State Education Board releases 'A-F' school grades

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Indiana's feuding State Board of Education appears to have called a truce.

Board members approved and released new grades for public and private schools at a meeting Friday.

Overall, the state's schools received higher grades. A Department of Education analysis found more receiving As and Bs and fewer getting Ds and Fs for last year's work.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz explained, "The ISTEP scores were higher, so there should be an expected increase in the performance of the student."

Schools whose ISTEP scores dropped along with their grades blame computer glitches that disrupted the exam and frustrated students. The state insists the results are accurate.

However, there is no disputing incredible swings in some schools report cards. In one year, IPS 74 jumped a D to an A. Across town, School 43 dropped from an A to a D. The highly-touted Christel House Academy charter school fell from an A to an F.

"A good system will show you a school improving or you have a school not improving, but not extremes like we are seeing in the current model," Ritz said.

The school's principal says they will appeal the grade.

"We appealed our grade based on the tremendously disruptive ISTEP+ testing problems that occurred with the online test. We believe these disruptions fatally flawed the results," said Christel House Academy principal Carey Dahncke. "We believe this inaccurately represents the performance of our students and teachers."

The current model relies on such a small and narrow group of grading criteria, board member Andrea Neal, cast the only dissenting vote.

"It's a strait jacket that discourages the classical and liberal education our children deserve," Neal said.

Opponents of the grading system applauded Neal's comments.

Former Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett resigned his job as Florida schools chief in August after The Associated Press published emails showing he altered Indiana's school grading formula to benefit a donor's charter school.

The new grades were calculated using the Bennett model, but education leaders are developing a new formula.

Indiana schools should have a more encompassing grading system next year, providing board members, the superintendent and governor end a public feud that's disrupted meetings and, observers say, slowed educational reforms.

Friday, there was a rare air of agreement, cooperation and civility. Board member Dan Elsener shared his thoughts with other members.

"I've never seen a more talented, committed, ethical board than we have right now. I think the public needs to know," he said.

Will the truce last?

In addition to a new grading system, the board is wrestling with complex and controversial issues such as the proposed Common Core curriculum and a replacement for the current ISTEP exam.

2012-13 Public School grades
2012-13 Non-Public/Choice School grades