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COMMUNITY VOICE

Indiana will support improvement through accountability

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 12:01 am

This year, Indiana's schools received letter grades for their performance based on measures that look at more than just how many students pass standardized tests. The new measures consider multiple factors to hold schools accountable and celebrate schools for providing all children the high-quality educational opportunities they deserve. The news is good. Many of Indiana's schools, as well as the students, families and communities they serve, have much to celebrate.

For the 2011-2012 school year, 60 percent of Indiana's schools received A or B letter grades. This represents the greatest number of schools earning top marks since the first Public Law 221 (P.L. 221) category placements were assigned in 2005. In total, 40.1 percent of schools earned As, 20.3 percent earned Bs, 20.4 percent earned Cs and 19.2 percent earned D or F grades.

As we applaud our schools for their performance, it is also worth noting the reason we endeavored to assign letter grades to schools in the first place. Parents and communities deserve a fair and transparent assessment of how well their schools are doing. What better way to give parents a clear view of their schools' performance than to present it the same way schools present student performance — with A through F letter grades.

With clear A through F performance categories in place, we set out in 2010 to devise a new way of measuring and reporting school performance, as required by Indiana's school accountability law. After nearly two years of discussion, fine tuning and public comment, our new measures were finalized in early 2012. Indiana finally has a clear and comprehensive measurement of performance that will help families make better-informed educational decisions for their children.

Indiana's new accountability metrics are a more fair and comprehensive way of measuring school performance. They make use of the latest advances in measuring student academic performance. High school students who earn industry certifications and dual credits help drive up their schools' grades. Additionally, school scores now reflect the amount of progress each student makes during the year. And schools are scored on how well they are working toward closing the achievement gap.

I have always believed all children — regardless of their families' incomes — can learn and achieve at high levels, and this year's letter grades prove it. For example, more than 85 percent of Indiana schools that gained three or four letter grades this year were high poverty (as defined by Title I). Of our 17 districts in which every school received an A, seven were high poverty. And, nearly 30 percent of our schools that have earned As every year since 2005 are high poverty.

Additionally, schools once considered chronically failing have taken the new accountability measures as a call to action. The number of persistently underperforming schools has reduced dramatically, from 24 in 2009 to four in 2011. This year just one school faced state intervention. I especially am proud of teachers in these struggling schools who have doubled-down their efforts to drive student achievement.

We should celebrate this remarkable success made possible by high expectations, increased accountability, and good, old-fashioned hard work. School leaders and teachers across the state are creating a newly energized culture of student learning that focuses on the individual needs of students, and their efforts are paying off.

Congratulations to Indiana's successful school leaders, teachers and students for their commitment to excellence. Our students have made great strides in recent years, and they have every tool they need to exceed our expectations in the years ahead.

Indiana will support ongoing improvement by continuing to hold students and schools accountable and by recognizing their hard work and achievements. Indiana's A through F school letter grades are a great example of a policy that does both of these things effectively, and students have the most to gain as a result.

Dr. Tony Bennett is Superintendent of Public Instruction.