Both superintendent candidates agree: A-F grades for schools too harsh

Opponents of assigning A-F letter grades to Indiana schools have reason to be optimistic: When voters go to the polls this fall to decide who should run the state’s top education office, both candidates will be people who believe that one grade isn’t enough to reflect the work of an entire school or district.

The current superintendent of public instruction, Democrat Glenda Ritz, and her Republican challenger, Jennifer McCormick, a superintendent in Yorktown, both say they think slapping a school with an A or an F is overly harsh—and far too simplistic at a time when educating children is a complex task, affected by many variables.

“I want to eliminate the A, B, C, D, F, and have a category assignment in our accountability system that actually reflects school improvement,” Ritz said, although she can’t make that decision unilaterally without state board or lawmakers’ approval.

Ritz worries that students are all too aware of the school ratings and the stigma of attending a “failing” schools.

“We are giving students less opportunity when the state puts a label on the school,” Ritz said. “And I just don’t believe that’s right.”

McCormick, too, wants to see the system change.

“It’s needs to be broader,” McCormick said. “I don’t think one letter grade tells it all.”

As with other policy positions, McCormick has yet to explain how exactly her administration would move forward if elected—whether she’d try to amend work Ritz’s team has done on the model or leave it in place.

She said at a candidate forum late last month that her policy plans would be coming sometime after Labor Day.

Indiana is one of 14 states that currently uses letter grades to measure schools. The state started using grades in 2011 but, since then, has regularly tweaked the system it uses to calculate grades.

Recent changes have focused on adjusting the measurement system to better consider factors that go beyond test scores such as graduation rates and how students perform on advance course exams.

Now, though, the the grades themselves could be up for debate.

Although Ritz says the new new A-F model that was used for the first time this year is the best one the state has had, she has resurrected the state’s accountability advisory panel to determine how the system needs to change to meet requirements of new federal laws. That group meets again next week.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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