What a difference a year makes. Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett are gone, and the reforms they pushed through aren’t safe even with their fellow Republicans having a supermajority in both the House and Senate. It might have been a signal that there’s been too much change when a House committee scaled back plans to greatly expand the school voucher system. And it surely is when a Senate committee unanimously votes to scrap the A-F grading system for schools that is barely two years old.
There is a contradiction in that system. It was meant to be more transparent for parents and taxpayers; everybody who’s ever been to school knows what an A and an F mean. But the formula for arriving at a grade is so complex it is all but impossible to explain. Several factors are weighted and averaged to arrive at the grades – including standardized test scores and graduation rates. Elementary schools can also earn bonus or penalty points.
And some educators have complained that their schools had consistently high student test scores but received low grades because students hadn’t shown enough improvement. Is it fair – or productive – to grade a school full of top students lower than a school full of poor students – because the poor ones made more progress?
It’s tempting to recommend that the A-F system be kept with some tweaking to make it more understandable and to make sure it is achieving the goal of helping poorly performing schools improve. As long as we want to hold schools accountable – and surely we do – there has to be some form of ranking. Giving them an A or a C makes a lot more sense that putting them into categories such as “exemplary” or “probation.”
But not a single person said a single word in support of the system, so perhaps defending it isn’t realistic. The committee voted to repeal the whole thing and have the state Board of Education develop a new system for tracking school improvement.
Something more needs to be done, however, than what is recommended by Glenda Ritz, the new education superintendent. She just wants to release the raw data without a method of combining it all into some kind of grade and let people do what they will with it. But there can be no accountability if every school system comes up with its own standards. There has to be one uniform – and easily understood – standard.