STAFF AND WIRE REPORT
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana schools will receive letter grades on an A-to-F scale starting next year based on how students do on standardized tests.
The new scale, approved by the State Board of Education on Wednesday, will replace the more complicated category names now used to label a school’s performance.
Many teachers and school administrators have opposed the change, however, saying it would punish schools with students who are tougher to educate.
But state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said it will improve transparency.
“Indiana citizens desire a clear picture of the performance of schools,” Bennett said. “Letter grades will provide a clear picture.”
Wayne Stubbs, assistant superintendent of Concord Community Schools, isn’t so sure.
“What the state superintendent said is that they want a more transparent system — that with the current terms, the people don’t know what they mean,” Stubbs said. “But people won’t know what an A, B, C or D means either unless they clarify that as well, so that’s the other critical part. We hope they clearly define what each of those mean.
Since 2006, the state Department of Education has categorized schools under a formula using performance on the most recent achievement test and improvement over one or two years. The five categories are exemplary progress, commendable progress, academic progress, academic watch or academic probation.
Board of Education member Dan Elsener said the letter grades would alert parents to problems in schools and bring pressure to fix them.
“If the grades help us do that, I say we expedite the process,” said Elsener, president of Marian University in Indianapolis. “I say let’s don’t blink at this point.”
On the homefront, Stubbs indicated that his corporation is still awaiting more information on the new plan, noting that until such information is received there is little more to do than speculate.
“All they’ve said is they’re going to use the A to F scale vs. the current terminology, but there’s still a lot more that needs to be ironed out,” Stubbs said. “I believe they’ve set a September deadline to really develop the rest of the plan, so it’s kind of incomplete at this time.”
State officials did agree to requests to separate the new rating system from the federal “adequate yearly progress” system, which also tries to inform parents about school performance.
Stubbs said this aspect is perhaps the best received portion of the plan among educators at this point.
“I attended a hearing a week ago (Friday) in Indianapolis on this, and there were a lot of school folks there expressing various concerns,” Stubbs said. “One area that received a lot of attention involved its connection to AYP.
“Right now the state system is connected to the federal AYP portion, and it appears at this point that will no longer be the case, which could be a plus,” he said.
Even so, Stubbs said he is still skeptical about how effective the new rules will be.
“I think overall it’s still not a good system,” Stubbs said. “The classifications are not indicative of what schools are really doing to work with our kids and the community.
“It’s a score from one test, which is the equivalent of judging a journalist for one story they wrote for the entire year’s work,” he said.
Bennett said the Education Department is still working on how schools will be graded under the new rules. He said he will push for measurements of how students improve on state tests from previous years and compare with students across the state with similar starting scores.
Board member Mike Pettibone, the superintendent of Adams Central Community Schools, cast the only vote against the change. He said he didn’t understand why adoption of the letter grades couldn’t wait until the new criteria also were established.
“I’m not sure that this is the best way to get (improvement),” he said.
Staff writer John Kline contributed to this Associated Press report