School accountability results send mixed messages

Whatever you may think about state and federal school accountability regimes, you have to feel good for Highland Park and Templeton elementary schools.

The Bloomington schools, where 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, got a double dose of good news with the accountability data released today by the Indiana Department of Education. They both 1) made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act; and 2) received an exemplary rating, the highest possible, under Indiana’s Public Law 221 system.

Hats off, also, to Fairview Elementary School, which came close to making AYP despite having by far the highest concentration of poverty of any school in Monroe County – more than 90 percent of its students qualify by family income for free or reduced-price lunches.

And to the Monroe County Community School Corp., which made AYP as a corporation for the first time since 2006.

That said, the state’s release of both the federal and state accountability data at the same time makes for confusing results.

The state and federal accountability systems use such different methodologies that it’s possible for a school to be rated as great by one and not so good by the other. In Monroe County, for example, three elementary schools – Summit, Unionville and Edgewood Primary – were rated exemplary by the state but failed to make federal AYP.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to make sure subgroups of students – poor kids, special-needs students, minority students if there are enough of them – meet performance standards. When a Monroe County school doesn’t make AYP, it’s usually because too few special-education or low-income students passed the annual ISTEP-Plus exams.

The state PL 221 system merely requires meeting standards on a system that takes into account the percentage of students passing ISTEP-Plus and the school’s improvement from the previous year.

If there’s a statewide trend to the accountability data released today, it’s that high schools took a beating. Half the public high schools in the state – including Bloomington North and South – were placed in “probation,” the lowest PL 221 rating. North, South and Edgewood high schools did not make AYP.

The problem for high schools may be the shift in accountability testing from the Graduation Qualifying Exam to new End of Course Assessments in algebra and English. Passing rates were generally lower for the new tests, and most high schools didn’t benefit from year-to-year improvement.

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