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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 23, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

Making the grade

School evaluation plan on hold - for now

A-F plan

The deadline to submit comments on the State Board of Education's A-F school-grading proposal is March 29. Email sboe_comment@sboe.in.gov.

Indiana schools have won the latest round in a battle over a school-grading plan that would have harmed schools and students and enriched out-of-state testing companies. But stay tuned – only intense pressure from educators slowed the ill-considered plan.

In a work session Wednesday, members of the Indiana State Board of Education agreed to put on hold a proposed overhaul of the A-F grading plan. It doesn't mean schools won't receive letter grades, but it likely means they won't be subjected next year to measurements that would have wrongly tagged many schools with failing marks. 

Board member Byron Ernest's call to postpone debate came as a surprise Wednesday. The board was expected to discuss the proposal this week and consider it for approval April 4. An earlier recommendation to postpone was rebuffed, and State Board of Education staff initially tried to limit public comment to a couple of hearings in Indianapolis.

Board member Steve Yager, the former Southwest Allen County Schools superintendent, called for hearings to take place statewide. In six sessions, more than 125 people addressed the board – unanimous in their criticism of the grading plan. 

The problem with the proposal is that it places greater emphasis on test scores, even as a backlash grows over the class time allotted and tax dollars spent on standardized testing. An earlier draft that would have measured both academic proficiency and growth at the high school level was dumped in favor of a plan that ignored growth and required all Indiana students to take a college entrance exam. Pressure to use the SAT exam is coming from the General Assembly, where one member is a senior vice president with the College Board, which administers the fee-based test.

Assuming the proposal is not approved later this spring, Indiana schools will receive two grades this year and next – one based on a 2016 state plan and a second required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. With significantly different performance measures, the two grades are likely to differ for the same school.

The postponement is the first clue that the appointed members of the State Board of Education are paying attention to educators and other members of the public. In December, with hours of testimony condemning a high school Graduation Pathways plan, a majority of board members voted to approve it. School officials across Indiana are now struggling to implement the plan. Fort Wayne Community Schools' recent proposal – since dropped – to eliminate the honors program is evidence of that struggle.

State Board member Cari Whicker, who has joined Yager in opposing the board's accountability proposal, said Wednesday the changes have been frustrating.

“Either A-F accountability or testing has changed every year since 2011,” said the Southern Wells Elementary School principal. “That's a lot for schools. What you consider tweaking is truly moving the target for people in the field.”

Yager said Thursday he hopes the state board will take its time going forward on the A-F proposal.

“I hope we take the two years to do the analysis and some research and use practices from other states to make sure we are doing this correctly and that we don't harm students by making one change and then another change,” he said. “We need to be transparent as a board and try to keep our focus on what's best for kids in the classroom.”

That's most likely to happen with continuing pressure from the education community and the public.