesn't illustrate whether a student has grown. She said teachers teach to the test.
"We don't know the true performance level, yet we spend $25 million to give that test every year," she said. "A teacher assesses a student constantly and can tell you before a child takes a test whether they will pass or fail."
Ritz said she held a summit with teachers, and a separate meeting with community and business leaders. "Tell us what you need to be a good teacher. What do we need to do to make schools a success," she asked both groups.
"We need input, input, input," she said.
The superintendent said she is working with a group considering an assessment that will measure a student's growth. Ritz said she supports the public school system, and charter schools are public schools. However, she said she supports charters that are locally owned and operated.
Ritz said there needs to be equity and input at every school across the state. While Indiana was one of the initial 46 states to be part of the Common Core Standards, Ritz said the department is currently reviewing what it wants students to know when they graduate.
The second guest speaker, Jeremy Anderson, told a packed crowd in the Georgian Room at IU's Memorial Union there is not one state saying they are not interested in Common Core Standards, but some are saying they will do it themselves.
Anderson is president of Denver-based Education of the States. He said if Indiana is to reach the Lumina Foundation's goal of 60 percent of the U.S. population having some sort of post-secondary education by 2020, it will have to educate four times more students each year.
Senior elementary education major Christina Pasyk, 21, of Munster, said what Ritz represents in terms of accountability is a fresh and positive change in Indiana's education system.
"By trying to reform the current grading system of schools, Ritz is trying to eliminate the labeling of students who attend those schools," Pasyk said. "I am supportive of her vision to improve accountability of students and keep students' need at the center of education."