Indiana’s revised NCLB waiver request gives more attention to subgroups

Indiana appears to have made significant changes in its application for a waiver from No Child Left Behind act requirements in order to get the U.S. Department of Education to approve the request.

In particular, it added a lot of language spelling out that, no, it won’t walk away from holding schools accountable for subgroups of students that weren’t supposed to be left behind: racial and ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged students, special-needs students and English learners.

The state’s original waiver application, filed hurriedly in November, wasn’t at all clear about this. But the revised request, posted on the USDOE webpage, says schools will be expected to raise the performance of all subgroups to keep them on track to meeting state goals.

It’s not obvious how this will work. The traditional No Child Left Behind subgroups aren’t referenced in the new A-to-F school grading criteria approved last week by the State Board of Education. Instead the grading system relies on two “super subgroups,” the bottom 25 percent of students at each school and the top 75 percent. Schools get bonus points if either group shows “high growth” on test scores.

But the Indiana NCLB waiver document says schools will also be graded on the performance of each of the traditional subgroups. This is arguably a good thing – making it harder for schools to ignore achievement gaps if their overall scores are decent. But again, it remains to be seen how it will work.

Another question about the state’s NCLB waiver is: What happens to the sanctions that have been imposed on schools that receive federal Title I funding and failed repeatedly to make “adequate yearly progress” under the law? These include letting students transfer to higher-performing schools, providing “supplemental educational services (SES)” and using Title I funds for targeted staff development.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said it seems likely that the SES and school choice provisions will go away – but it’s not certain, as back-and-forth continues between the state and the feds over the waiver.

More on which schools will struggle with the new grading system

Scott Elliott of the Indianapolis Star did some data mining and confirmed what School Matters suggested last week: The new Indiana grading system seems to be particularly tough on schools that serve large numbers of disadvantaged students.

We pointed to several highly regarded Indianapolis schools that earned As under the state’s old grading system – but that, according to data released by the state Department of Education, would have received Bs or Cs if the new grading system had been in place.

Elliott shows that, of schools that would have gotten worse grades under the new system, 52 percent were in the state’s highest-poverty school districts. But of schools that would have done better under the new system, only 35 percent were from the highest-poverty districts.

Derek Redelman of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, in a comment on Elliott’s blog, explains why: The new grading system relies primarily on the percentage of students who pass state tests – and we know fewer students are likely to pass in high-poverty schools. Student “growth” is a factor in setting grades, but a minor one.

“Both the old and new systems are pass/fail models,” Redelman writes. “The new plan is NOT a ‘growth model’ as we have been promised and have anticipated for years.”

We’d go a bit further and speculate that Indiana’s method for calculating student growth — which makes no allowance for out-of-school factors that can affect learning, such as poverty, family stability, parent education, etc. – actually favors wealthy schools and penalizes poor schools. But more on that later.

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One thought on “Indiana’s revised NCLB waiver request gives more attention to subgroups

  1. Pingback: Reporting project raises questions about ‘school turnaround’ « School Matters

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