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Panel backs changes for Indiana A-F school grades

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The State Board of Education is getting recommendations that Indiana's A-F school rating system be changed to account for improvement by individual students on tests and for the addition of state tests to four more grades.

The recommendations come from an advisory panel made up mostly of educators that was appointed after concerns emerged about the grading formula used last year under former state school Superintendent Tony Bennett.

The current formula has schools' grades based mostly on the percentage of students who pass the state's standardized ISTEP test, not on test score improvement.

Changes would put more emphasis on how much progress students make toward a passing score on ISTEP math and language arts tests. Other factors to be included are high school graduation and college and career readiness rates, and reading test performance.

Committee co-chairman Steve Yager, superintendent of the Northwest Allen County Schools, said the proposed system is more transparent and simpler with more evaluation points.

"It's easily measured, easily understood and easy to then enact the changes that we need for instruction or curriculum," Yager said.

Students currently take ISTEP tests are in third through eighth grades and in 10th grade. The panel recommends new state tests for the first, second, ninth and 11th grades. State schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz said those would replace local testing at those levels.

Ritz and Yager are expected to present the recommendations on Nov. 8 to the State Board of Education, which is expected to consider adopting a new A-F grading model next month.

The fate of the changes is unclear as Ritz, a Democrat, has been at odds with the Republican-dominated board. Ritz filed a lawsuit last week over the board's request to top GOP lawmakers that legislative analysts calculate the new A-F grades instead of her department.

Bennett, a Republican, resigned as Florida's schools chief in August after The Associated Press published emails showing he altered Indiana's school grading system last year after a charter school founded by a top GOP donor received a low grade. That school, which Bennett routinely cited as a top performer, received an A under the revised formula. Other schools also saw improvements.

Advisory committee member Cheryl Ramsey, principal at Beveridge Elementary School in Gary, said the panel focused on making the grading system, which has given her school an F several years in a row, more equitable.

"We'll be able to explain to teachers, to parents, all stakeholders what we have to do to change our score," she said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature ordered the state board to devise a new A-F system in April, after complaints from parents, teachers and school officials that the current model, which debuted in 2012, was unfair and impossible to understand.

Members of the grading system study panel were selected by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican House and Senate leaders, and Ritz.

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