How will Indiana factor growth in school grades?

An easily overlooked report on Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting agenda will point the way to significant changes in Indiana’s school accountability system. At issue is the awarding of points for student growth on standardized tests.

The board will get an update on the matter this week, but it won’t resolve the issue just yet. A decision will come in early 2016.

Indiana’s current system of awarding A-to-F grades to elementary and middle schools relies primarily on the percentage of students who pass the grade 3-8 ISTEP exams. Schools can get bonus points for student growth or be penalized for “negative growth,” but test scores are the main factor.

Under a new system scheduled to take effect in 2016, performance and growth are supposed to be weighted 50-50. And growth will be measured in a new way: on the basis of how many students show positive, static or negative growth according to a “growth to proficiency table.”

An issue the board must address is how to divvy up points for categories of growth.

Board spokesman Marc Lotter said it’s possible but not likely the board will discuss its preferences this week. He said the state’s independent testing experts will develop recommendations for how to weight test-score growth “based on the data and best practices.”

Under a sample growth table included in the board presentation for Wednesday’s meeting, students who get a passing or “pass plus” score on ISTEP would be awarded significantly more points for growth than would students who don’t pass the test:

  • Students with pass plus scores: 75 points for negative growth, 125 points for static growth, 150 points for positive growth.
  • Students who pass: 50 points for negative growth, 100 points for static growth, 125 points for positive growth.
  • Students who do not pass: 0 points for negative growth, 50 points for static growth, 100 points for positive growth.

That would seem to tip the system in favor of schools with lots of students who pass the test – which are not always but often schools in affluent communities.

The approach is arguably contrary to a recommendation from the state’s accountability system review panel: that growth should be “a unique metric independent of school performance” and that the measurement of growth “should have a low correlation to performance.”

In fact, calculating grades by the example table won’t produce much change from the current performance-based grading system. If the new system had been in effect in 2014, more than 60 percent of schools would have received the same grade. Almost none would have changed more than one letter grade.

But the sample table included in the board agenda is just there for purposes of illustration, Lotter said. The experts may also consider other options, including awarding the same points for negative, static and positive growth, regardless of whether students start out passing ISTEP.

After Wednesday’s meeting, the testing experts will work with staff from the State Board of Education and the Indiana Department of Education to develop a recommendation by January. At that point, the board will give preliminary approval to the table, starting a 30-day public comment period. The board will give final approval in February.

5 thoughts on “How will Indiana factor growth in school grades?

  1. I actually liked the way the old system measured growth. I’m not sure why they couldn’t have used that system, just given it equal weight instead of making it a “bonus point” situation. I know the system was hard to explain to the public, but measuring student growth shouldn’t be a simple thing. It’s tough. I would be wary of any system that’s too easy to understand! Haha!

    • Oh you know what, I know why they need something new (beyond politics). The old system relied on deep historical data on student performance on the long-established ISTEP+ exams. We don’t have historical data on the new exams. Never mind. 🙂

      • I liked the old system too. (Maybe because we could pretend to be among the few who understood it!). You’re right about the change in ISTEP and the loss of historical data. But the test changed this year, and they’re still using the old growth measure this year, applying some kind of “equi-percentile” adjustment, so arguably they could have continued with it. I think there was some concern about the statistical power of the growth percentile calculation for the smaller number of students at the top and bottom tails of the score distributions, maybe. I’m not smart enough at statistics to have any idea if that’s an issue.

      • Ohhh… I hadn’t thought about them using the old growth measure still this year. Huh. Wonder how the “equi-percentile” adjustment works?? And you are pretty good with stats, Steve. Don’t hide behind your “I’m a journalist” thing 🙂 Yes, I imagine the tails were an issue. Still seems better than what they’re trying to do now, in my opinion.

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