GUEST COMMENTARY: Schools' A-F grading system must be fair

2013-12-01T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Schools' A-F grading system must be fairBy the Northwest Indiana Public Schools Study Council nwitimes.com

When the baby boomers were in school, the expectation at home was to do well in school. Doing well was defined as performing sufficiently academically and behaviorally. Failure would have significant consequences.

Parents’ expectations were simple: The job of the school was to teach every student competently, and we were to learn completely.

The parental expectation that children be treated fairly has been a constant for decades in public education. When the outcome of a matter is not in their favor, people will generally be accepting if the action is fair.

There is much to be gained or lost with good or poor grades. Stated simply, if you had reason to believe your child had been treated unfairly, you would not be silent. You, as a caring and involved parent, would take action, speak to the teacher, and ask questions.

When state leaders pondered a method for grading schools, the result was the enactment of 511 IAC 6.2-6, more commonly known as the A-F system for grading schools.

Since the practice of assigning letter grades to rank student performance is familiar to most everyone, what could be simpler than adopting the letter grade system for grading schools? However, as the A-F system was deployed, educators and the public learned the A-F system for grading schools was not quite so simple.

Grading students was different than grading schools or school districts. Questions began to be asked about fairness and equity.

Consider the following examples:

  • A National Blue Ribbon School in Northwest Indiana was downgraded from an A to a B even though academic achievement did not decline.
  • Another school was downgraded to a D based on ISTEP scores of students who have been gone from the school for three years.
  • Schools with significantly higher poverty levels and/or students who speak and understand a language other than English are earning D and F grades. Students who barely speak English are expected to pass the English test the same as native speakers.

Ask yourself if this is fair for those schools.

Most recently, a technology problem at the state level interrupted the mathematics ISTEP test session. The ISTEP test is at the foundation of the A-F grade model.

Eight of 115 students at a school had their math tests invalidated by state officials because of the technology problem. This invalidation of the eight students will place the school below the 95 percent participation requirement. Thus the school grade drops from a B to a C.

This is a school that qualifies for Four Star status, produces a 90 percent pass rate in both English and mathematics, and experiences a 95 percent student attendance rate. Ask yourself if a C grade for this school is fair.

Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who designed the current A-F system, found it necessary last year to tweak the score of a charter school because its score, in Bennett’s estimation, was not high enough since it was a “model” charter school, so something must be wrong with the total grade. This change in the formula caused A-F scores to change, generall improving, at 116 other schools. How can anyone have confidence in the current A-F system?

Recently, the State Board of Education approved a new framework for the A-F school grading system; however, there is much work still to be done before this system is operational for the 2014-2015 school term.

We can only hope this system, with far more input from the people who will implement it than the current A-F ranking system, will be approved by the State Board of Education and confidence can be restored to the public.

The Northwest Indiana Public School Study Council consists of 24 school districts in Lake, Porter and Newton counties. The opinions are the writers'.

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