Indiana appears to be in the vanguard when it comes to adopting “graduation pathways” that students can follow to earn a high-school diploma. But two states, Colorado and Ohio, have gone farther down this path. What could we learn from their experience?
In Colorado, lawmakers approved legislation in 2007 calling for a redesign of graduation requirements. Ten years later, it’s starting to implement a system in which schools can choose from a menu of options for earning a diploma. The new system takes effect with this year’s ninth-graders.
Colorado developed its graduation guidelines through a process that included nearly 50 stakeholder meetings across the state, in-depth conversations with most school superintendents, working groups with 300-plus representatives and two years of statewide discussion.
Ohio, by contrast, moved quickly to a system in which students could graduate by earning points on high-school end-of-course assessments, getting a “remediation-free” score on the SAT or ACT exam or acquiring industry or workforce credentials. It was supposed to take effect with this year’s seniors.
But the state changed course when officials realized many students weren’t going to meet the requirements, said Ken Baker, executive director of the Ohio Secondary School Administrators Association. For the class of 2018 only, it added pathways that students could use to graduate.
You’ve heard of Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. Welcome to Indiana, where the children need to be average or above to earn a high-school diploma.
That may be where we’re heading with the recommendations approved Tuesday by the Graduation Pathways Panel and sent to the State Board of Education for consideration. The board could approve the recommendations – a significant change in what it takes to earn a diploma – on Dec. 6.
Panel members say their plan will expand access by creating more pathways that students can follow to graduate. What they don’t say is that each pathway includes barriers that could prevent some students from reaching the goal.
- Students can qualify via the SAT or ACT exam, but only if their scores meet “college-ready benchmarks,” nearly the average for college-bound test takers.
- They can qualify by getting a passing score on a military enlistment test, but today’s all-volunteer military doesn’t admit just anyone.
- They can qualify by passing at least three dual-credit, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, but they need at least a C grade.
I thought I’d heard it all when it came to questionable practices in the name of school choice. But then I read about Indiana Virtual School. After a seven-month investigation, Chalkbeat Indiana revealed how the online charter school has raked in public money while apparently doing little to educate students.
“One of Indiana’s largest high schools ended this past school year with almost 5,000 students, but no desks and no classrooms,” Chalbeat’s Shaina Cavazos writes. “The school also had very few graduates — 61 out of more than 900 seniors graduated last year. What Indiana Virtual School did have: Tens of millions in state dollars due to come its way over the next two years, and a founder whose for-profit company charged millions of dollars in management fees and rent to the school.”
- The school had only 21 teachers for 4,682 students at the end of last school year, a ratio of 222 students per teachers.
- Just 10 percent of its spending went to instruction while 89 percent went to “support services,” according to data provided to the state. It spent just 7 percent on teacher and staff salaries.
- It paid about $6 million for management services and office space to AlphaCom Inc., a for-profit company headed until last year by Thomas Stoughton, the school’s founder and leader.
A panel of unelected officials is making significant changes in what it takes to graduate from high school in Indiana. The process, initiated by the legislature six months ago, could wrap up in December. Yet it is getting little public attention.
If recommendations from the Graduation Pathways Panel are approved by the State Board of Education, no longer will students be able to earn a diploma by completing the required high-school credits and passing “end-of-course assessments” for algebra and 10th-grade English.
They will still have to earn the credits. But in place of tests, they will have to show they are “college and career ready” and have chalked up “applied learning experiences.” The former can include receiving a respectable score on the SAT or ACT test, completing industry apprenticeships or certifications, or earning advanced-placement credits. The latter can be after-school jobs, service-learning or project-based learning.
The new rules would take effect for students who are high-school freshmen in 2018-19.
The 14-member Graduation Pathways Panel has met from late summer through the fall. The schedule calls for it to finalize its recommendations Nov. 7. Then the State Board of Education could approve the pathways in December. Continue reading
Hats off to the folks at the Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County for keeping a spotlight on the unfairness of Indiana’s A-to-F school grading system.
It’s unfair that schools in their first three years of operation are evaluated on test-score growth only, while other schools are graded on a mixture of growth and performance – the percentage of students who pass state tests. Those new schools are disproportionately charter schools, private schools or Indianapolis Public School “innovation” schools. The result is, their grades are inflated.
In response, the coalition’s Keri Miksza and Jenny Robinson have calculated the grades that public schools would receive if they were graded on growth only. They’ve been posting the results to Facebook and Twitter, using a format from a Washington Township (Indianapolis) parent council. A few examples:
- Monroe County Community Schools – Using growth, 15 schools would get A’s, one would get a B and one a C. Under the actual grading system, there were about as many B’s and C’s as A’s.
- Lawrence County — 10 schools would get A’s, four would get B’s and two would get D’s. Under the actual system, only one school got an A and most got C’s and D’s.
- Owen County — four schools would get A’s and one would get a B. In fact, all got B’s, C’s and D’s.
Even in much-derided Indianapolis Public Schools, a majority of schools would get A’s and B’s if graded only on growth. Using the existing grading system, nearly all get C’s, D’s and F’s. Results are similar for South Bend schools.
What if we graded every Indiana school by growth, not by performance? And why shouldn’t we? Under state law, growth-only grades are considered appropriate for schools in their first three years of operation. And for Indianapolis Public Schools “innovation network schools” that reopened under new leadership. Why shouldn’t other schools get the same treatment?
In fact I’ve argued previously that growth should be the sole metric for using test scores to evaluate schools. Using performance – the percentage of students who pass state tests – produces entirely predictable results: Low-poverty schools are “good,” high-poverty schools are “bad.”
If we’re going to grade schools, it makes more sense to grade them on whether students improve over a year’s time, not on the education level of the students’ parents or real estate values in their neighborhoods.
Some Indiana schools, many of them charter schools or Indianapolis Public Schools “innovation network” schools, got a break on the A-to-F grades the State Board of Education approved Wednesday.
That’s because the schools are new or newly reopened. And Indiana lets schools that have been open no more than three years calculate their grades on their students’ test-score growth from the previous year, ignoring their test-score performance.
For most schools, grades are calculated on a formula that weights performance and growth equally. The growth measurement awards points for how students fare on a “growth to proficiency” table. Schools with low test scores but high growth can raise their marks, but typically by just a letter grade or two.
But schools that are graded solely on growth are more likely to receive A’s, even if their test scores are low. And in some cases, that’s what happened.