Indiana’s A-to-F school grades may say a little about whether schools are effective, but they appear to say a lot more about how many poor children attend the schools.
The 2013 grades, approved recently by the Indiana State Board of Education, track pretty closely with the percentage of children who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches. The fewer poor kids, the higher the grades, and vice versa.
This is no surprise. Matthew Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute showed it was the case with his analysis of Indiana’s 2012 school grades. And a look at the 2013 grades shows not much has changed.
Like Di Carlo, I divided Indiana schools into four equal-sized groups according to their percentage of free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) students, then looked at the number of As, Bs, etc., in each group. (He used only elementary and middle schools; this analysis includes all schools with grades and FRL data).
A few highlights:
- Among low-poverty schools, nearly three-fourths got As and almost nine of 10 got As or Bs.
- Low-poverty schools were three-and-a-half times as likely to get an A as high-poverty schools.
- Barely 2 percent of low-poverty schools got Ds and Fs; among high-poverty schools, 42 percent got Ds and Fs.
- Low-poverty schools were nearly 40 times more likely to get an A or B than a D or F; high-poverty schools were more likely to get a D or F than an A or B.
- 79 percent of all Fs went to schools in the high-poverty group.
As Di Carlo explained, Indiana’s grading system assigns schools a baseline score based on the percentage of students who pass standardized tests. And it has been repeatedly shown that passing rates on tests are highly correlated with family income and other indicators of socio-economic status.
Schools can boost their grades if enough students show high growth on the tests. They can also be penalized for low growth. But the grades change only so much – the baseline scores, which reflect passing rates and not growth, are the primary factor.
This is the last year for the current system. The legislature ordered state officials to replace it with one that’s “based on measurement of individual student academic performance and growth to proficiency.”
Here is a downloadable spreadsheet with data about individual schools and their 2013 grades. Here’s the breakdown in chart form:
- Lowest poverty (0-35 percent FRL): 72.4 percent As, 16.8 percent Bs, 8.4 percent Cs, 2 percent Ds, 0.4 percent Fs
- Second quartile (35-49 percent FRL): 43.9 percent As, 30.2 percent Bs, 18.8 percent Cs, 6.2 percent Ds, 0.9 percent Fs
- Third quartile (49-65 percent FRL): 40.7 percent As, 30.2 percent Bs, 25 percent Cs, 10.6 percent Ds, 1.8 percent Fs
- Highest poverty (65-98 percent FRL): 20 percent As, 15.6 percent Bs, 21.1 percent Cs, 23.6 percent Ds, 19.6 percent Fs
- All schools: 44.2 percent As, 21.1 percent Bs, 18.3 percent Cs, 10.7 percent Ds, 5.7 percent Fs
While the trend is obvious, It’s noteworthy that one in five high-poverty schools earned an A, and more than one-third got an A or a B. You could argue these schools are doing something right and maybe other high-poverty schools could learn from them.
Also interesting: Almost none of these overachievers are charter schools. Only three of the 162 high-poverty schools that earned As or Bs are charter schools, by my count. Maybe that’s a topic for another post.
But the downside of the grading system is that Indiana is again labeling a lot of reasonably good schools with bad grades, just because they happen to serve poor kids. And the state’s more affluent schools, for now, may be getting a pass on accountability.