News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 4, 2012

Dem schools chief Glenda Ritz hopeful criticizes grading system

TERRE HAUTE — Glenda Ritz, Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, is criticizing Indiana’s A-F ranking system for schools and she also questions its legality.

Ritz, who is challenging incumbent Republican Tony Bennett, made her comments outside the Vigo County Courthouse on Wednesday. “He [Bennett] has implemented a system that is not in compliance with Indiana Code,” she said.

Alex Damron, a Bennett spokesman, responded that the system used is “absolutely legal.”

According to state law, as cited by Ritz, IDOE shall assess improvement based on the following: “Compare each school and each school corporation with its own prior performance and not to the performance of other schools or other school corporations.”  

Bennett’s system takes the pass/fail test scores of a student and compares them with the performance of peers from across the state, Ritz said. It does not compare students’ particular academic achievements against their most recent efforts, as required by Indiana law.

She said Bennett uses an “artificial growth model … We don’t know individual student growth measures at all,” she said.  

Ritz wants to replace the current system “with a true growth model measure that would comply with the law. Then you would really know students’ improvement against themselves.”

According to Damron, the system and metrics used “are absolutely legal. State law directs the state board to develop accountability measures and assign performance placements for schools under PL 221. That’s exactly what the State Board of Education has done. In fact, the Office of the Attorney General has even vetted for compliance with state statute. That’s a role they take very seriously.”

On the claim the system is illegal because it doesn’t compare a school’s performance to its own performance in previous years, Damron responds, “This claim is simply false. Schools move up or down based on their building-wide performance from year to year. So a school that goes from a 75 percent pass rate to an 83 percent pass rate has an opportunity to move from C to a B.”   

According to Ritz, experts have testified that the A-F system was wrong and would wreak havoc on schools. “Bennett, in a rush to meet the submission deadline of a federal education waiver, pushed through the scoring system,” she said.

Ritz further commented that “the ill-conceived system also has another element that is disturbing. It is designed to ensure that many of our schools will receive D’s and F’s, which makes them targets for state government takeovers and/or privatization.”

Damron responded that “there’s just no validity to that statement. Under the system, all schools can get A’s and B’s.”

If elected, Ritz said she will work in a bi-partisan fashion to develop evaluation criteria that will be consistent, legal, fair and transparent.

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

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