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Michiana educators unhappy with new formula for grading schools

Michiana educators unhappy with new formula for grading schools
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SOUTH BEND — Indiana’s formula for grading its schools is about to change and area educators have major concerns about the plan.

They turned out to vocalize those concerns at a recent hearing at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend.

Standardized test scores of Indiana students would have more weight in determining school A-F grades under new rules being considered by the Indiana State Board of Education. The change would give more weight to test scores in determining school letter grades and less to individual student progress. The changes could take effect as soon as August.

Not taking student progress into account is the issue that seems most troubling to those who spoke here.

“Hinging a high school’s performance on a single high-stakes test is pretty brutal,” said John Ross, associate principal at Mishawaka High School.

“To let a single test score be a symbol of passing or failing is not right,” said Oletha Jones, education chair for the South Bend branch of the NAACP. She said Indiana should stop punishing students and their schools for not achieving a certain percentage on a standardized test.

The formula should take into greater account individual student progress, said Kathe Streeter, restorative justice coordinator at Jefferson Intermediate Center in South Bend. “We have incredible teachers in the South Bend schools, but this (formula) punishes us,” she said.

Plymouth Community Schools Superintendent Andy Hartley noted standardized testing already causes anxiety among students, teachers and parents. He noted schools in his district have been closed for several days because of extensive flooding, yet some of those traumatized students will be expected to perform well during ISTEP testing next week.

At one point, members of the audience with concerns about the proposed changes were asked to stand. A total of 28 people — virtually everyone in attendance — stood up.

The public comments were heard by a panel of four: David Freitas, Cari Whicker and Steve Yager, all members of the State Board of Education, and Kenneth Folks, chief academic officer for the Indiana Department of Education.

Some audience members commented on the possibility that the SAT, a college-readiness exam, may be accepted as Indiana’s federally and state-required accountability exams for high school students.

It’s unfair to rely on a single test that is designed for college-bound students, said Tim Pletcher, principal at Oregon-Davis Jr-Sr. High School.

Chad Addie, business-education coordinator for WorkOne of Northern Indiana, said focusing extensively on test scores isn’t getting Indiana employers the kind of workers they need to do available jobs.

Theodore Stevens, assistant superintendent for School City of Mishawaka, said the proposed formula doesn’t take into account factors such as poverty that impact student achievement. “The higher your poverty rates are in a school, the lower your achievement scores,” he said. He also asked what the state will do to help school districts assure that students with high absence rates will be in school and ready to learn.

Scot Croner, superintendent of Wa-Nee Community Schools in Nappanee, said he called the Indiana Department of Education to ask two questions, and in both cases he was told to call the State Board of Education office. “The fact the department was not actively involved is very concerning to me,” he said.

Among the changes proposed, two new measures of school progress would be added: “well-rounded educational development,” for K-8, which would account for 5 percent of a school’s grade; and “on track” for high schools, 10 percent of the school’s grade.

At the high school level, by 2022-2023, 50 percent of a school’s letter grade would be based on its graduation rate and 30 percent would be based on how students do on standardized tests.

The rules, approved in January by the State Board of Education, are proposals for now. The state board is expected to vote on a final A-F grade ruling, possibly on April 4.

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