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61 percent of Hoosier schools make the grade

Margaret O'Connor (left) discusses pronoun usage an SAT Critical Reading class Wheeler High School Valparaiso Ind. Wednesday October 31 2012.

Margaret O'Connor (left) discusses pronoun usage in an SAT Critical Reading class at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind. Wednesday October 31, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 2, 2012 2:06PM



Three out of four students at Lake Station’s Polk Elementary come from families near the poverty level. Yet, Polk scored an A on the state’s school ranking system.

The Indiana State Board of Education approved grades for more than 2,000 schools Wednesday that reflect user-friendly A-F marks. Gone are the old labels of “academic progress” and “exemplary progress” that some deemed too vague.

Statewide, 61 percent of schools received an A or B grade. Overall, Polk Elementary was among 855 schools to get an A. That’s down from 997 A’s last year although the metrics used to grade schools changed this year.

Questions from schools about those new calculations delayed the release, which was expected back in August. Although there were fewer A’s, schools receiving B’s increased from 201 to 411.

About 25 percent of Lake County traditional public schools received A’s and, at the other end of the spectrum, 18 percent received F’s. Of those 18 percent, half were from Gary Community School Corp.

Four of Gary’s seven charter schools received F’s, as well.

In Porter County, 52 percent of traditional public schools received A grades. No school received an F and only one — Chesterton Middle School — received a D grade.

In Gary, three of the district’s four high schools received F’s, but no schools are facing immediate state intervention, said Stephanie Sample, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education.

“We are going to continue to direct support and aid to our D and F schools, where students need it most,” Sample said.

New Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt is responding with an aggressive root-cause analysis with principals and administrators, according to a statement. The district is working with the state to development improvement plans with data-driven intervention and it plans to put greater emphasis on technology.

Gary is also taking part in a new testing initiative that aids teachers in delivering instruction tailored to students’ needs.

Lessons learned

Schools in Lake Station are learning from Polk’s success.

Principal Linda Halas credits the Eight Step education reform that focuses on daily lessons geared to standards and benchmarks, frequent student assessments and the training of teachers to use data to drive their lessons.

“We’re transparent with all our data,” says Halas. “We have a data wall up and down the hallway.”

In addition, each classroom has a board detailing how many students are performing at benchmark levels and how many are struggling. There’s a “Hall of Fame” with photos of students who’ve passed the ISTEP-Plus exam.

The dispute

In grades K-8, state officials are using what they term a “growth model” to evaluate student progress. That method has drawn criticism, not only from educators, but from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

In Duneland School Corp., Chesterton Middle School wound up with a D grade, a year after scoring an A, leaving parents scratching their heads.

With criteria broken out, however, Chesterton Middle School received a B in math and a C-plus in language arts, but the new growth model links the overall grade squarely to an improvement metric. Because students didn’t show enough growth for the state, Chesterton lost a letter grade.

“This is the least transparent thing I’ve ever dealt with in education,” said Monte Moffett, Duneland assistant superintendent. “We have no clue what goes into the metrics of establishing the growth model.”

Moffett said Duneland appealed the grade, but he doesn’t expect it to change. He said grade came down to a handful of students, but it’s difficult to determine how they fell short.

“We don’t really agree with the growth model and the fact we’re penalized a letter grade on something that’s impossible for us to even look at and say ‘here’s what we need to do to improve that student.’ ”

Rating high schools

At the high school level, the grading criteria now factor in Advancement Placement and college dual credit grades. That has led opponents to say it’s skewed toward higher performing suburban districts.

In Porter County, Wheeler High School is no stranger to top marks, receiving an A grade this year.

Principal Don Gandy says his students are above state expectations for Advanced Placement and dual credits.

“I really do believe our guidance department provides strong support for families and kids to make sure they’re on the right track, and getting them into upper-level classes,” Gandy said.



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