Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Kenley: Bennett Emails Raise Questions About Old A-F Grades, Not New Formula

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, sits on the Indiana Senate Education Committee and chairs the Appropriations Committee.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, sits on the Indiana Senate Education Committee and chairs the Appropriations Committee.

Months before they became a centerpiece in a national news story, Sen. Luke Kenley had questions about Indiana’s A-F school letter grades.

The Indiana Senate’s lead budget author saw many scratching their heads over the grades, which state officials calculate for most schools by combining two metrics: the school’s pass rates on standardized tests and the number of students whose scores showed “high growth.”

“The former grade was mixing the two into one grade,” Kenley told StateImpact this week. “I thought that was creating confusion. People couldn’t tell whether it was growth or if it was actual performance.”

The Noblesville Republican was key to lawmakers’ efforts to throw out the formula state officials used to calculate last year’s grades barely a year after its inception. The State Board of Education must re-write the grading formula by November 15 without using the growth measures at the heart of the old system.

Kenley, however, doesn’t oppose A-F grades in general — far from it. While those who oppose the ratings say emails from Tony Bennett’s time in Indiana prove the A-F grading system is inherently unfair, Kenley says he believes the A-F re-write will create a far more transparent system.

“The question about the Bennett emails is whether the system was or was not compromised, and we’re still trying to learn what that represents,” Kenley says, adding later, “We just cannot afford not to continue with trying to improve education.”

But last week, the leader of the teachers union AFT Indiana called for the “immediate suspension” of A-F grading. Union president Rick Muir read this statement in a press conference:

Bennett’s resignation should confirm that Indiana’s flawed, and now manipulated, A-F grading system is evidence enough to call for immediate suspension of this process… Our public schools have not failed. They have been set up for failure. The A-F system has not only harmed students, educators, and parents, but it has also harmed communities.

In a statement of their own, Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, reaffirmed their support for the A-F grading system while appointing a task force to review the 2012 grades.

But Muir says he hopes the Bennett email controversy illustrates their fears about the A-F formula to lawmakers.

“We’ve talked, we’ve talked, we’ve talked,” Muir told reporters Thursday. “We’re hoping some of those good legislators are starting to see the truth.”


  • Karynb9

    How can anyone speak about the fairness of a model that hasn’t yet been created? Not sure how a “new” formula will be that much better. You’re still trying to come up with a single letter grade from multiple pieces of data that’s supposed to allow parents to compare things that aren’t actually comparable (like schools with different grade configurations, which was at the heart of the Christel House mess). This is one of those cases when “simplifying” something actually makes it exponentially more complicated.

    • kystokes

      The post above could’ve done a better job of contextualizing this point: Kenley wants to separate the single grade into two grades — one for proficiency, one for growth. (Of course, you could still argue that the growth grade is hard to understand because few people understand the concept of student growth percentiles.) But Kenley’s argument is that at least then — with two grades — people could get a better understanding of the school’s performance along two different fronts.

      • Karynb9

        Where does graduation rate and the current college/career readiness piece fit in for high schools? Do we move to four letter grades? Two-and-a-half? Do we still merge everything from 3rd grade ISTEP Math to 10th grade ECA English into a single “proficiency” letter grade for K-12 schools (though, of course, we only count what happened in grades K-8 and throw out all of the 10th grade scores if you were a K-10 school, because we all know THAT’S a fair interpretation of the model)?

        Our DOE has a pretty excellent website that already includes ALL of that data — and then some — and any parent or business that cares about schools in a particular neighborhood is able to access it pretty easily. Why do we need letter grades? I mean, I know it’s nice for those kids in the suburban high schools’ graphic design classes to get that real-world-class-project experience of designing and printing a nifty all-weather banner that says “Proud to be an A School!” every year that can be displayed out front, but can’t we just all agree that the current “Dashboard” on the DOE website does a perfectly fine job of informing parents and community members that their schools are great or not-so-great?

  • Sandra Hawk

    A-F is easy to understand. I get that. But why do we need a single A-F grade for a school?? Report cards for students don’t have a single grade. Reporting individual grades and a GPA would make more sense with High and Low Honor Roll for schools, like we do for kids.

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