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August 23, 2013

Grade jump: Change in A-to-F school grade calculation benefited several Wabash Valley schools

TERRE HAUTE — At least seven Wabash Valley schools — including three in Vigo County — benefited from improved grades when Tony Bennett, former state schools chief, ordered a change in how grades were calculated last fall, according to StateImpact Indiana.

A StateImpact analysis indicates that 165 schools across the state saw their A-to-F ratings increase after last-minute changes Bennett and his staff made to the grading formula.

Those changes to the grading formula have drawn much controversy.

IDOE emails from last fall indicated the last-minute changes to the grading criteria were made to boost the grade of Christel House Academy, a charter school run by a prominent Republican donor. The Associated Press obtained the emails.

StateImpact Indiana is a collaboration of WFIU and Indiana Public Broadcasting stations “to explain the effects of state education policy on people’s lives,” according to its website.

In Vigo County, three schools saw improved grades: Honey Creek Middle School went from a C to a B; Farrington Grove Elementary from a B to an A; and Fuqua Elementary from a B to an A.

VCSC superintendent Dan Tanoos said the school district “has never been made aware that any of our grades changed because of Tony Bennett’s changing the rubrics.”

In Northeast Sullivan School Corp., Farmersburg Elementary went from a C to a B, while Hymera Elementary went from a B to an A.

In South Vermillion School Corp., Ernie Pyle Elementary went from a B to a A. Turkey Run Elementary in Parke County also went from a B to an A, according to StateImpact.

Tom Rohr, superintendent of North Central Parke Community School Corp. — which includes Turkey Run Elementary — commented: “There is so much misinformation out there and a lack of understanding on everyone’s part. Until they [state officials] do a full investigation, I don’t really know what anyone can conclude,” he said.

Under the A-to-F system, an elementary or middle school earned its grade from the average of its test scores in two subjects, English and math, according to StateImpact.

Those scores were calculated on a 4-point scale. But schools could earn up to 6 total points if they earned bonuses based on the number of students who made academic growth, according to StateImpact.

At least initially, state officials feared too many bonus points for one subject might cancel out a bad grade in the other subject. They set up calculations to limit schools’ ability to earn more than four points in any subject area, even with bonus points. The final grade comes from averaging the math and English subscores.

But under changes to the grading system, which benefited Christel House Academy and ultimately 164 other schools, those bonus points could be used in calculating a schools’ final grade, according to StateImpact.

In an interview, Daniel Altman, press secretary with the Indiana Department of Education, had no comment on the findings of StateImpact or its methodology.

“What I can tell you is that obviously, IDOE  is looking into what happened with the grades for 2011-12 and how that affects the system moving forward,” he said. Also, House Enrolled Act 1427 requires an overhaul of the A-to-F grading criteria.

Leaders of the Indiana General Assembly and current schools chief Glenda Ritz have launched investigations into the 2012 grades.

The StateImpact website is stateimpact.npr.org/Indiana/

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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