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FWCS votes to denounce A-F grading plan

The Fort Wayne Community Schools board hopes to get other Indiana school districts to take a stand against the state’s A-F accountability model.

On Monday, Board President Mark GiaQuinta presented a resolution stating the board would no longer publicly recognize schools based on the letter grade assigned to a school based on the A-F grading system.

The resolution passed 6-1 with board member Lisa Olinger voting against it.

The resolution explained the board’s concerns about how the A-F system tallied a school’s grade based on student scores on the ISTEP+ exam without considering students living in poverty, those learning the English language, students with special needs or parental involvement.

The current grading system also failed to include attendance rates, awards won by the staff and students, extracurricular activities and the skill and experience of building leaders, the resolution said.

“I really believe this stigmatizes schools rather than labels them,” GiaQuinta said.

Last year, the Department of Education named Harrison Hill Elementary School an F-rated school through the state’s A-F grading system.

FWCS has 14 A-rated schools, six B-rated schools, 19 C-rated schools and nine D-rated schools, according to the Department of Education.

“I have to say the revelations over the course of the last week to 10 days have left me … a tad bit bitter,” GiaQuinta said, referring to the news that former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett had overhauled the grading system to improve an individual school’s score.

“I fully expect that if it passes here tonight, it will be passed in other board rooms around the state,” GiaQuinta said. “I think it’s fitting that Fort Wayne Community as the largest school board in the state begin taking a lead and making a stand on issues like this.”

“I think it’s right for us as the largest district in this state to say no more shenanigans,” board vice resident Steve Corona said.

Olinger voted in opposition after stating she had concerns about referring to the accountability system as the “Bennett A-F System” and said she wanted to have more time to look over the resolution before Monday’s meeting.

The resolution also asked Superintendent Wendy Robinson to develop criteria for recognizing improvement in schools and the quality of education that FWCS students are receiving.

Robinson said she agreed with the board’s decision to take a stand on the A-F grading system, but said she would need to focus on how to explain to parents and students how the schools are analyzed and wanted to make sure there was no confusion about what the resolution meant for the coming year.

“Our kids are still going to take ISTEP in the spring,” Robinson said. “ … but I don’t want anybody thinking that because the motion passed that tomorrow we don’t have to worry about (test scores). Because that’s not going to happen.”

Although the A-F grading system had many faults, it was easier for parents to understand because it presented school achievement on a grading scale parents and students could understand, she explained.

Robinson also mentioned that after many of the district’s schools received an A rating, the district used the state’s grading scale as a marketing plan to attract attention to FWCS.

“We were extremely happy with the A we received and did a campaign just like everybody else did,” Robinson said.

“I think one of the things we keep forgetting is that we’re in a very competitive environment … but we have to be careful.”