Afflicting the afflicted

Indiana lawmakers are rushing to prevent schools from getting lower accountability grades as a result of this year’s big drop in ISTEP scores. But in their haste, they are making a serious mistake.

Senate Bill 200, which they are about to pass, says schools’ grades for 2014-15 can’t be any lower than their 2013-14 grades. The new grades are set to be issued this month by the State Board of Education.

Here’s the problem. The legislation doesn’t do anything for schools that got an F in 2013-14 and that didn’t improve in 2014-15. And improving was a long shot because passing rates for ISTEP, the major component in school grades, declined by over 20 percentage points statewide.

Indiana schools that get successive Fs face increasingly severe state sanctions. Schools that reach six Fs in a row – and apparently there are three that could this year – face state takeover.

This doesn’t make any sense. The only reason for SB 200 in the first place is that the spring 2015 ISTEP tests were so difficult that it would be unfair to base grades on those results. But if that’s the case for schools that got an A, B, C or D in 2013-14, it should be just as true for schools that got an F.

Journalists like to say their job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. With SB 200, the legislature is turning that adage on its head. And that’s just wrong.

Schools that got good grades in 2013-14 but saw their test scores drop will get a pass on accountability. Some of these are affluent schools in areas that like to boast of their ratings. If their grades slipped, it wouldn’t hurt anyone. But it could be embarrassing. Some worry it could affect property values.

These schools are comfortable, and the legislature seems eager to comfort them.

Schools that had been getting Fs may have made extraordinary efforts to improve. If ISTEP had stayed the same, maybe their grades would have gone up. But with the tougher 2015 test and the much higher bar for passing, they may have fallen short.

Many of these schools serve the largest numbers of poor children. For them, accountability can seem an affliction. And now the legislature is giving other schools a break but not them.

The Senate has approved SB 200, and the House Education Committee added its support Thursday, sending it to the full House with no changes from the Senate-approved version. Amendments on the House floor next week are possible but don’t seem likely.

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One thought on “Afflicting the afflicted

  1. I am doing a college capstone project concerning the fact that Indiana has been trying to reconstruct its education systems. I believe alternative learning options may be part of the answer. Your post proves one of my points. The state is not really addressing the issues, and more legislation concerning testing is not going to help. You also bring about a great point – the so called “F” schools who have worked hard to raise their scores are not being helped by these laws. Law makers should stop trying to plug the already plugged (and still leaking) holes in the dam. They need to take the time to address the real issues by listening to teachers, and letting them teach.

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