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A-F panel starts job of unsnarling school grades

INDIANAPOLIS – A panel of statewide education experts tasked with creating a new A-F grading system for schools got down to business Thursday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and Southwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Steve Yager co-chaired the first meeting of the Accountability System Review Panel.

It was put together by Ritz, Gov. Mike Pence, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

The goal is to move Indiana from its current A-F accountability system for schools, which is believed by many to be flawed because it focuses too much on student pass-fail rates on state assessments.

Legislators earlier this year ordered a new system be crafted that focuses more on individual student growth or improvement.

The panel will give non-binding recommendations by Nov. 1 to the State Board of Education, which is charged with making final decisions and putting the new system in place in the 2014-15 school year.

Yager acknowledged the group has little time to achieve its goals and will have a lot of homework in between its expected eight meetings.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure that we have a transparent system that patrons and teachers, staff members, taxpayers, business folks can read and understand and make sense of,” he said. “We have a huge challenge.”

The panel started Thursday by receiving presentations on the history of accountability in Indiana, which started back in 1999. State and federal law requires an accountability system for gauging school effectiveness.

Indiana’s system has changed several times through the years – getting more complex each time.

One thing the group will have to consider is how to make a unified model work for schools with different configurations, meaning they sometimes don’t have every grade.

This caused problems for former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who tweaked the formula to help a favored charter school and others in a similar situation.

Ritz defeated Bennett in November and he went to Florida to serve as state schools chief there. He resigned recently after the changes were uncovered.

“We think we will come out with a good product that’s fair and transparent, and we have to get there,” Ritz said.