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August 5, 2013

Grades scandal prompts review

There are concerns that A to F system is fundamentally flawed

(Continued)

INDIANAPOLIS —

But Lanane expressed concerns about the tight deadline they’ll be working under: Grew and Sheldrake have until Labor Day to evaluate the A-F grading system, determine its validity, ascertain the fairness of previous grades given to schools and figure out if the system was manipulated by Bennett to favor some schools over others.

“Maybe we need to slow down,” Lanane said. “At this point, putting a moratorium [on the A-F grades] sounds like an excellent idea.” 

The task force was prompted by reports from The Associated Press earlier this week that the Republican Bennett pushed his staff at the state Department of Education to raise grades for some charter schools, including one founded by a Republican campaign donor. Bennett has denied wrongdoing, but resigned earlier this week from his appointed post as Florida’s education commissioner. 

Meanwhile, Indiana’s public schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who beat Bennett in his bid for re-election in November, has decided to do her own review of the A to F grading system, of which she’s been critical. She’s to report her findings to the State Board of Education on Aug. 7.

For the independent task force led by Grew and Sheldrake, the task of figuring out whether the A to F grading system itself is a good tool for measuring schools may not be their most difficult job.

While Bennett put the new formula for grading schools into place last year and defended it with vigor, it’s been widely criticized by education reformers and opponents alike. The teachers’ unions objected to the new formula, but so did the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which has been a supporter of the concept of grading schools. 

Their primary objection: The new formula used to grade schools relies too heavily on raw standardized test scores and not enough on the academic progress of individual students. They feared, for example, that a school that helped low-performing students make significant progress would still get a low grade if the schools’ overall test scores weren’t high. 

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