Top official discusses recent school rankings

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Indiana's top education official said this week that she is aware of the confusion caused recently by the release of school rankings from the state Department of Education.

According to the rankings, which are based primarily on ISTEP scores, Cloverdale Community Schools fared the best of all Putnam County schools, earning an "exemplary" ranking. They were followed by Greencastle Community Schools which received an "academic progress" ranking and North and South Putnam schools which were each placed on "academic watch."

Some school officials say they think the new rankings, handed down as part of Public Law 221, go against those that have been given to them by the federal government through No Child Left Behind.

"It's sort of sending a different message I guess," North Putnam Superintendent Murray Pride told the BannerGraphic last week.

Pride's concern is something that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen Reed said Wednesday she understands.

"The most important thing we want people to know is that our Public Law 221 is based on improvement," Reed told the BannerGraphic after her speech to members of the Greencastle Rotary Club.

Reed said she agrees the two ranking systems are sending different messages to schools but that she hopes to convince federal officials to take a look at what the state of Indiana is doing through PL 221 and possibly change their program called Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.

"What we're trying to do is persuade the federal government to let us use that growth model (PL 221), instead of using the adequate yearly progress (AYP) model that they have given us," she said.

Reed said that under AYP, schools are judged by how well students in the same grade perform from year to year. For example, third graders at a particular school are compared with third graders the following year and so on.

Under the state's PL 221, groups of students, known as cohorts, are tracked as they progress from grade to grade. In other words, third graders are evaluated as they become fourth graders, then as they move to fifth grade, and on up until they graduate from high school.

"We, at the state, look at that same cohort and we look at their growth," Reed said. "The other way (AYP) looks at third graders every year and compares them to third grade the year before.

"Instead of looking at third graders in perpetuity, we're looking at the growth that kids are able to make every year. We really believe that's a better measure than looking at third graders every year."

Reed said during her speech that members of the Board of Education spent a great deal of time discussing the new rankings, ultimately settling on the set of five that were announced last week.

"I think that as we have done that, there have been questions like, 'how did you do this and how did you do that?'" Reed said.

The five rankings, beginning with the best and ending with the worst are: exemplary progress, commendable progress, academic progress, academic watch and academic probation. The rankings were also applied to individual schools in the county.

"This just organizes the facts in ways that people can take a look at them and see if they can be helpful," Reed said of the rankings.

Now that the rankings have been released, she told Rotary members that she believes the community as a whole is responsible for helping students improve.

"It's everybody's job. It's not just the school. It's the school community," she said. "And we can't do it without moms and dads doing their job, and neighbors and friends and organizations doing their part as well."

The state superintendent took time after her speech to offer a few words to the administrators and teachers of Putnam County.

"They're doing well," she said of their efforts.

She offered this advice: "Get help from your community and make sure you're communicating well with parents and students."

Reed has served as the state superintendent of public instruction since 1992.

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