The Herald Bulletin

November 13, 2013

Editorial: Indiana school grading proposal a step in the right direction


The Herald Bulletin

---- — Over the past several years, Indiana's K-12 schools have been under assault. Or being held to a high standard.

It all depends on your perspective.

One thing's for sure: Teacher and school performance is being graded more rigorously in Indiana than at any other time in the state's history. Teacher raises, for example, are now based on a formula that emphasizes student performance on standardized tests, multiple classroom evaluations and overall school improvement or regress.

Tony Bennett, the erstwhile Superintendent of Public Instruction, did more than usher in the new age of school/teacher evaluations. He fairly beat the Hoosier state over the head with it.

His philosophy and tactics got a resounding no-confidence vote a year ago, when he was soundly defeated in the state election by little-known Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz.

Her victory clearly showed Hoosiers' profound disenchantment with Bennett's strategy of treating schools as cold, hard education factories, where the test is king and little appreciation is afforded for the subtle but significant progress teachers help students make in attitude, perspective and other difficult-to-test areas.

But Ritz's election also signaled continued turmoil in Indiana education. She brings with her a different philosophy and an objection to Bennett's mantra of test, test, test.

So now the Republican-dominated State Board of Education is considering the third change in three years in Indiana's grading system for K-12 schools. The board has until Friday to approve the new formula, which has already been stamped by the bipartisan Accountability System Review Panel.

The new formula would replace the current A-F school grading system with a 100-point scale, based partially on year-to-year student standardized test performances. While the proposed school rating system would expand standardized testing to first and second grades, it would potentially reduce the total number of standardized tests students take during their K-12 years.

Standardized testing is important to gauge how Hoosier students are progressing and how they compare to their peers elsewhere across the state and the country. Results of standardized tests can also be used to help guide a student's instruction plan, suggesting more time be spent in certain academic disciplines when learning lags.

But the Bennett years pushed standardized testing too far, so far that many teachers have been forced to "teach to the test" rather than using their training and expertise to help students grow intellectually and learn to learn.

The new school grading formula proposal may not be perfect, but it is movement in the right direction — toward moderating the emphasis on standardized testing.

In summary The new Indiana school grading formula proposal may not be perfect, but it is movement in the right direction -- toward moderating the emphasis on standardized testing.