Board faces weighty decision on rewarding test-score growth

Like it or not, the Indiana State Board of Education will be picking winners and losers in the A-to-F grades sweepstakes when it adopts a table early next year for awarding points for student test-score growth.

Under a new accountability system that the board adopted early this year, growth is supposed to count the same as performance – the percentage of students who pass the tests – in calculating school grades. And growth points will be awarded according to where students fall on a Growth to Proficiency Table.

The question for the board is what that table will look like. Will it award more growth points to students who passed the tests the previous year than to those who didn’t? Or will it award the same points to high-scoring and low-scoring students who show comparable growth on the current year’s tests?

According to discussion at last week’s state board meeting, staff from the board and the Indiana Department of Education will present up to four tables for members to consider in January. The board will give preliminary approval to the option it favors, touching off a 30-day public comment period.

Department of Education staff will then let local school officials know how their schools are likely to be affected. And when the comment period ends, the board will adopt the table of its choice at its next meeting, probably in March or April 2016.

That’s a simplified account of a lengthy and somewhat convoluted board discussion. Anyone who is truly interested can watch the video; the relevant presentation and discussion run from about 2:20 to 3:10 on Part 2 of the video.

Here’s where the winners and losers come in.

A sample Growth to Proficiency Table included in last week’s board presentation gives extra growth points to students who pass the tests. If the board approves that version, it will favor schools where most students pass, which are not always but often located in affluent areas.

And the new grading system will probably produce results that aren’t that different from the current system, which is largely based on test-score performance.

But if the board approves a table that apportions growth points solely on how much students grow their test scores – regardless of whether they passed the previous year – poorer schools will get a break.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz pointed out that, in a sense, there has already been public comment on the growth tables, because members of the public focused on that topic when they weighed in early this year on the new A-to-F grading framework.

You can read a summary of those comments near the bottom of this document. Nearly everyone who addressed the issue said the board should award equal points to all students who show positive growth on tests, regardless of whether they passed the previous year.

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