Ed board shifts A-F grading system 

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The State Board of Education voted Wednesday to shift Indiana's A-F grading system to one that's more similar to the way students are evaluated - but the testing and other data used to determine the grades are still to be determined.

The 9-1 vote was meant to keep the board in compliance with a state law that requires it to approve A-F categories by Friday.

But the new categories are essentially just a framework that remains otherwise empty. Members said they didn't feel prepared to endorse a system by which the grades will be determined because the state's standards and testing programs are under review as well.

"The worst thing we can do is get it wrong," said board member Brad Oliver. "We owe it to teachers and students - primarily students - and parents and communities to get it right."

The board voted to use a 100-point grading scale - with a 90 earning a school an A, an 80 means a B, a 70 is a C and a 60 is a D. That's similar to the grading school many teachers use for students.

It will replace a scale of one to four.

Board member Andrea Neal was the lone vote against the measure. She said approving categories now "forces us to put the cart before the horse."

She said under state law, the A-F grades must be based on measurements of individual growth toward proficiency. "Proficiency at what?" she asked. "As of today, we don't know."

The General Assembly earlier this year ordered the state board to approve a new A-F system that was based more on student growth than achievement. The legislature also created a panel of educational experts to recommend a new system to the board.

That recommendation occurred two weeks ago and included a long list of proposed changes for the grading system, including the move to the 100-point scale. But panel members acknowledged that they didn't have all the information they wanted to complete their work. Most notably, they said the proposal had not been tested using actual student data.

That concerned the state education board members as well. And so the resolution the board approved Wednesday reflects that it will be doing additional work on those issue before determining how the A-F grades will be established.

Also last spring, the General Assembly ordered studies meant to determine whether the state will stick with the controversial Common Core education standards that the education board approved in 2010, create the state's own standards or develop a hybrid. That process is to include a set of public hearings to take place next year.

Until those standards are set, the state board can't determine the testing system that will be used to assess student achievement - and ultimately school grades. The timing troubled several board members on Wednesday.

But state Superintendent Glenda Ritz - who chairs the education board and co-chaired the panel working on the A-F grades - said that while additional work is needed on the A-F system, the recommendation was meant to be flexible enough to adapt to any standards or testing.

"That became our primarily goal," she said. "We wanted to make sure we were building a framework."

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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