The state Department of Education is days away from releasing school and district performance ratings under a new system.
The release, scheduled for Wednesday, follows a weekslong appeals process that was extended at schools and districts requests, despite the number of appeals remaining the same from last year.
Last year, the grades were handed out in August. But this year, under a revamped system some believe will brand many more schools as failing, the grades remain under wraps months into the school year.
The system is based largely on student standardized test scores and gives schools and districts A-F grades. It was first implemented last year, replacing the previous system that used categories such as academic progress and probation to rate school and district performance.
Rating schools is part of Public Law 221, a school accountability law that requires stake takeover if schools are rated in the probation category or F grade for six consecutive years.
Although rating districts and schools is not new – a rating system has been in place in Indiana since 2005 – the Department of Education has increased the number of standards used in the system.
But the new system has been riddled with questions and confusion from schools and districts across the state.
The grading system was touted by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett in 2010 as being easier to understand, but objections from high schools receiving Cs despite high standardized test scores prompted the department to alter the system this year, adding additional metrics, or standards, like student growth.
During legislative hearings on the new system in January and February, dozens of people and organizations testified against the changes, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which has long supported school-accountability measures.
The grades were originally scheduled to be released Oct. 10 but complaints about accuracy involving the statistics flew around the state as district after district filed appeals.
Bennett told The Journal Gazette after his State of Education speech in late September that there has always been an appeals process and the number of grade adjustments wasnt any more than in other cycles.
Shortly after, though, the Department of Education moved the release date to Oct. 31.
Stephanie Sample, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said Thursday the department hadnt received any more appeals than last year. The agency pushed back the release to give local principals and superintendents more time to review their data and preliminary grades, she said.
Because the new metric looks at so many pieces of locally provided data, districts are taking a closer look at the data than ever before, which is a good thing, she said in a written statement. Our goal is to be as fair to districts as we can be in this process, so if we sacrifice speed of release for accuracy and local preparation/review, thats okay.
Sample said preliminary grades were sent to superintendents and school principals for review Sept. 19, after which the department was swamped with questions, she said.
The questions and issues varied and ranged from the score of one student to the overall score of an entire student population of a school or district. But some districts had no issues, Sample said.
A campaign issue
The delay has also become a wrinkle in Bennetts race for re-election.
Bennetts opponent, Democrat Glenda Ritz, recently called for him to release the grades immediately, claiming he created a new A-F system that his own department cant understand or implement.
The program is such a mess that the Department of Education has repeatedly delayed release of school grades to avoid the political fall-out before the election, Ritz said in a prepared statement.
East Allen County Schools Superintendent Karyle Green said one of the biggest issues is that the metrics and calculations are so hard to understand they cause people to lose confidence in the system.
Many arent confident in the validity and accuracy of the results.
The ideas behind what theyre trying to do have positive merit, but because its so new, nothing appears to be going as planned, she said.
Fort Wayne Community Schools spokeswoman Krista Stockman said that days after the preliminary grades were posted on the departments website, they were taken down for adjustments. As a result, she said, the district has seen two different versions of the A-F grades. FWCS has appealed the grades for several schools.
One of the issues we have been dealing with is which and how many special education students were allowed to take alternative assessments, she said in a written statement.
Green said EACS has had problems with the growth model, a metric new this year aimed at gauging a students improvement. Students are compared with others across the state, which means growth data is calculated by the state.
Because East Allen closed and consolidated schools it is unclear how the state calculated some of its students growth on the test and which schools and teachers that growth was attributed to, Green said.
Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Craig Hintzs district was one that had almost no problems with the process.
We worked through the appeal process smoothly, he said. We were able to get to a level of congruence and agreed with the information provided back to us by the state. We are pleased with our results that will be released on Oct. 31, he said.
But the point of the system is to give parents, students, educators and communities an idea of how schools and districts are performing, according to the departments website. With the grades being released months into the school year, its difficult to see how the metrics and grades can be helpful, Green said, particularly with legislation passed in the last session requiring similar data be used for teacher evaluations.
The FWCS board also had to push back its performance evaluation of Superintendent Wendy Robinson because state data werent available.
Stockman said schools and classroom teachers cant wait for the state to release data, like the ratings, to make needed adjustments.
For some schools, changes had already been made and additional resources provided because we dont wait for the state to tell us when we have an area we need to address, she said. We have systems in place that alert us when we need to increase support to a school.
Green said Gov. Mitch Daniels has been a proponent for strong public schools and economic development, but, this system as it stands now is not serving that purpose.