Educators, officials react to withdrawn bill

After Senate Bill 416 was withdrawn this week, administrators and policymakers are struggling to decide how to evaluate schools.

The new system would have rated schools based on student performance and achievement compared to standard criteria and not the performance of their peers.  

SB 416 had the support of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

Of the 20 schools graded in the Monroe County Community School Corporation in 2012, 13 schools received A’s, according to the IDOE. Two elementary schools, Fairview and Templeton, received F’s. Throughout the entire state, 40.9 percent of schools graded received A’s and 7.1 percent received F’s.

The criteria which IDOE bases these grades vary by level of education. High schools are evaluated based on student performance in language arts and mathematics, as well as their student improvement rate, graduation rate and college and career readiness.

Elementary and middle schools are also evaluated on student performance and improvement, as well as student growth and the number of students tested at their school.

“Giving schools letter grades for their performance — just as we do for our students — ensures parents, students, educators and communities understand how their schools are performing,” according to an IDOE overview of the system.

Jeannine Butler with the Monroe County Community School Corporation said the A-F system helped parents to better understand how their school fared, compared to a system that uses words such as “exceptional,” but said the criteria focuses too much on test scores and attendance.

“There’s a whole lot more that goes on in schools than testing,” she said.

Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, supported SB 416, although he doesn’t oppose the A-F grading system as it gives schools and parents an idea of whether the school is improving. However, he said the method behind the rankings should be changed because it is too complex.

“We need to come up with something that is fair and simple,” he said.

Banks said members of both parties agree the method is flawed and doesn’t fairly evaluate schools, but there is disagreement about how to make changes. Within his district, there are schools that were ranked as A’s and B’s, but the district as a whole received a C. SB 416 eliminated the A-F system, but didn’t give a replacement.

Although he still agrees with the A-F grading, he voted for the bill in committee. He said he believes the issue will reappear later on.

“I’m for replacing what we have currently,” he said.

Banks said a bill similar to SB 416 was brought up in the House but was later defeated. It kept the A-F grading but changed the method to calculate the grade.

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, also supported the bill and said she was disappointed when it was withdrawn, but also believes the issue is still alive. Leising said the method should be changed but said she wants to keep the A-F system.
She echoed Banks’ sentiments that the system is too complicated and schools receive grades they do not deserve.

“Most of us agree the current system needs to be replaced with something better,” Banks said.

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