HANCOCK COUNTY — The A-F grades assigned to area schools for 2015 should look familiar.
All Hancock County schools received the same letter grade this week as they did in 2014, an effect of a change in state law that protected schools from having their grades dropped based on last spring’s low ISTEP scores.
Fifteen area schools received an A, four received a B, and two schools received Cs. No local schools saw a grade lower than C.
Across the state, 56 percent of schools received A’s.
The change in state law allowed schools to move up on the grading scale but kept grades from dipping below those they earned in 2014. It also protected teachers from having their pay negatively impacted by ISTEP, which was more rigorous last year than in years past.
Statewide, there was a 21 percentage point drop in the number of students who passed the high-stakes test administered to students in third through eighth grades last spring. The test was based on new state standards, which are more rigorous than in years past, and educators argued they didn’t have much time to prepare students for the new test.
They lobbied for legislation to protect students, teachers and schools from being penalized for the lower scores that resulted, asking for a one-year grace period to help students adjust to the new expectations.
Lawmakers acted quickly, passing such legislation within the first three weeks of this year’s General Assembly.
For local educators, it’s a relief.
Harold Olin, superintendent of Greenfield-Central schools, said he’s pleased lawmakers acted quickly to protect schools across the state from last year’s test but said schools still need to focus on the work ahead of them.
Schools must adjust their curriculum to help students perform successfully on the tougher test, he said.
“I couldn’t be happier today,” he said Tuesday. “We are not opposed to school accountability, … but there were too many variables in last year’s ISTEP to put much credibility in it.”
Eastern Hancock was the only school corporation to see As across the board for its schools.
For both the middle and elementary school, ISTEP scores in 2015 would have carried a lot of weight when determining the schools’ grades, Eastern middle and high school principal Dave Pfaff said.
Giving schools a one-year grace period to adjust was a common-sense move, “given … that the rules were changed mid-game,” Pfaff said.
“Teachers have been given a bit of a safety net until we can get acclimated to what the new expectations are,” he added.
Going forward, the department of education will place more emphasis on student growth and progress when calculating schools’ accountability grades instead of heavily weighing how many students pass ISTEP, and educators across the state eagerly await a system they say will better reflect what schools, teachers and students are accomplishing.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said she’s looking forward to implementing a new system, as she believes the state should move away from assessing schools based on a long, high-stakes test.
“I support accountability, but I support accountability that makes sense,” she said in a news release.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.