• Is Fort Wayne Snider a failing school deserving of state take-over in 2011?

    How about DeKalb Central High School in Auburn, the home town of Sen. Kruse, chair of the Senate Education Committee?

    Or Huntington North High School?

    Or Rochester High School, honored by the State Board of Education last year as a New Tech school?

    Or North Central High School, alma mater of Gov. Daniels?

    Or Mitchell, Benton Central or Jeffersonville High Schools?

    House Bill 1479

    Incredibly, these eight schools and 204 others would be targeted for state take-over in 2011-12 under House Bill 1479.  The bill would change the consequences of the PL 221 accountability system.  Currently, consequences of low test scores are targeted on the fifth (lowest) category of performance, now called “Probation Schools” but next fall to be called “F Schools.”  

    House Bill 1479 would change that to direct all consequences to schools placed “in either of the two lowest categories.”  This change produces a list of 212 schools, which is attached.  Check out the schools on the list from your area.  From my personal experience and visitations, the list includes some of the best schools in the state.

    The list was prepared from IDOE data by Libby Cierzniak, attorney for Baker and Daniels who represents IPS during the General Assembly.  She should be commended for gathering the data to clarify the impact of the bill.  Dr. Bennett, in his testimony in favor of HB 1479, gave no hint to the House Education Committee that the impact could fall on over 200 schools, speaking mainly about accountability for the 20 schools currently under scrutiny for turnaround status.  

    How could so many obviously strong schools be caught in this trap?  I can’t explain why Dr. Bennett wants to penalize two categories instead of one, although I can tell you that he testified in favor of doing so in 2009 during his first month in office.  What I can tell you is that good schools are caught up in this mess because the “Watch” category (the fourth category) of PL 221 has been flawed since the system began.  Schools could score 79% passing ISTEP while showing positive year-to-year improvement and still be labeled as “Watch”.

    Charges that the “Watch” category was flawed came out clearly in testimony during 2010 as Dr. Bennett initiated a new rule to label schools as A-F.  In response to the testimony, the State Board did not defend the category definitions but instead apparently agreed that they were flawed because the board voted to change the criteria for each category as well as the name.  New criteria are under review and will be used in the fall of 2011 to place schools into categories.

    Meanwhile, we are living with the consequences of a history of flawed categories for many excellent schools on this list.

    With the proposed HB 1479, this flawed category matters deeply.  It could mean the privatization of these schools, turning them over to “for-profit” turnaround managers next year, as the bill is written. 

    Another factor for high schools was the change last year from the Graduation Qualifying Exam (GQE) to End of Course Assessments (ECA).  New cut scores were set for the End of Course Assessments, and Dr. Bennett recommended to the Roundtable that they be set at a higher level than did the teacher panels that spent three days reviewing items and recommending where the passing level should be set.  Dr.  Bennett explained to the Roundtable, who supported his plan, that he was intentionally recommending higher scores to boost expectations.  His cut score meant on average that 5% more students failed the test compared to the teacher panel cut score.  That was enough to depress the improvement scores for most high schools, because improvement was measured between the last GQE, on which schools were showing steady improvement, and the new ECA.  With the ECA cut scores being intentionally raised in the name of high expectations, it was clearly an apples-to-oranges comparison with the previous GQE, falling in a negative direction.   Improvement scores for high school plummeted and half of all high schools ended up in the “Probation” category.

    Surely, if a community’s high school is taken over by the state based on an invalid year-to-year comparison like this, someone will consider a lawsuit to test the fairness of this whole process.