INDIANAPOLIS – There’s little doubt that schools do a better job of instructing students they they’re held accountable for their performance.
Indiana’s grading system – which assigns A through F grades to public and voucher schools every year – offers proof of that.
As Chalkbeat.org reported last year, “Data released today by the Indiana Department of Education showed 53 percent of more than 2,100 graded schools were rated A — a jump of eight percentage points over last year. Fewer schools earned a D or F.”
The state imposed the grading system to push school and teachers to improve, and that obviously happened.
That’s been generally acknowledged since she took office in January 2013.
One story from State Impact, published following Ritz’ first year in office, said “she’d like to dismantle the current A-F grading system, which she says has a detrimental effect on communities whose schools are labeled as ‘failing.’”
As a more recent report from Chalkbeat.org put it, “Ritz has pushed for various reasons to delay sanctions for poor test scores over the past three years. Each time, an increasingly impatient (State Board of Education) has cut the debate short, pledging to keep unchanged the system of rewards and penalties.”
Her latest effort came in recent months, when the tried to get the state to hold schools and teachers “harmless” for student test results in the 2014-15 school year, due to changes in the state’s educational standards; and nullify the state’s school grading system for the current 2015-16 year, based on supposed snags in the law.
The state Attorney General’s office rejected both of those ideas this week, according to JournalGazette.net, meaning the school accountability system will remain in place without interruption.
But the entire episode is a good indication of where Ritz’ priorities lie. The unions who funded her campaign want to protect teachers from having to demonstrate their effectiveness in the classroom, and Ritz’ efforts are consistent with that goal.
The “hold harmless” argument called for the state to use the best grade that each school was assigned, whether it came in the 2013-14 school year or 2014-15.
Ritz and her allies based their argument on the fact that state academic standards increased in 2014-15 and state tests became more difficult. If students somehow performed better, Ritz wanted schools and teachers to get credit; if they did worse, she wanted them to avoid blame.
As one newspaper put it, “Ritz and her staff believe new standards and a harder ISTEP+ test will lead to lower scores and ultimately lower A-F grades (for schools), which play partly into teacher evaluations and pay raises.”
Ritz also called for the elimination of the school grading system during the current academic year.
Ritz argued that by amending current rules governing the A-F school grading system, the legislature inadvertently caused those rules to be voided.
But her critics say that the law clearly states that the current rules would be void if replaced by a new set of rules. The legislature amended – but didn’t replace – the current rules.
Ritz also argued that “emergency rules” adopted by the legislature to govern the grading system expired on Nov. 15. 2014, so there are no rules currently in place.
Her opponents say no emergency rules were ever adopted.
Ritz’ critics, including a majority of the members of the state Board of Education, see her efforts to look for technicalities within the law as just another effort to derail accountability.
“It is not surprising that Superintendent Ritz is making yet another attempt to derail accountability,” Erin Sweitzer, communications director of the Institute for Quality Education, told EAGnews.
“She has consistently made this effort since the day she took office, which is disappointing because Hoosier students have proven that with high expectations, they can and do rise to the challenge.
“Indiana has seen student achievement steadily increase since these accountability measures were implemented, and we believe our students are fully capable of continuing that success.”