About 60 percent of Indiana public and private schools earned A's or B's for student progress during the 2011-2012 academic year under a reconfigured grading system that critics claim is fundamentally flawed.
"This is a very good day for Indiana schools," Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett told State Board of Education members who voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the grades for public, charter and private schools.
About 150 schools received failing grades that could eventually position them for state takeover unless they improve, but no schools were marked for takeover this year, state Department of Education spokesman Alex Damron said.
Last year, the state hired private companies to take over four schools in Indianapolis and one in Gary following six consecutive years of poor student scores. One of those schools, Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Performing Arts in Indianapolis, raised its grade to a B this year.
Education officials said eight schools that received F's for the 2010-11 school year got A's last school year, and overall 43 schools improved by at least three letter grades. Twenty-eight schools that earned failing grades for the 2010-11 school year earned C's or higher this year, officials said. More than 200 schools earned A's for the first time this year.
"We definitely are moving in the right direction with accountability," Bennett said.
The grading system, which awards A's through D's to passing schools and F's to failing schools, is based largely on student standardized test scores, graduation rates and college and career readiness. The state board approved the new grading formula in February despite widespread opposition from teachers and other groups, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Bennett's opponent in the Nov. 6 election, Democrat Glenda Ritz, called for an independent audit of the newly-approved school grades. She said they are "artificial" because they don't truly measure individual student achievement, but instead compare students in different schools.
"I think the entire formula is flawed because you're creating artificial measures," Ritz told reporters after the board vote. "We don't know the true performance levels of our kids."
The state Department of Education said in a statement later that there was no need for an audit because the system was "thoroughly vetted and approved through our state's rule-making process" and "these metrics focus on what matters most."
"We're celebrating successes of Hoosier educators and students today — not playing politics," the statement said.
Bennett said that this year's grades showed that the new grading formula worked despite the criticism.
"I believe that what we're seeing here is teachers, schools, school leaders answering to their accountability and using it to drive student improvement," he said.
Krista Stockman, a spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Community Schools, which is the state's largest school district, said it wasn't valid to compare this year's results with last year's because the new system measures a student's progress against other students of similar achievement levels instead of against that student's own improvement over time.
"Even though a student may grow or do better, if they didn't do as well as others they might not be counted as growth," said Stockman. She said her district of more than 30,000 students received a C despite three consecutive years of increased passing rates on the state's standardized ISTEP test.
"This year our growth was larger than the state's growth and we end up a C district. There's no easy explanation," Stockman said.
Indiana received a waiver from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act from the U.S. Department of Education in February. The changes allowed under that waiver helped many schools that had previously repeatedly received C's, officials said.
The grades are available here.