There is an old saying of “What have you done for me lately?” It could possibly be applied to the Indiana Department of Education’s letter grading system for public schools statewide.
During Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting of the Wawasee school board in Syracuse, the board heard a brief presentation from Bob Cockburn, data specialist for the school district, about the letter grades issued to Wawasee schools by IDOE. Those grades were made public Oct. 31.
Wawasee was given a C grade overall as a corporation. While Wawasee High School earned an A, Milford, Syracuse and North Webster were given a C and Wawasee Middle School a D. Wawasee was an A district the previous year, but because it had lower test scores of about 1 percent, the letter grade dropped to a C.
Cockburn said he finds the state’s grading system very difficult to understand. He said he is in favor of growth in test scores being promoted, but within reason. Apparently the state’s system places heavy emphasis on progress in test scores and a school district can actually receive a lower grade overall even if progress is made because that progress is not enough.
Cockburn noted it appears IDOE believes all students should improve at the same rate across the state.
Dr. Tom Edington, superintendent, said the state posted some inaccurate data concerning Wawasee. For example, some students who were seventh-graders during the 2011-12 academic year were instead showing up as sixth-graders on the data released by the state.
The state also changed its grading scale from the traditional 4.0. As an example, rather than a 3.0 being required for a B, a 3.5 is now required.
Edington acknowledged there is confusion regarding the IDOE grading system. “Some parents can’t understand why one school district can have 85 percent of its students pass ISTEP+, but yet get a lower grade, while in another district they have less than 75 percent pass, but get a higher grade,” he said.
Cockburn and Edington also noted there have been personnel changes in the division of IDOE dealing with assigning letter grades. It was their understanding some employees were fired.
In other business, the ballot used for the recent elections was briefly discussed. David Cates, attorney for the Wawasee school corporation, said the county election board decided this year to use a ballot with different language for the school board candidates than in previous elections. “I was told they felt the computer program they are now using would take care of any over votes,” he said, meaning if someone voted for more than two school board candidates overall or more than one in the same district, an error message was supposed to appear and a poll worker would need to be summoned.
There were five candidates for two at-large seats on the school board. The candidates represented three different districts, but voters were not supposed to vote for more than two candidates overall and no more than one in the same district.
Cates noted approximately 20 years ago the school board adopted specific language for election ballots that was submitted to the county election board as a guideline. At that time, the board was dealing with litigation issues, he said. He said he believed the ballot used this year by the election board complied with state law and was correct.
Other business discussed included the tragic death of Nicole Skaggs, a freshman student at the high school who died early Tuesday morning after being hit by a train. Edington noted counselors are being used as needed at the high school, as well as Wawasee Middle School where Skaggs was a student last year.
“It’s especially difficult when someone so young passes away,” noted Becky Linnemeier, school board member.
Also on the agenda, the board approved personnel recommendations as it does most months. But the resignation of Randy Warren, longtime agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at the high school, was especially noted. “He will be missed greatly,” Linnemeier said. “He has meant so much to the agriculture program and really brought it to where it is now.” Warren’s resignation is effective Dec. 31.
In other agenda items:
• Several donations and grants were approved by the board, including $2,500 from Shopko ($500 for each of the five school buildings); a $1,000 professional development grant for Julie Baird, WHS German teacher; a grant from Kosciusko REMC in the amount of $2,000 for the marine mechanics program at the high school; a grant of $1,000 from the Walmart Foundation, also for the marine mechanics program; a donation of $200 to each elementary school from the Eagles Lady Auxiliary; an anonymous grant of $10,000 for a new high school football field sound system; a grant of $2,500 to each school in the district for at-risk students from the same anonymous donator; a donation of $100 from The Papers Inc. for the Red Ribbon campaign; and a donation of an automobile for the auto mechanics program at the high school.
• The board approved reappointments to library boards including Eleanor Hooker at North Webster and Rex Miller at Milford.
Jan. 15, 2013, was set as the meeting date for the board’s regular January meeting.
For a more in-depth accounting of the school board meeting, see today’s issue of The Mail-Journal.