Superintendents: Two grades send mixed message

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

Accountability letter grades for the 2017-18 school year were released Wednesday by the Indiana Department of Education for schools across the state.

A-F ratings have been released by the entity since 2012, but there is something different about this year’s scores.

Local superintendents have long regarded the state-distributed ratings as just one measure of the successes and shortcomings of their buildings. But Wednesday, for the first time, local schools were given two grades.

One is from a scoring system based on Indiana’s state accountability law, and another is based on an accountability model created to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Confused? Don’t worry. You’re not the only one.

“I think that that’s really confusing to not only staff members and students but community members,” Greater Jasper Schools Superintendent Tracy Lorey said of the different grades. “I think we (Greater Jasper Schools) were fortunate in that I don’t think you saw much of a difference in the grades from the state and the federal. But in some situations, those grades could have been very different. And so I think that having two different grades sends a mixed message to people who are looking at those and trying to glean something about the success of their school.”

According to Herald archives, the criteria used to calculate the two scores are similar, but not identical. On the state’s scale, grades three through eight are rated on a combination of students’ performance on standardized tests and their growth on those tests. High schools are also scored on these categories as well as their graduation rate and other college and career-readiness measures.

The federally-compliant grading scale uses the above criteria and additional factors including attendance and progress in achieving English language proficiency. Per an IDOE press release, differences in performance metrics between the two systems were the main factors for discrepancies in the state and federal school ratings.

The Herald spoke with Lorey and superintendents across the newspaper’s coverage area about their schools’ scores on Wednesday. Their message remained the same as it has for years. Good grades are good, and the numbers behind the ratings may point out areas that require additional focus and improvement. But the assigned letter grades are not the only way they measure success in their schools.

“I think accountability is good,” said Southwest Dubois Schools Superintendent Tim LaGrange. “I think most people think accountability is good. The problem is that all accountability right now is measured off standardized testing and no one really seems to agree — research or educators — that standardized testing is the best way to measure students’ learning.”

He concluded: “I think accountability is good, I just don’t think we have the right accountability system yet. And I don’t think we’re even close yet.”

Greater Jasper Schools

All Greater Jasper Schools received the same score on both the state and federal grade calculations, and most retained the grades they received from the IDOE for the 2016-17 school year.

Jasper High School maintained an A and Jasper Middle School maintained a B, while Tenth Street Elementary and Fifth Street School both maintained Bs. Ireland Elementary was the only school that changed, dropping from an A to a B on the state scale. As a whole, the corporation’s grade from the state rose from a B to an A.

Holy Trinity Catholic School

In the state calculation, Holy Trinity retained the A grade it received for 2016-17. The Jasper private school did not receive a federal grade.

Southwest Dubois Schools

Scores determined by the state formula at Southwest Dubois Schools were more varied. Southridge High School received a B on the state scale, the same grade the school earned during the 2016-17 school year. Meanwhile, Southridge Middle School received a C — down from the B it received for the previous year. Holland Elementary retained its A grade this year, and Huntingburg Elementary rose from a D in 2016-17 to a B last year.

The corporation as a whole maintained a B grade on the state scale.

On the federal scale, Southridge High School and Middle School received D grades — both by a fraction of a percentage point — while Holland received an A and Huntingburg got a C.

Southeast Dubois Schools

Southeast Dubois retained high state scores across the board. Each of the corporation’s four schools earned the same grades they received for the 2016-17 school year.

Forest Park Jr.-Sr. High School, Pine Ridge Elementary School and Ferdinand Elementary School all retained A grades. Cedar Crest Intermediate maintained a B.

The corporation’s overall state grade remained at an A grade.

Aside from Pine Ridge, all Southeast Dubois Schools earned the same grade on the federal scale as they did through the state calculations. Pine Ridge received a B for its federal grade.

Southeast Dubois Superintendent Rick Allen said he is proud of the hard work put in year-round by the corporation’s students, parents, teachers and staff.

“Nobody in our school district is afraid of being held accountable,” he said. “They do their work, they roll up their sleeves, and they get to work, regardless of the circumstances. And so, we’re proud of that.”

He continued: “But it is just one indicator. The legislature in Indianapolis, they like to label you with a letter grade. But it certainly doesn’t indicate all the things that go into what makes a great school.”

Among the other things that make all Dubois County Schools great is the high level of parent involvement found at each school, Allen said, adding that that isn’t quantified in the grades released Wednesday.

Northeast Dubois Schools

Northeast Dubois Schools’ state grades dropped slightly, but they remained high. Northeast Dubois High School and Celestine Elementary School both fell from A grades to Bs, Dubois Middle School retained an A, and Dubois Elementary School maintained a B.

The corporation as a whole fell from an A grade on the state scale for the 2016-17 school year to a B for 2017-18.

On the federal scale, Northeast Dubois High School, Dubois Middle School, and Celestine Elementary all received B grades. Dubois Elementary School got a C.

“As we do every year, we do the best we can,” said Northeast Dubois Schools Superintendent Bill Hochgesang. “And we’re proud of how well we do. I think it’s just one measure of what we really do around here. It’s the measure that the state puts out based on a test that is given over a few days. But it really doesn’t truly reflect all the hard work and dedication that our staff puts in to educating our youth.”

North Spencer Schools

North Spencer Schools fared well again on their state grades from the 2017-18 school year, with each of the six corporation institutions earning A grades. David Turnham Education Center moved up from a B in 2016-17 and Nancy Hanks Elementary School shot up from a C. Heritage Hills High School, Heritage Hills Middle School and Lincoln Trail Elementary School all maintained their A grades from the previous year’s scores.

The corporation’s overall state grade remained the same as it was in 2016-17 — an A.

Through the federal calculations, Heritage Hills High School, Heritage Hills Middle School and David Turnham each earned B grades. Nancy Hanks, Lincoln Trail and Chrisney all received A ratings.

“We’re always happy to get high marks,” said North Spencer Schools Superintendent Dan Scherry. “It’s validation for the hard work our teachers and administrative leaders are doing, and we intend to continue to do that hard work.”

Scherry said the schools will continue to grow and meet the needs of kids in the community. He stressed that corporation leaders don’t put everything into a letter grade that’s factored by people who never enter their buildings. But the high grades are better than low grades, so he is pleased with them.

Otwell Miller Academy

Otwell Miller Academy in Pike County was not given a grade from the state scoring formula for 2017-18 — its first year in operation — but did receive an F grade on the federal scale.

School Director Rich Padgett said in an email to The Herald that he is not a fan of the current testing environment and does not feel that any child or school should be judged on the basis of one or two test windows.

He said this is especially true when the target and test are constantly changing and benchmarks are moving. He wrote there is more to the education of an individual than the results of a test.

“That being said, I understand that we will be judged by these instruments and held accountable for results,” Padgett said, referencing ISTEP scores. “I am proud of the work and effort by our school community of students, teachers, support staff and parents in how they approached the testing last year. The results were not where we would like to have them, nor are they where they will be in the future on the state measurements.”

All scores can be found on the Indiana Department of Education’s website.




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