Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 21, 2013

State A to F grades finally released

Value of accountability system called into question earlier this year

By Lauren Fitch Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Delays and disputes aside, Indiana schools finally received their A to F accountability grades Friday, with more schools earning A’s and fewer earning F’s than in the previous school year.

Across the state, 938 schools (45 percent) earned A’s on the 2013 report, compared to 856 (41 percent) in 2012. This year, 451 schools landed at the B level, 372 received C’s and 209 got D’s. Only 5.4 percent of schools (112) received F’s this year, compared to 6.9 percent (144) schools in 2012.

In Howard County, 11 schools received A’s, four earned B’s, six had C’s, one received a D and two got F’s. Thirteen of the 24 schools improved upon their grades from 2012 or maintained an A.

The biggest jump came from Bon Air Elementary School, which rose from an F in 2012 to a B in 2013 after starting at an A in 2011.

Bon Air Elementary Principal Paula Concus credited teachers, students and a data-focused approach to improvement as the reason the school improved three letter grades.

“Our teachers learned new ways of looking at and understanding data, including what data has the strongest impact on instruction and the measurement of student growth,” Concus said. “Students also came alongside our teachers by learning their strengths, weaknesses and areas where they need to improve to become better learners. The Bon Air students truly took ownership of their learning.”

Central Middle School received an F for the third consecutive year under the grading system; the state can take over a school after six consecutive years of ranking in the lowest category.

Dave Barnes, communications director for Kokomo Schools, said Central Middle School’s transition to an International Baccalaureate school in May 2013 should yield improved scores in coming years. The corporation appealed this year’s F — although it was not granted — because the demographic of students has changed so much since last school year.

“We feel we’ll be fine in the future,” Barnes said. “It now is a magnet school, which allows us to focus on some of those concerns. We feel the issue has been addressed and (improvement) will be seen on the 2013-14 score.”

In Tipton County, three schools earned B’s and two earned C’s, with all the schools either maintaining their grades or dropping their score compared to last year. Between Maconaquah School Corp. and Peru Community Schools, both in Miami County, Peru Jr. High School was the only one to earn an A and the other eight schools received B’s.

Since the new letter grade system was implemented in 2011, schools have received their grades by October of the following school year. Public complaints about the system led to revisions in 2013, which ended in State Superintendent Glenda Ritz delaying the release of the scores due to spring testing errors and the need to review some of the tests. The Legislature passed a bill earlier this year mandating a new system of rating schools, which officials expect to approve in 2014.

Delaying the grades also delayed teacher evaluations, as the letter grade is a factor in teachers’ ratings.

Calculating letter grades for elementary and middle schools involves assigning a preliminary math and reading score based on ISTEP results. The preliminary score can be raised if a significant number of students performing in the bottom 25 percent show high growth or if the remaining students show high growth. The score can be dropped if the student body as a whole shows low growth. Participation on testing dates also is a factor in the grade.

High and low growth is based on how a student’s progress ranks compared to the progress of students with similar prior test scores. Kokomo Schools Superintendent Jeff Hauswald questioned why students and schools are judged against one another rather than established criteria. He also was displeased with state officials’ lack of transparency on how the A to F scores are calculated.

“I would give all of Kokomo’s students, teachers, and principals an ‘A’ for their hard work and success, but I would give the State Board of Education an ‘F’ for continuing to utilize a failed model for judging schools,” Hauswald said. “The State Board of Education is having a negative impact on education and the state’s economy. In the future, I only hope that the State Board of Education spends less time arguing and more time listening to the citizens of Indiana, particularly the educators of this fine state of Indiana.”

For high schools, letter grades are based on End of Course Assessment scores in English 10 and Algebra I as well as the four-year graduation rate and college and career readiness, which is measured by how many students pass AP exams, IB exams or dual credit courses.

Tipton Community Schools Superintendent Kevin Emsweller said it is difficult to sum up the quality of education in a letter grade, though he would have liked to see higher scores this year. Tipton high school and elementary school both earned B’s and the middle school received a C, which Emsweller attributed to not showing enough growth for the bottom 25 percent of students.

“Legislators have said it doesn’t work, the state superintendent has said it doesn’t work, but this is what we’re measured against now. It is what it is,” he said. “The grade is not something we use that much. It’s more of a mark to tell us how that data comes together. … To put it all into one letter isn’t a true reflection. Our kids are excelling in so many things you cannot put on a test.”

Lauren Fitch, education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8587, Lauren.Fitch@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LaurenBFitch.