Education board considers ‘hold harmless’ pause in school grading system

By Max Bomber

INDIANAPOLIS – State education officials debated Wednesday whether to pause the state’s A-F grading for one year in anticipation of lower scores that are expected to come after changes in standards and testing this year.

But the State Board of Education wants to ensure that won’t conflict with state law.

So members decided Wednesday to consult with the attorney general’s office to get a legal opinion on that and other options the board will consider for dealing with lower scores.

Already, the U.S. Department of Education has given flexibility to all states to pause their accountability systems, which are meant to measure how well schools are doing in educating students.

In Indiana, the change could be considered a precautionary measure because the school grades won’t be assigned until December – and more than two dozen states have taken advantage of that option. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has proposed the pause in Indiana’s A-F system in part because some states have seen a 25-30 percent drop in scores after implementing similar changes in standards.

Under Ritz’s proposed pause, schools would be able to keep the better of their 2014 and 2015 grades. The 2015 grades will be based on an older formula – not a newer one recently approved that will go into effect in 2016.

“I wouldn’t even be concerned if the grades were computed on the new model,” Ritz said. “It is a whole different scale and approach.”

If the state wants to seek flexibility, the state board will have to ask permission of federal officials. Ritz said that would be a good idea.

“If the performance (on tests) dropped 5 percent, Indiana would move from 87 failing schools to 148,” Ritz said. And members of her staff told the state board that the pause – which they called a “hold harmless” option – would not reduce accountability for Indiana’s education system.

Ritz’s staff said the hold harmless option doesn’t require state legislative approval. But members of the board seemed concerned. That’s why they’re seeking the attorney general’s opinion.

Stand for Children Indiana – a non-partisan, student-focused education advocacy group – urged the State Board of Education not to pursue a pause of the A-F accountability system. It said in a statement that “our families deserve more transparency – not less.”

“Schools need to be educated about how the new assessment will impact accountability,” the group said, “and families need to be prepared for students’ scores to drop due to the increased rigor of the assessment.”

Max Bomber is a reporter for a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. 

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