More public schools receive A grades, fewer get F’s

More Indiana schools received A's this year and fewer received F's under grades the Indiana State Board of Education approved Friday after months of political wrangling over the system.

Among the F's was a charter school that received a controversial A rating last year after former state Superintendent Tony Bennett ordered changes to the formula.

Christel House Academy in Indianapolis is among 106 public schools in Indiana that received failing grades under the system, which has been roundly criticized by educators and lawmakers alike. That’s a drop from 136 F's issued last year.

The grading formula is set to change next year – with more emphasis put on individual student growth rather than overall achievement – although policymakers haven’t finished working on the new criteria.

For now, though, the State Board of Education was stuck approving grades under the old formula, which also produced 805 A's, 382 B's, 332 C's and 195 D's among public schools.

Last year, only 671 schools received A's.

“Though this current model for calculating school accountability grades will be changing, the data does show that some great learning is occurring in our schools, and I want to congratulate our students for their successes,” Ritz said in a prepared statement about the grades.

Only board member Andrea Neal voted against the grade placements. She said the formula applies a one-size-fits-all system that fails to encourage schools to offer a well-rounded education to all students.

“To get an A, schools know what they have to do,” which involves focusing on reading, math and standardized testing, Neal said. “In some cases, this is happening to the exclusion of all else,” including the arts.

The board also approved grade placements for private schools. When those grades are added, the total number of schools receiving A's increases to 938. The total number of all schools with B's is 451, the number with C's is 372, with D's is 209 and F's is 112, according to the Department of Education.

The results of individual schools are available here.

A number of schools saw their grades change – some for the better and others for worse.

Wood Memorial Junior High in Gibson County moved from an F last year to a B this year, while just down the road, Princeton Middle School moved from a D to an A.

Two Mississinewa schools also moved from D's to A's as did Knightstown Elementary in Henry County. There were dozens of other examples.

But the Indiana Math & Science Academy dropped from a B to an F and the Padua Academy dropped from an A to an F. That’s what happened as well at Christel House, which Bennett had lauded as an example of a successful charter school.

Originally last year, the school – which is run by Christel House International – was set to receive a C. But emails uncovered last summer by the Associated Press showed that Bennett asked for changes in the grading formula that benefitted Christel House and more than a hundred other schools. The changes raised the Christel House grade to an A.

The revelations about Bennett’s actions led him to resign from his post as the education chief in Florida, where the Republican moved after he was defeated in his re-election bid by Ritz. Later, a bipartisan study found that the changes made by Bennett were “plausible.”

Like last year, the new grades are based on ISTEP and other standardized test scores as well as graduation rates and a measure of career readiness for high schools. That’s been important this year because technology failures caused ISTEP problems for some students. An independent study found that, overall, the ISTEP results were valid, although some individual scores were nullified.

DOE officials said some schools appealed their proposed grades based on ISTEP problems but none of those appeals were approved.

The Board of Education approved the grades after brief discussions and questions, without any of the rancor that has marked recent meetings.

Board members – who have all been appointed by Republican governors – have been critical of Ritz and the Department of Education she oversees for failing to get information to schools and the final grades finished more quickly.

Ritz has blamed the ISTEP problems for some of the problems. But at the request of skeptical board members, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency ran the data through the grading formula as well to serve as a check against the DOE results.

DOE officials on Friday said the results were the same in most cases. Where problems cropped up, LSA and DOE officials were able to work out the differences.

Still, board member Dan Elsener said that next year, education officials should strive to finish the appeals process more quickly so that schools know before the board votes what the final grades will be.

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