Disputed state school accountability grades announced

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Despite opposition from school superintendents across Putnam County and around the state, the Indiana Department of Education Tuesday released the 2015-16 accountability grades for Indiana schools.

The grades announced Tuesday are the first released under a new A-F accountability formula approved last year by the Indiana State Board of Education. The grades were released over objections from school superintendents, many of whom believe the marks don't paint an accurate picture of the current state of education in local schools.

The new formula equally weighs performance and growth, while taking into account additional factors such as graduation rate and AP test performance in grading high schools. The grades are figured on the percentage of students who pass the ISTEP.

The percentage of Hoosier students with passing scores on the 2016 ISTEP dipped statewide, which can adversely affect the A-F ratings of their schools and reportedly hurt teacher evaluations. It remains unclear at present just how the ISTEP scores impacted the assigned A-F grades.

Locally, all four Putnam County high schools received a B grade, while three of the four local middle schools were given a C. North Putnam Middle School was the lone exception with a B rating.

Elementary schools provided the largest disparity locally with Fillmore Elementary posting an A -- the only A grade among the county's 16 schools -- and the lowest local grade going to Central Elementary, which was assigned a D.

The local scores were:

Cloverdale -- Cloverdale Elementary, B; Cloverdale Middle School, C; and Cloverdale High School, B.

Greencastle -- Deer Meadow Primary, C; Ridpath Primary, C; Tzouanakis Intermediate, C; Greencastle Middle School, C; and Greencastle High School, B.

North Putnam -- Bainbridge Elementary, C; Roachdale Elementary, B; North Putnam, Middle School, B; North Putnam High School, B.

South Putnam -- Central Elementary, D; Fillmore Elementary, A; South Putnam Middle School, C; South Putnam High School, B.

What do the scores mean? That's what educators are debating.

Last fall in a Farm Bureau-sponsored meeting with local legislators, South Putnam's Bruce Bernhardt tried to provide the public perception on the school grades.

"It's a disservice to put out these letter grades to the public," he said. "We can't make them understand as a community. All they see is that letter grade. All they see is The Banner puts in I got a D and you got a B."

In an October letter to the editor published by the Banner Graphic, the four local school superintendents -- Cloverdale's Greg Linton, Greencastle's Jeff Hubble, South Putnam's Bernhardt and North Putnam's Dan Noel -- joined several others in the area in urging a "hold-harmless provision" in regard to the 2015-16 ISTEP+ scores as "the right thing to do for our schools and students."

"We strongly encourage our elected officials and the State Board of Education not to use the results of the current ISTEP+ assessment to designate letter grades for schools and corporations," the letter stated. "We vehemently request that the A-F grading system be paused, and schools be provided with a hold-harmless provision from the results of the 2015-2016 ISTEP+."

Refusing that, they reasoned, "fails to take into account that for the second year in a row, ISTEP results have not been released in a timely manner, which significantly reduces the opportunity to provide remediation to improve student performance.

"Placing inaccurate letter grades on our schools and school corporations violates the trust of the electorate," the school administrators added. "We are confident that the current test scores do not accurately reflect our students' yearly achievement and the extraordinary efforts our teachers make each day in the classroom."

Overall in the grades released Tuesday, some 500 schools (24 percent) received an A from the Indiana Department of Education. The most common grade was a B, with 739 schools earning that mark. Meanwhile, F-rated schools climbed to 130, a jump of six percent.

Schools now have 30 days to appeal their grades to the State Board of Education.

With the release of the scores, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz thanked Hoosier students, educators and families "for their countless hours of work over the last academic year."

"This year, Indiana implemented a new student-centered school accountability system utilizing Indiana's new, more rigorous standards and assessments for the first time," Ritz said, explaining that the 2015-16 school year established a new baseline for Indiana school accountability grades.

"Moving forward, the Department of Education will continue to support students, educators and schools with the important work of school improvement," added Ritz, who in the November election lost her statewide post to Republican Jennifer McCormick.

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