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EDITORIAL

Bad news keeps piling up for A-F grading system

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 12:01 am

A growing number believe it is neither accurate nor fair.

The South Bend school board has now joined Fort Wayne’s in condemning the state’s A-F grading system for Hoosier public schools. “There’s an obvious lack of clarity in how these A to F grades were assigned,” board Vice President Jay Caponigro said.

And the bad news just keeps coming:

Heather Neal, Gov. Mike Pence’s legislative director, resigned right after Pence called her a valued member of his team. She had served as chief of staff to former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett during the time he was accused of changing the system to benefit the Christel House charter school he had been touting.

An investigation by State Impact Indiana revealed that 165 Indiana schools received higher grades in 2012 as a result of the formula change that increased Christel House’s grade.

That last one is the most troubling revelation. Were the higher grades unintended inflation as the result of shenanigans meant to benefit only one school? Or was the old formula really wrong, and did the 165 schools unfairly receive lower grades? Will somebody ever tell us which grades are correct and how these schools are really doing?

We shouldn’t have to be told. So much is riding on the A-F system – including the treatment of teachers, the well-being of students and the very future of schools and whole school systems – that it has to be transparent in the way the grades are calculated and applied. The system has to be thorough, accurate and fair, and a growing number of Hoosiers don’t believe it is any of those things.

Glenda Ritz, the current superintendent of public instruction, has said her office is investigating the 2012 school grades that were given under Bennett. Good. And Hoosier legislators and the Indiana Board of Education are working to revamp the whole A-F system. Better. They should include a consideration of using some criteria besides ISTEP+ scores. As it is, too much is riding on that one test.

Schools must be held accountable for how well they spend taxpayers’ dollars. And we have to know how schools compare with each other so we can identify good practices. And educators have to know which students are struggling with what so their performance can be improved.

For all those reasons, a grading system makes sense. But it has to be a system that accurately measures what it is claimed to measure, and it must be trusted by the people who are judged by it. This system isn’t. Having a bad system – or one that no one has faith in – is worse than no system at all.