Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 3, 2012

Indiana's new A-F grading system is incomplete


GOSHEN — Several days ago the Indiana Department of Education issued its statewide report card, assigning A through F letter grades for each school. As expected, most rural and suburban schools fared quite well on the assessments. And, as expected, most urban districts did not grade as strongly.

First of all, we would like to congratulate all the schools in our area that received high marks from the state. Both Wa-Nee Community Schools and the Westview School Corp. received straight A’s, meaning each school in those corporations is an “A” school. Fairfield Community Schools also excelled with three A’s and a B.

These grades were determined by a formula using standardized ISTEP testing results and year-to-year progress on those results. There is a little more to it than that, but ISTEP is the crux of the system.

Second, we would like to congratulate all the schools in our area that did not receive high marks from the state. We certainly don’t view these letter grades as a complete assessment of what’s happening in our schools. Take Goshen schools, for instance. The average school grade here was a D. Does that mean Goshen Community Schools are not doing a good job? Does that mean our students are on the verge of failure? Does that mean our teachers have little interest in helping our kids learn?

No, no and no. And that’s where this system is flawed. Education should not be about comparing one school district to another, which is what this system ultimately begs people to do. Education is about individual students and each one is unique.

Tony Bennett, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, has defended the new grading system, stating that accountability measures have changed the culture in Indiana’s schools. He trumpeted the process in a column that ran in the Oct. 21 edition of The Goshen News.

“For the first time in our state’s history,” Bennett wrote, “chronically low-performing schools are having tough conversations about what changes must be made for students’ best interests.”

We highly doubt that teachers have suddenly just started caring about their students’ successes and failures because of heavy-handed mandates from the state level. And we are quite certain that “conversations” about “students’ best interests” have taken place prior to Bennett’s arrival on the state education scene.

Like many of the accountability mandates of the past decade, this system continues to punish urban districts with greater student body diversity. Suburban and rural districts tend to perform well on these assessments, not because the teachers are better, but because parents in those districts are often more affluent and accountable as a whole.

We are proud of our local schools and the educators who dedicate their lives to teaching our children. We agree with Bennett’s belief that there is always room for improvement. Still, we feel this grading system is misleading and that those who are willing to look past a letter grade will learn there is an excellent education to be had in Goshen schools for anybody who wants it.