Change coming for Indiana school grades

A change is coming next year to Indiana’s A-to-F school grading system, and it may be a bigger change than even the most education-attuned Hoosiers yet realize.

While the State Board of Education has approved the framework for the new system, it still needs to decide how to award points for student growth on test scores, a key component for calculating grades. That won’t happen until this fall.

And what it decides will matter, according to simulations of what grades would have been if the new system had been in place a year ago. Under one approach to measuring growth, 40 percent of schools would have received As. Under another, barely 20 percent. Either way, it’s a change from the current system, which awarded As to 54 percent of schools last year.

Up to now, elementary and middle schools have been graded largely on the percentage of students who passed ISTEP+ exams in math and reading. They could gain or lose points for student growth on test scores, but performance was the primary factor. And that meant affluent schools typically got As or Bs.

Growth was measured by the Indiana Growth Model, a complex formula in which each student’s test-score improvement was compared with that of all students who scored the same the previous year.

The grading system for high schools is and will remain more complicated. It includes graduation rates and “college and career readiness” measures as well as test-score performance and growth.

The new system for elementary and middle schools will rely on student test-score performance for 50 percent of each school’s score and growth for the other 50 percent. That suggests a more level playing field for high-poverty schools. They may be able to get good grades if students grow enough.

And growth will be based on a “growth to proficiency table,” a new method for awarding points for how much students improved their test performance. Here’s how it will work.

In 2016, the first year for the new system, students’ ISTEP+ scores for math and English will be plotted as percentiles. Those who did well on the test in 2015 will be expected to hit the higher score percentiles. Those who didn’t do so well will be expected to improve, but their “targets” will be lower. Students will get growth points depending on whether they show “negative movement,” “static movement” or “positive movement” on the 2016 tests. (Those terms may change, but you get the idea).

In a sample table put together by state officials, you can see that students who performed the best on the previous year’s test – the group labeled “Pass Plus-2” – would have static movement if their scores on this year’s test were between the 42nd and 66th percentiles. That’s the range between one standard deviation below and one standard deviation above the average score for that group.

Students in the “Did Not Pass-1” group – the lowest-performing group – would show static movement if their new test scores were between the 25th and 49th percentiles. Those below the 25th percentile would have negative movement; those above the 49th percentile would have positive movement.


State Board of Education chart

Here’s where things get tricky. The grades are supposed to reflect “growth to proficiency,” according to state law. Does that mean students should get more growth points if they are proficient – that is, if they pass ISTEP? Or should a student who didn’t pass, but who showed positive movement, get as many points as a student who passed the test and who also demonstrated positive movement.

The growth table referenced above takes the first approach. Students in the Pass Plus categories would get 150 growth points for positive movement and 75 points even for negative movement. Students in the Did Not Pass categories could get only 100 points for positive movement and zero points for negative movement.

A different proposed growth table gives set points for negative movement, for static movement and for positive movement to all students, regardless of whether they passed the test the previous year. Other approaches are also under consideration.

Awarding more growth points to higher-performing students would seem to contradict the principle of weighting performance and growth 50-50. But that’s for the State Board of Education to decide.

Note: Thanks to Marc Lotter and Cynthia Roach of the State Board of Education staff for their patience in explaining the new system.


5 thoughts on “Change coming for Indiana school grades

  1. So, one of the complaints I heard about the old system was that it was normative – comparing students to others in their “score cohort” (not the official term). There were also concerns that if every student in the state improved, it would actually hurt schools on the A-F system since it was normative. It was my understanding, though, that the old system had methods in place to assure that if every student in the state improved, appropriate credit would still be given (by setting score targets by child based on historical data mapping the performance of students in their “score cohort”). If this new system is being based on score percentiles attained each year, it seems to fall victim to the issues of the normative scoring and I see no accounting for how they’ll adjust scores if the overall level of student performance raises.

    Did that make any sense?! Haha!

    Steve, as always, thanks for your reporting.

    • Good question! And I don’t know the answer. I’m wondering if maybe the percentile targets were set on the basis of last year’s scores, if that would work? You’re correct about the old system: Supposedly the growth model was used to set individual student targets, so it would be theoretically possible for all students to exceed their targets. (At least that’s how Michelle McKeown explained it). But the criticism of the old system was that, on the tails of the distribution, there wouldn’t be that many students with the same scores from preceding years; so the chance of error would be high. At least that’s my understanding.

      • Your understandings of the old system match mine, Steve. If you find anything else out about the new system with relation to this topic, please share!

        You know, I never had an issue with the old system being too “complex”. Measuring student growth shouldn’t be a simple process. However, communications about the system need to be clear enough so that people at every level of understanding can follow it.

        I like the idea of putting more emphasis on student growth, but I’m leery of a more “simplified” formula to do so. Simple shouldn’t be the aim…. accuracy and fairness should be. That’s hard enough with such a great diversity of schools in the state.

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

  3. Pingback: How will Indiana factor growth in school grades? | School Matters

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