> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Whether they agree with the instrument or not, districts in Clark and Floyd counties got their report cards from the state on Friday.
The A-F grades issued through the State Board of Education show mostly good results in the region, but some district officials still take issue with how the metrics are calculated.
As disputes over how schools earn their grade continues, district officials said they’ll continue to work on improvement, even if they don’t like how they’re scored.
Schools in the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. fared the best with only three of its four schools dipping below a B, but never under a C.
Rhonda Mull, director of middle schools, said she’s thrilled to see nine of the district’s 14 schools make an A, five of them improving last year’s grade of B.
“We are absolutely confident in how our students are learning in New Albany Floyd, we just hope the state can get the metric right,” Mull said. “We feel absolutely good about the work we’re doing.”
But Sally Jensen, director of assessment and student information, said small differences in a school’s performance can drop its grade.
“We feel like there are flaws in the metric,” Jensen said. “Although we’re very happy with nine out of 14 of our schools being A schools, we were hopeful this metric would get rewritten for next school year, but it doesn’t look like it will.”
Though they’ll have to live with the current model for another year, she said she hopes the next iteration of it becomes based more on criteria, though she said she doesn’t mind comparisons of similar schools.
The grades have become increasingly important in recent years, being used to determine teacher pay, school funding and the potential for state takeover.
Across the nation, school grades increasingly have been adopted by conservative education officials. Indiana first approved school assessments in 1999, and Tony Bennett, former superintendent of public instruction, later changed the labels to reflect “A-F” grades.
Bennett was in the middle of reworking Florida’s school grading system earlier this year when he resigned as that state’s schools chief amid the Indiana grade-change scandal. Emails obtained by The Associated Press showed a scramble by Bennett and his staff last year upon learning Christel House was about to receive a “C.”
A legislative review of Bennett’s alterations found they were applied evenly to other schools but did not explore his motives for the change.
Bennett is also the subject of ethics charges filed by Indiana’s inspector general alleging he misused state resources to aid in his failed re-election bid last year. He recently returned to Indiana and began consulting on state-level issues with testing company ACT.
The new grades were calculated using the Bennett grading formula, which also will be used to calculate grades for the 2013-2014 school year. Members of the state board are crafting a new “A-F” grading formula.
Most schools in West Clark Community Schools saw improvement and new benchmarks were established for the schools in Henryville, which weren’t graded last year because of the tornado that tore them apart.
John Reed, assistant superintendent, said he’s glad to see most of his schools earning an A or B, but is concerned with a drop at Silver Creek Middle School from a B to a D.
He said though he’s met with principals and teachers at the school to find out how to overcome that next time around, he’ in not happy with how the grades are calculated.
“I’m very happy with our grades, but that doesn’t change my opinion of the grading system,” Reed said. “The legislature let out enough comments that they’re not happy with it and that’s why they’ve mandated the state board come up with new criteria.”
Until that happens, he said they’ll have to work internally to take the grades they earned and continue to improve upon them.
But one aspect of the system actually helps them gain traction in student improvement, he said.
“The good thing about it is it does force us to look even more carefully than we ordinarily might, at where these specific kids are and what we can do for them,” Reed said. “It’s stretching us and I think that’s a good thing.”
In Greater Clark County Schools, half of the district’s 18 schools earned an A and three more with a B.
“I think it reflects overall that we are making good progress and obviously, we’re not fully satisfied yet,” Andrew Melin, superintendent, said. “We want all of our schools to be A schools. But the fact that we’ve shown growth is an important factor. I’m pleased that we have three more A schools than we had last year. It’s important to stay vigilant and keep working. We’re only a few months away from the first round of ISTEP+.”
But Melin said he’s concerned with the four Ds earned by some elementary and middle schools. However, he said focusing on finding the right resources for those schools and students is paramount in getting those grades boosted.
In Clarksville Community Schools, two schools are at the A or B level, with the middle school slipping from a C in 2012 to a D this year.
Kim Knott, superintendent, said identifying the students who had the most problems will be a key factor in improvement for next year.
“The first step is look very carefully at the data, see what students are in need of remediation and for what, then devise our plan on how we’re going go that,” Knott said.
But she said she doesn’t have a problem with the way the grades are calculated. A good understanding of how they’re tabulated can lead to pretty good estimates on what to expect.
Even if changes for A-F are on the way for 2015, she said she doesn’t expect anything drastically different from the current model.
“I thin you’re going to see something very similar in 2015,” Knott said. “Conceptually, it’s based on the system, I don’t think it’s flawed. I think when people aren’t sure on how to run calculations, that’s problematic. But when you figure out those results, they come out the way they should. I don’t think they’re changing anything at the high school level at all in 2015, I think you’ll see very similar practices in 2015 that you see today.”