- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The State Board of Education approved “A-F” school grades Wednesday showing that more than half of Indiana’s 2,000-plus schools earned an “A” under the key school rating system, and that the number of schools with that top grade has surged nearly a third in the past three years.

The board approved the grades for nearly 2,100 schools and 300 school corporations on Wednesday following a three-week delay so that legislative staff could verify some data.

The grades are crucial for schools and school systems because they are the primary factors used in determining teacher pay and school funding, as well as helping decide whether a school is taken over by private operators.

The new grades for 2013-14 show that about 1,100 schools were given an “A,” up from about 940 schools in the previous school year. Schools with the top grade also have increased 31 percent from about 850 in the 2011-12 school year. Meanwhile, significantly fewer schools were assigned an “F” or a “D” in the new data, while those earning either a “B” or “C” declined slightly.

“This data shows significantly increased performance for our schools, particularly in schools that have been lower performing in prior years,” state Superintendent Glenda Ritz said in a statement.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the board of education heard from officials with four school districts who complained about problems with the school grade appeals process. Among them was West Noble School Corp. Superintendent Dennis Van Duyne, who testified that his northern Indiana district has the highest Hispanic student enrollment in the state.

Van Duyne said his district’s new grades had suffered due to inaccurate data that the Indiana Department of Education factored into the grading formula regarding the number of Hispanic students who had abruptly left the district. He said the district had not submitted some data on those former students because he said the appeal instructions indicated some paperwork was optional.

“We feel the system has not been accurate, it’s not been fair to us,” he said. “… And it hasn’t been transparent because even to this day, I don’t know what would have been enough documentation where they would say, ‘Yes, now we’ll give you credit for those students leaving.’”

Officials with Wabash City Schools, South Vermillion Community School Corp. and Evansville’s New Tech Institute also complained to the board about the grade appeals process, describing it as frustrating or not transparent.

Before approving the school grades, the board voted to direct the Department of Education, which Ritz oversees, to help address those districts’ or school’s concerns before the board gives final approval to their grades at the panel’s December meeting. Ritz also told board members that her department would conduct a review its school grade appeal process.

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