Preliminary numbers show big plunge in school grades

Preliminary findings show school A-F letter grades have plummeted across Indiana as a result of stringent new test standards mandated by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has long predicted a drop this year in student ISTEP scores, which are used to calculate teacher bonuses and the A-F grades. But data provided to The Associated Press Friday shows just how dramatic the drop was — offering Ritz a rare I-told-you-so moment after Republicans on the State Board of Education repeatedly ignored her concerns.

"It is important to note that Superintendent Ritz has said for the past 18 months that we need to hold schools harmless for the transition they experienced in 2014-15," Ritz spokeswoman Samatha Hart said Friday in a statement. "This would give a much needed break to schools and teachers that use (the) scores to determine a portion of teacher pay and mitigate the devastating impact that these grades could have on our communities."

While the numbers are just preliminary findings, they paint a dire picture. For example, the number of schools that received an "A'' grade plunged by more than 50 percent when compared to last year. Meanwhile, the number of schools that received an F increased to 17 percent. Last year only about 4 percent of schools did that badly. Those that received a D increased from about 6 percent last year, to nearly 19 percent this year, according to the preliminary numbers.

The preliminary numbers reflected only statewide trends and did not indicate how individual school corporations or regions performed.

Ritz for months has warned that many more students were expected to fail the ISTEP exam this year because of more difficult state standards, which were created after Republican legislators and GOP Gov. Mike Pence withdrew Indiana from the national Common Core standards last year. She has called for teachers and schools to not be penalized for low scores this year.

Until recently Republicans opposed that idea. But in October Pence changed his mind and reversed course on using the ISTEP to determine teacher pay this year. He also signaled a willingness to grant some degree of reprieve to schools that took a hit on A-F grades.

Some lawmakers have also shown an interest in lessening the impact on A-F grades, but so far the GOP has not offered a specific proposal.

Marc Lotter, a spokesman for the state board, which has frequently clashed with Ritz, declined to comment on the numbers.

"It would be inappropriate for me to comment on prelim embargoed data that has not been audited, been through the appeals process or finalized," Lotter said. "Especially in light of the fact that Gov. Pence and legislative leaders are working on modifying the system."

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