Indiana moving ahead on school grading changes

Indiana education officials appear to have turned the corner on creating a new system for awarding A-to-F grades to schools. But some key decisions still need to be made.

The State Board of Education voted 8-1 this month to approve the new grading system rule, which now must be approved by the state attorney general and then the governor. Board members made two significant changes from the proposal they had discussed at earlier meetings.

  • Student growth on test scores will count the same as student proficiency on test scores. That’s what a state panel on accountability had recommended; but the board had leaned toward weighting the factors 60-40 in favor of proficiency.
  • Schools won’t be awarded an A unless they show reasonable performance or growth by “subgroups” of students: racial and ethnic groups, students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, special needs students and English language learners.

Still to be decided is exactly how the state will award points for student growth. In a new approach, points will be awarded on the basis of a “growth to proficiency table,” and several versions are being considered.

The change that says schools can’t get an A unless their subgroups do reasonably well was apparently something the U.S. Department of Education wanted. It’s a throwback to the old system that lowered grades for schools that didn’t make “adequate yearly progress,” which included progress by all the subgroups. Many schools hated the rule, and it went away when the feds gave Indiana a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law.

I’m glad to see it coming back. One thing to like about NCLB was that it made it harder for schools to hide that they weren’t meeting the learning needs of poor, black, Hispanic or special-needs students. Of course a lot of affluent, non-diverse schools fell through the cracks with the old accountability system – and they will with the new one, too. That’s because schools are held accountable for subgroup performance only if they enroll and test at least 30 students who are part of the particular subgroup.

As for the use of a growth to proficiency table to allocate points for test-score growth, that may be partly a concession to a 2013 law that says school grades must be based on performance and “growth to proficiency,” not performance and growth compared with peers. The State Board of Education is expected to adopt a final version of the table this fall, after putting out a proposal for public comments.

And what it adopts will matter. The Indiana Department of Education calculated the grades that schools would have received in 2014 if the new system had been in place. Under a couple of proposed versions of the growth table, 40 percent of schools would have received As. Under another version, only 23 percent of schools would have earned As.

Under the current system, the one that’s going away, 54 percent of schools got As in 2014. So some schools may be disappointed when the new system takes effect in 2016.



1 thought on “Indiana moving ahead on school grading changes

  1. As you mention this is a huge advantage for private schools because they control the size of their subgroups by choosing which students to accept. And many small private schools get no grade at all because they have so few students. This is just another method of using test score to pick winners and losers, and traditional public schools, because they accept all students, are the losers.

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