If we’re grading schools, why not just use growth?

The Indiana State Board of Education took a step toward fairness when it decided test-score growth should count as much as test-score performance for calculating school grades. But we’re not there yet. The new A-to-F grading system will still favor affluent schools. Like the old system, it will label some schools as failing largely because of how many poor children they serve.

The board wrapped up work on the new system Friday when it approved a “growth to proficiency table” that specifies how many points students will earn for various levels of growth. The board rejected an earlier proposal that favored high-scoring students and approved a more equitable approach.

A chart copied from a staff presentation to the board tells us a whole lot about grading schools on test scores. It shows that, when it comes to performance – the percentage of students who score “proficient” on state exams – there’s a huge gap in Indiana between black and white students, between poor and non-poor students, and between special-needs and general-education students.

Growth_Model_Summary_Presentation-12---cropped

Source: State Board of Education

The proficiency gap between white and black students is 26 percentage points in English/language arts and 32 points in math. The gap between students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and those who don’t is about 25 percentage points. That’s cause for serious concern.

But for test-score growth as measured on the growth to proficiency table, the gaps are much smaller: typically less than 10 points on a 100-point scale.

Even with growth counted as equal to performance in the new grade calculation formula, however, high-poverty schools will struggle to earn good grades, thanks to that big gap in performance.

A presentation at the state board’s March meeting showed the distribution of grades that schools would have received had the new formula been in place in 2015. Eighty-six percent of the lowest-poverty schools would have received an A or B. But among the highest-poverty schools, only 19 percent would have received an A or B and 59 percent would have received a D or F.

The Indiana Urban Schools Association urged the state board Friday to hold off on approving the growth to proficiency table, arguing that the system will have a “disparate impact on students based on their race, socio-economic status and/or disability.” That’s a legitimate concern, but the disparate impact seems to result more from test-score performance than from the system used to measure growth.

If we calculate school grades only on growth – using points earned via the growth to proficiency table — black students and poor students would, on average, be earning As or Bs for their schools.

Growth_Model_Summary_Presentation-13---cropped

Source: State Board of Education

And why shouldn’t we? If test scores are going to be our basis for evaluating schools, what matters is whether schools are helping students improve. Growth, not performance.

I once heard a superintendent who had worked in both wealthy and poor school districts say that, in the former, many students “were born on third base and thought they’d hit a triple.” We’re encouraging that illusion when we grade schools by the number of students who pass tests.

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7 thoughts on “If we’re grading schools, why not just use growth?

  1. Your post states
    A presentation at the state board’s March meeting showed the distribution of grades that schools would have received had the new formula been in place in 2015. Eighty-six percent of the lowest-poverty schools would have received an A or B. But among the highest-poverty schools, only 19 percent would have received an A or B and 59 percent would have received a D or F.

    But the presentation at the link http://www.in.gov/sboe/files/8b_Growth_Model.pdf doesn’t identify what grades schools would have received if not for the hold harmless. Where do you get the 86%, 19% and 59%?

    • The ‘grade distribution by free/reduced lunch’ chart, page 5 of the IDOE memo at the end of the report. (Except there’s a typo in the chart; the 64 percent As for low-poverty schools should be 54 percent; otherwise the total add up to 110 percent).

      • Thanks. How do you know which number in the IDOE chart is wrong? Is there a published list of what school grades would have been for 2014-15 without the hold harmless? In a spreadsheet to allow sorting by variables such as free/reduced percentage?

      • Well, the truth is, I don’t know. I made what I considered to be a safe guess based partly on emailing with ISBOE staff and partly on what seemed reasonable. If you compare the free/reduced lunch charts for Table 19 and Table 24, they’re nearly identical except for low-poverty/As. So I think the 64 percent for Table 24 has to be a typo and it should be 54 percent (the same as for Table 19; and then the totals add up to 100 percent). I’d bet lunch I’m right, but I wouldn’t be the farm.

        As for what the 2014-15 grades would have been without hold harmless … I’ve asked for that but I haven’t been able to get it. At least not yet.

  2. Pingback: Why public records should be made public | School Matters

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