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Video: Explaining The Change That Lifted 165 Indiana Schools’ A-F Grades

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How did former state superintendent Tony Bennett lift not only Christel House Academy’s state A-F grade, but more than 160 Indiana schools’ performance ratings as well? We explain the ‘subscore ceiling,’ and how lifting that ceiling impacted many schools’ grades.

UPDATED, September 6: Below, we’ve added audio from a companion radio piece we sent statewide this week. More on the developments in the story here.

Indianapolis charter school Christel House Academy was not the only beneficiary of former state superintendent Tony Bennett’s last-minute changes to the A-F grading formula, as we wrote last week.

With the help of our two favorite storytelling mainstays — white board markers and YouTube — we wanted to illustrate the change that increased 165 schools’ final A-F ratings in 2012. The result? This video. Continue Reading

How Tony Bennett's Last-Minute A-F Changes Lifted 165 Indiana School Grades

Click here to view a map of 165 schools whose grades improved because of a last-minute change former state superintendent Tony Bennett's staff made to Indiana's A-F grading system.

Click here to view a map of 165 schools whose grades improved because of a change former state superintendent Tony Bennett's staff made to Indiana's A-F grading system.

Though it’s received the most media attention in the controversy that led to ex-Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett’s resignation, Christel House Academy was not the only school to benefit from state officials’ changes to Indiana’s fledgling school grading system in 2012.

After studying last year’s A-F rating data, a StateImpact analysis has identified 165 schools across the state — including Christel House — that saw higher final grades than they would have if Bennett’s staff hadn’t tweaked the formula roughly six weeks before releasing 2012′s results.

Take a look at this map and search this table to see if your school is one of those 165.

Bennett’s staff does not directly mention the change in emails the Associated Press published this month. From those messages, it’s not apparent state officials made the change with Christel House alone in mind.

The finding does, however, show how a relatively minor alteration to the A-F grading scale can have statewide implications. Continue Reading

What's The Lesson Of The Bennett Emails For States That Issue A-F Grades?

State superintendent Tony Bennett announces results of Indiana's IREAD-3 exam in his office at the statehouse Tuesday morning.

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has stepped down as Florida Education Commissioner after the Associated Press released emails indicated his staff changed the letter grades of more than a dozen schools.

A pair of independent evaluators will assess the accuracy of letter grades schools received from the state in 2012.

The announcement came the day after former state superintendent Tony Bennett resigned his post as Florida Education Commissioner following the release of emails showing his staff changed the letter grades for more than a dozen charter schools during his time in Indiana.

In a statement, Gov. Mike Pence said the independent review is necessary to ensure the integrity of the school grading system the state started using last year. Restoring public confidence in the system, he added, is the first step in a scheduled rewrite of the A-F accountability metrics already underway.

An increasing number of states are using letter grades to rate schools because they’re easy for parents — and taxpayers — to understand.

“There is a very clear tradeoff here,” says Mike Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “The downside is you lose a lot of nuance.” Continue Reading

Question In Daniels Email Dustup: Who Decides What Students Read In Class?

Mitch Daniels takes questions from media from the stage of Purdue's Loeb Playhouse following the announcement he would become the school's next president.

Mitch Daniels takes questions from media from the stage of Purdue's Loeb Playhouse following the announcement he would become the school's next president.

When the Purdue Board of Trustees selected Mitch Daniels last year as the university’s next president, he pledged not to let his politics interfere with his new role.

But Daniels’ recent defense of disparaging remarks he made about a controversial historian while governor has some Purdue faculty members questioning that commitment.

“I hope to be the strongest advocate Purdue has ever had for the freedom to speak out,” Daniels said at a press conference after the Associated Press released emails he wrote criticizing historian Howard Zinn. “That does not mean that the product of scholarly work should be free from criticism.”

Still, Daniels reiterated his position that Zinn’s work should not be taught to K-12 students.

Then, on Monday, 90 Purdue professors signed an open letter to Daniels, writing they were “troubled” by Daniels’ continued criticism of the historian. Continue Reading

The Surprising Story Of Wyoming's Troubled Online Tests — And What Indiana Can Learn From It

Grant Teton National Park in Western Wyoming.

Grant Teton National Park in Western Wyoming.

The story of Wyoming’s first foray into online standardized testing is part cautionary tale, part hope-filled parable.

In 2010, the first year Wyoming gave its entire standardized test online, students across the state reported the testing website had rejected their login or crashed mid-test — much like with this year’s ill-fated ISTEP+ exam.

But as an outside review of the scores later showed, none of the interruptions impacted scores on the Proficiency for Wyoming Students, or “PAWS,” exam.

In fact, Wyoming’s test scores went up across the board that year — despite the fears of state education officials, who asked the federal government months before getting the results to throw out the 2010 data.

It’s a possible best-case-scenario for Indiana educators, who fear their own evaluations or their schools’ letter grades hang on the results of a validity study of this year’s disrupted ISTEP+ exam that’s due out sometime soon. Continue Reading

How School Technology Departments Keep One-To-One Programs Online

East Allen County Schools technology director Bill Diehl demonstrates an iTunes U course on his iPad.

