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A to F grades released; Indiana schools see few big moves

Indiana’s A to F school grades, the linchpin of months of state board fights, finally were released Friday. But they showed little change.

About half of the 1,824 graded public schools statewide got the same grade as last year. Across Indiana, about the same percentage of public schools got an A (44.4 percent) as well as F (5.7 percent) as in 2012. Indiana State Board of Education approval of the grades ended a two-month tug-of-war with state Superintendent Glenda Ritz about when they should be issued.

Find your school’s grade here.

“I want to thank Indiana’s educators, administrators, parents, and most importantly, students for their patience and countless hours of work over the last academic year,” Ritz said in a statement. “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.”

An expected debate between Ritz and the state board over issues of how the state board meetings are managed fizzled Friday. Instead, the board approved some changes to its procedures but deferred the most contentious issues for further discussion.

A long delay

The grades were delayed, Ritz said, because of glitches with the online administration of ISTEP in May. The company that creates ISTEP, CTB McGraw-Hill, accepted blame for the problems at a state board meeting over the summer. Almost 80,000 students in grades 3 to 8 reported interruptions, such as frozen screens or being forced to log on repeatedly, while taking the state exam.

After an evaluation of those affected students’ tests, a consultant ruled just 1,400 should be invalidated, which Ritz said had minimal impact on their schools’ grades. Still, schools asked for many affected tests to be rescored. Ritz said that slowed the release of the grades, which last year came out on Oct. 31.

But the state board grew impatient. In October, the 10 other board members sent a letter asking Republican legislative leaders to have the Legislative Service Agency calculate the grades. Ritz unsuccessfully sued the board in the response, claiming her fellow board members violated state transparency laws when they discussed sending the letter without her via email. By statute, Ritz chairs the state board.

Ultimately the grades were released even later than Ritz’s proposed late November timeline.

Growth scores have impact

This was the second year the grades included a complex test score growth calculation, pushed by former Superintendent Tony Bennett, that was meant to reward schools when their students make test score gains compared to students with similar prior test scores and demographic attributes.

Oddities that were noted last year continued this year. Two schools swung from an A last year to an F this year, compared with five last year. Nine school jumped from F to A this year, including Indianapolis Public School 88. Eight made that leap last year.

For all schools, 30 percent statewide saw their grades fall, about the same as last year. Slightly fewer made gains over the prior year — 26 percent in 2013 compared with 19 percent in 2012.

Charters match urban schools

Charter schools, which drawn mostly from high poverty neighborhoods, saw far fewer A’s (20 percent) and more D’s and F’s (60 percent) than the state at large for the 62 charter schools graded in 2013. But charter performance mirrored other high poverty schools. Of IPS’ 66 graded schools, for example, 15 percent earned A’s while 57 percent earned D’s or F’s.

All five schools that were taken over by the state and turned over to be run independently by outside organizations last year saw their grades remain at F. Four of those are former IPS schools: Donnan Middle School and Howe, Arlington and Manual high schools.

Changes ahead

This is the last year Indiana schools will be graded this way.

Since Ritz defeated Bennett in the 2012 election, the formula he pushed for A to F grades lost its champion. The legislature earlier this year passed a bill mandated a new system. In particular, lawmakers aimed to scrap the growth measure.

For next year, state officials are constructing a system the defines growth based on how much closer students got to a passing score, or how far beyond that score they reached. The state board expect to approve the new grading scheme by July 2014.