Panel supports scrapping Indiana school grades

February 20, 2013

A Republican-controlled state Senate committee agreed Wednesday with the new Democratic state schools superintendent that Indiana's A-F grading scale for individual schools should be scrapped.

The unanimous vote by Senate Education Committee backing Superintendent Glenda Ritz on one of her top campaign issues last year came a day after a House committee approved a bill that would take away from her the administration of the state's private school voucher system.

The Senate bill would throw out the A-F grading system that was issued for the first time in 2011 and have the state Board of Education develop a new system for tracking school improvement.

About 60 percent of Indiana's more than 2,000 public and private schools received grades of A or B under scores released in October. Several educators testified Wednesday about instances where their schools had consistently high student test scores but received low grades because students hadn't shown enough improvement.

Ritz, who took office last month, told the committee that she believed using a single grade for schools wasn't effective when trying to track both student performance and whether they are improving. She said more than 100 schools had appealed their scores but that she couldn't give them clear answers on how the scores were determined.

"I'm in favor of reporting out the raw data rather than trying to find some way to combine the score into a grade," Ritz said. "I think we'll have the very same problem of trying to tell people what that grade really represents when we really do have to measure two different things."

The A-F scale was backed by Republican Superintendent Tony Bennett — whom Ritz defeated in the November election — despite widespread opposition from teachers and other groups, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

No one defended the grading system during Wednesday's hearing on the bill to repeal it.

"I've concluded that the current model is flawed and doesn't do what it was intended to do," said Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Ritz's friendly reception on Wednesday followed a contentious House education committee meeting on Tuesday during which Republican legislators pushed through a bill that would move the handling of applications for private school vouchers from the Department of Education to an agency under Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

The House committee chairman cited Ritz's opposition to the voucher program that legislators adopted in 2011 and her involvement in a lawsuit challenging the law that's awaiting a ruling from the state Supreme Court.

Ritz said Wednesday she didn't believe she should be treated differently than any previous state superintendent. She said she would follow her oath of office and properly implement any laws regardless of her personal feelings.

"I hope in the end that I'm afforded the same oversight capabilities and processes that are in place and have been in place many, many years," Ritz said.


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