05 May Educators: School Grading Plan is Unfair (IN)

May 5, 2010

By: Andy Gammill
Source: The Indianapolis Star

Dozens of teachers and school administrators showed up Friday at the Indiana Department of Education to offer their evaluation of a new plan  to issue letter grades for their schools.

Their consensus: The proposal deserves an F.

In a passionate hearing, educators from around the state implored state officials to scrap a plan to grade each school on an A to F scale based on students’ performance on standardized tests.

State officials say such a system would make it easier for the public to know where schools stand in comparison with one another, but dozens of school workers stood up to say they found it patently unfair.

Some argued that it’s wrong — or even immoral — to tar children with a label of D or F based on the school they attend or to do the same to hard-working teachers.

Others pointed to weaknesses in the underlying evaluation of schools that mean the difference between an A rating and a C could be how one or two special-education students fare.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who was not at the meeting, said Friday that the state would work on ironing out those inconsistencies in the next few months but that the process started sooner on the easier change to letter grades.

That c hange would move Indiana’s school accountability system from a confusing muddle of terms ranging from "exemplary" to "probation." Few parents could tell you the difference between the current "academic watch" and "academic progress" categories.

Joyce Akridge, principal of School 79 in Indianapolis Public Schools, listed statistics about the students at her school who arrive unable to speak English, many fleeing war zones.

When those students fail state tests shortly after arriving, she said, they count against the school and could result in a low score for the school.

"My request is you not penalize School 79 and schools like 79 . . . with D’s or F’s," she said. "Education is too important for a cavalier decision like the one being made today."

Shortridge High School Principal Brandon Cosby said it made no sense that his school could be rated as a D school even though the entire staff and student body were new this year.

And most emotionally, some from Nappanee Elementary School described how it had fallen two students short in its special-education category. If two more of those students had passed ISTEP, the school would be the equivalent of an A school. Instead it fell to a spot that would garner a C.

Kate Miller, a student there, introduced herself as one of those special-education students who didn’t make the grade.

Teachers in the audience cried openly as Kate — who cannot stand on her own and whose mother held her up to the microphone — haltingly described the frustration of doing her best and being part of the reason her school would earn a low grade.<br /& gt;

"My mom says my best is good enough, and she’s right," she said. "I can’t do better than my best at school. . . . I can only do my best, and that has to be acceptable."

She received a standing ovation.

But Bennett, the state schools chief, said the state was working on fixing the inconsistencies that could cause a single student’s performance to drop a school two letter grades.

That occurs when a school would earn an A or a B but fails on the federal "adequate yearly progress" because a specific racial, socioeconomic or disadvantaged group has performed at lower levels.

Bennett said things that can be fixed shouldn’t stand in the way of using an effective method to tell parents how well their schools are doing.

"People don’t understand the current system," he said, "and we must have a transparent, easy-to-understand measure for parents, for community members, for educators."

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