by Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
INDIANAPOLIS — The state Department of Education released its controversial A through F letter grades today for more than 2,000 Indiana schools.
Slightly more than 40 percent of schools received an A, while about 7 percent of schools were given an F. The grades of B and C went to another 42 percent of schools, while the D grade went to just more than 11 percent of schools.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who is up for re-election next Tuesday, hailed the new grading system as a more accurate measure of how schools are performing. But he also conceded that the new system has “some complexity” that will make it difficult for parents, students, teachers and others to understand how the grades were reached.
At a meeting of the State Board of Education today, Bennett likened the grades to the safety rating system given to cars. “You understand the rating but not everything that goes into it,” Bennett said.
Release of the grades, which are posted on the DOE’s website, was approved by the board at its meeting today. The state board had approved the new grading system this year, over widespread opposition that included schools, community groups and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Bennett’s opponent in the race for state superintendent, Indianapolis teacher Glenda Ritz, has been sharply critical of the new school grading system, saying it's based too heavily on standardized test scores and unfairly labels schools.
Indiana’s K-12 schools have been measured and graded in the past, using a system based in part on how many students passed standardized tests. The new system incorporates a range of metrics. At the elementary and middle school level, progress made by students from year to year on their standardized test scores played a large role in the new grading system. At the high school level, college and career readiness indicators, such as Advanced Placement scores, industry certifications and standardized test scores factored into the new grades.
Some of the lowest grades went to schools in the state’s largest urban school districts, including the Indianapolis Public Schools. Some of the highest grades went to schools in suburban schools districts, such as Zionsville Community Schools, which are located in one of the most affluent counties in the state.
But Bennett rejected the notion that the grades reflect the amount of wealth or poverty in a school district. He noted, for example, that 85 percent of schools that had raised their past grades by three or four letter marks were in “high-poverty” school districts.
The school letter grades were scheduled to be publicly released earlier this month, but were delayed to give schools time to look at the data that was used to calculate the grades. Bennett said more than 140 schools appealed their grades, and 42 percent of those schools had some aspect of their data revised. He said 11 percent of the schools that appealed their initial grade received a grade change based on their appeal.