East Allen County Schools technology director Bill Diehl demonstrates how to use iTunes U on his iPad. Teachers in the district are building their own courses using Apple's electronic textbook distribution platform.

Last summer, East Allen County Schools made a push to put an iPad in the hands of every student, doubling the number of digital devices in the district.

The district didn’t add any technology staff, just miles of cable and a wireless access point in every classroom.

Right before school started, the technology department passed out 7,000 iPads to every sixth through twelfth grader in the district.

Then they waited.

“We had dire predictions at the end of the school year that people were going to walk off with them, that we were gonna have a mess,” says technology director William Diehl. “But I have to say, to the goodness of the hearts of our parents and students, we got them back.”

Schools across the country are launching one-to-one programs that put an iPad, laptop or other device in the hands of every student. But when it comes to technology, accidents happen: Screens crack, keyboards break, components fail.

So what happens when a damaged device belongs to a school corporation? Continue Reading

What Indiana's New Voucher Rules Mean For Students & For The Program's Future

A picture of Pope Benedict XVI hangs in the hallway of St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis.

A picture of Pope Benedict XVI hangs in the hallway of St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis.

Half of Indiana’s one million students already met the income requirements for the state’s private school voucher program.

And that was before new eligibility rules took effect this week.

The new guidelines make it easier for certain students — including those with special needs — to receive a voucher, prompting voucher advocates to predict the program’s participation (currently at more than 9,100 students) will only grow.

“Indiana was the fastest-growing first-year voucher program ever, and now the fastest-growing second-year voucher program ever,” says Bob Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “Actually, I believe it will also become the fastest-growing third-year voucher program.” Continue Reading

Inside A Disrupted ISTEP+ Exam: What One Student Says About Her Score's Validity

Bloomington fifth grader Georgie Stevens plays a computer game. On Monday, April 29, Georgie's class was among the first in the Indiana to feel the impacts of the server errors that ground testing to a halt across the state.

Bloomington fifth grader Georgie Stevens plays a computer game. On Monday, April 29, Georgie's class was likely among the first in Indiana to feel the impacts of the computer problems that ground testing to a halt across the state.

Almost as quickly as Georgie Stevens signed into her online ISTEP+ exam, the testing website kicked her out.

“It said, ‘Get off and get back on,’ there’s something wrong with it,” the Bloomington fifth grader remembers. “So I did.”

Then the site booted her out again. And again.

She asked for help, wondering at first whether her teacher still wanted her to finish the exam — but Georgie realized all of her classmates’ hands had shot up in the air too.

It would’ve been a normal testing day if it weren’t April 29, 2013, when memory issues on testing company CTB/McGraw-Hill’s computer servers began kicking students out of their online exams between 8 and 9 a.m.

Georgie logged on at 9:15 a.m. that morning, meaning her class was likely among the first in Indiana to have problems with their tests. Continue Reading

How A Group Of High School Students Wants Indiana To Grade Their High School

The eight students in Ben Davis High School’s AP Statistics class didn’t have time for senioritis. On Tuesday, their last day of high school ever, the eight college-bound seniors dressed up for a final presentation.

The subject: Indiana’s A-F rating system for schools.

We first met this group two weeks ago after Wayne Township superintendent Jeff Butts asked me to explain the labyrinthine grading formula to the class.*

For the next step of their assignment — making formal recommendations for how to re-write the A-F model — Butts invited three state lawmakers, including House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and a representative for state superintendent Glenda Ritz to the Indianapolis high school to hear their proposals.

But while the students’ pitch couldn’t be more timely — the Indiana General Assembly has given state education officials until November to completely re-write the formula — the Ben Davis class is also entering a political fray as complex as the A-F grading system itself. Continue Reading

How Science & Social Studies Teachers Are Transitioning To The Common Core

Cathedral High School English teacher Melinda Bundy used to teach a research paper unit on the legends of King Arthur, but she's now using President John F. Kennedy's inauguration speech. Bundy made the switch because the Common Core State Standards require 70 percent of the texts high school students read come from nonfiction.

Over the next several months Indiana lawmakers will review a set of nationally-crafted academic standards known as the Common Core. Indiana signed on to the standards in 2010, but now some parents and policymakers want out.

One of their concerns is the standard’s requirement that 70 percent of what high school students read come from nonfiction. But it’s unlikely the nonfiction requirement will go away because state law dictates whatever standards Indiana ends up with be modeled after the Common Core.

The idea is students should be reading more nonfiction in all classes, not just language arts. Yet some English teachers are skeptical their colleagues who teach subjects in which students don’t take statewide tests will take up the challenge. But Jeffrey Franklin, a social studies teacher at Mooresville High School, is already working to incorporate the Common Core in his classroom.

“Students need to read more complex texts that are going to be reflective of what they’re going to do outside of high school,” says Franklin. “That’s really the emphasis of the college- and career-readiness.” Continue Reading

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