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1/22/2012 11:45:00 AM
State Board of Education's A-to-F grading changes under fire

Carole Carlson, Post-Tribune

Educators and business leaders are opposed to a proposed State Board of Education rule that changes the state’s A-to-F grading standards.

“It’s a very complicated formula and very difficult to explain, said Merrillville Community School Corp. Superintendent Tony Lux. “All the public would understand is the final letter grade.”

In November, the State Board of Education approved a draft of the new standards that are designed to replace the state’s accountability measure — Public Law 221 — and the “adequate yearly progress” standard in the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Following a Jan. 17 public hearing on the changes, the state board could vote on final adoption as soon as Feb. 8, said Stephanie Sample, spokeswoman for the Department of Education.

The Department of Education included the new standards in its waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education to become exempt from No Child Left Behind standards. Sample said state education officials say their measurement system is more accurate than the adequate yearly progress measurement that left many schools with “C” grades because of lower scores by subgroups such as special education and non-English speaking students.

Lux, who testified against the measure, said its high school growth formula metrics were unfair and tilted toward higher performing suburban districts.

“There were probably about 100 people there and everybody had criticisms of the formula from school teachers to parents to charters and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. I don’t think there was any education group that supported it,” said Lux.

The proposed formula calls for elementary and middle schools to get scores for the percentage of students who pass standardized math and English tests. They receive bonus points or can be penalized, based on test-score growth and other factors.

It becomes more confusing at the high school level. Besides passing rates and graduation rates, high schools would be graded by college and career readiness — Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate results, the completion of college dual credits and technical certifications. In high school, the state only has standardized tests in English 10 and Algebra I.

“The high school factor favors high wealth districts,” said Lux who said points would be deducted for general diplomas. “For some kids, just getting a general diploma is an accomplishment. Now, they want to ratchet up the criteria.”

Sample called the new formula “a blind measurement of student performance, regardless of socio-economic factors. State law already requires each high school to offer at least two AP courses.”

John Ellis, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said House Bill 1324, now pending in the General Assembly, also references the proposed grading system.

“The implications from the Tuesday hearing go all through that bill,” he said.

“Because they use a bell curve, you’ve automatically got 33 percent at the top and 33 percent at the bottom. The problem is seeing where the rest would be. You could have huge improvement, you could end up at the bottom of the bell curve,” said Ellis who called the legislation “misleading.”

Related Stories:
• Tweaked state grade system tougher, but fair?
• EDITORIAL: State school program for accountability continues to change

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