On the last day of school before Christmas break, after several months of delays, letter grades for schools were publicly released by the Indiana Department of Education. It left school administrators not exactly in a “holly jolly” mood.
“Only the Grinch would release school grades on the last day before Christmas break,” said Dr. Tom Edington, superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corp. “That Grinch is the state board of education,” which approved the grades at a meeting in Indianapolis Friday morning.
Wawasee had a mixed bag of results and not everything was positive news. For the second year in a row, Wawasee High School earned an A grade, and North Webster Elementary was given a B, up from a C in 2012.
But Milford School and Syracuse Elementary were given D grades (each was a C school a year ago), and Wawasee Middle School earned the lowest possible grade of an F, down from a D in 2012.
For several months, particularly at school board meetings for example, Wawasee administrators have questioned the accuracy of the data used to determine letter grades. They say they trust Northwest Evaluation Association testing results more than ISTEP+ scores, which the IDOE assigned letter grades is based on.
“Wawasee school corporation state school grades, including the corporation grade, ranged from A to F,” Edington noted. “That doesn’t make sense. Our NWEA test results show little difference between the five Wawasee corporation schools. Last May’s ISTEP+ test administration was a slow and computerized mess that caused our scores to drop.”
Joy Goshert, director of instruction and curriculum for WCSC, said letter grades were appealed based on the number of students taking the ISTEP+ test online and experiencing computer glitches, and also because some students who were enrolled in schools for 162 days or more whose results were not included in the schools’ data. “We saw no changes in our data from the time we appealed to the time the letter grades were publicly issued,” she said.
Goshert added entire grade levels of students sat in front of computer screens frozen or spinning for as much as 15 minutes during testing. Students lost motivation to do their best and scores were affected. But the A school, the high school, had no major computer glitches while students took state assessments.
Goshert also questioned the accuracy of data found on the IDOE website and also its Learning Connections website where the number of students from WMS taking the ISTEP+ test was listed differently. The IDOE Compass site showed 391 students testing in math, but only 307 in English/language arts. Learning Connections results showed 487 students testing, but a growth model link had 489 testing. “There is a large difference in the number of students counted in those three sets of data,” she said. “The difference in the percentages is the difference in a letter grade for that school since the letter grade formula does not round up.”
Edington said it is difficult to explain the grading scale to students, parents and the community “that doesn’t trust the motives and politics behind those in Indy pushing to make public schools look bad.”
Both Edington and Goshert acknowledged there is room for improvement in Wawasee schools, but say teachers are working hard and doing “amazing things with children everyday.”
Glenda Ritz, superintendent of public instruction for Indiana, said in a press release this will be the last academic year the current letter grade model is used. She promised the model used next year will be more transparent and fair and “will measure both student performance and growth in a way that gives our educators, students and parents the needed information to address each student’s academic needs.”