Indiana school grades align with poverty

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.


18 thoughts on “Indiana school grades align with poverty

  1. I do not think these grades are a reliable indicator of anything. The elementary school my children attended received an A in 2011, a D in 2012 and an A in 2013. Other than 5th graders moving on to middle school and perhaps one retirement, there has been little change in teaching staff or the student population. If anyone can explain this wild shift, please clue me in. The teachers didn’t suddenly stop teaching in 2012. These grades mean nothing.

    • Thanks for commenting. That’s a good point. The grades for elementary schools should accurately reflect the percentage of students who passed math and English/language arts ISTEP exams and whether a targeted percentage of students achieved “high growth.” That is something that’s concrete and can be measured. But it’s true that that the wild shifts from year to year, both up and down — and especially for high-poverty schools — don’t seem to make a lot of sense. They may suggest that there’s not a lot of difference between an A and an F. As for your child’s school, you could look at the school report cards on the DOE website for 2011 and 2012 to see what changed in the grade calculation. (Report cards for 2013 aren’t posted yet).

      • I have said for twenty years that grades have everything to do with attitude and motivation. In our school we have a class that is mandatory but no curriculum…they watch lots of movies in that class. A WAIST OF TIME. Why not watch motivational or attitude clips and talk about the effects of TRYING to succeed? I had a bad attitude in school, didn’t try. After graduation I was lucky to have a manager that noticed my work ethic and taught me the rest. I did Succeed but not because of my teachers or classes…it could have though.

  2. Reblogged this on Middletown Voice and commented:
    The facts the Billionaires Club wants to avoid talking about….why? Because they honestly believe that a free market eliminates poverty because in their mind, poverty is a choice. People are choosing to be poor just like they choose to be homeless.

  3. As my former boss used to say, the solution is obvious. Let’s make EVERYONE rich.
    Unfortunately, the decline of the middle class is making it more difficult for parents who must work two jobs and extra hours to be involved in school activities, or to pay the costs of musical instruments and other fees which add so much to one’s school experience.

    Livable wages and family time are two of the biggest contributions we can make to academic progress.

  4. I wish he State of Indiana would take the total educational taxes collected, and money budgeted, and divide it up evenly per student capita…if we are truly talking about equal education, then what schools have to offer should not be based on addresses. If everyone truly believed that education should be equal to allow for that equal opportunity, no one should complain because they pay more. After all, who can predict where the child who will lead us into the future resides?

  5. Pingback: Few charter schools among Indiana’s overachieving schools | School Matters

  6. Pingback: Rise & Shine: Indiana readies for 2014 education debates | Chalkbeat Indiana

  7. Pingback: Indiana school corporation grades align with poverty too | School Matters

  8. Virtual schools and tutoring online is the way to go. The virtual learning that takes place out of the safety of a child’s home is unmatched. There are several education learning centers like Primrose schools and Kumon Math & Reading centers that have had numerous cases of child molestation and rapes of children and students in the schools and tutoring center.

  9. Pingback: High-poverty schools make progress on school grades | School Matters

  10. Pingback: Segregated schools in a progressive town | School Matters

  11. Pingback: Change coming for Indiana school grades | School Matters

  12. Pingback: New school grading system produces little change | School Matters

  13. Pingback: Board faces weighty decision on rewarding test-score growth | School Matters

  14. Pingback: School grades still reflect student demographics | School Matters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s