Same old story: Test scores reflect demographics

The Indiana Department of Education has refused to disclose what grades Indiana schools would have received in 2015 if it weren’t for “hold harmless” legislation approved by lawmakers – so I can’t do the analysis of how grades correlate with school poverty that I did in previous years.

The best I can come up with is to show how school wealth and poverty correlate with passing rates on the spring 2015 ISTEP exams. And as you’d probably expect, they match up pretty closely.

As when looking at grades, I divided school corporations into four quartiles on the basis of the percentage of students who qualified for free or reduced-price meals. Passing rates all around were much lower than in previous years – remember that Indiana students took a new, more difficult version of ISTEP in 2015 – but the pattern was fairly clear.

  • In the top quartile, the schools with the fewest poor students, passing rates for nearly all the schools ranged from 50 percent to 80 percent, with just a few outliers. The median figure – with half the values higher and half lower – was 61 percent.
  • In the second quartile, passing rates ranged from 43 percent to 68 percent. Most were between 50 percent and 60 percent. The median was 55 percent.
  • In the third quartile, passing rates ranged from 35 percent to 66 percent. The median was 50.5 percent.
  • In the bottom quartile, made up of the highest-poverty schools, passing rates ranged from 22 percent to 55 percent. The median was 44.3 percent.

A rough representation of the quartiles looks like this:

2015 rates of passing both math and E/LA ISTEP exams by school percentage free and reduced-price lunch

2015 rates of passing both math and E/LA ISTEP exams by school percentage free and reduced-price lunch

As expected, there’s considerable overlap between the groups – schools at the top of the bottom quartile are a lot like schools at the bottom of the third quartile, after all — but the groups line up along the test-score axis, poor schools at the left and affluent schools at the right.

There’s nothing new or surprising here, of course. It’s just another illustration of the well-known fact that test scores are largely an indication of socioeconomic status and only secondarily a reflection of school effectiveness.

Schools push back against plan to cut free-lunch eligibility

School officials say the Community Eligibility Program for providing students with free lunch and breakfast has been a resounding success. It has reduced paperwork, provided more students with healthy meals and kept more money in the hands of families.

But legislation introduced by Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita would cut back on the program, eliminating the option for over 18,000 schools and hundreds of thousands of children nationwide, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In Indiana, at least 120 schools serving 58,000 students – nearly half the schools and students that currently participate – could be bounced out of the program.

Community Eligibility was created by a 2010 reauthorization of the federal school nutrition law and became available to schools nationwide in 2014-15. It enables high-poverty schools and school districts to offer free meals to all their students without forcing families to show they meet income requirements.

The law says schools and districts are eligible if at least 40 percent of their students are directly certified as eligible for free school meals; that typically means their families participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) or the students are homeless or in foster care.

Under Rokita’s proposal, that threshold would rise to 60 percent.

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Indiana teacher grants comfort the comfortable

You hear a lot about the idea that teachers should be rewarded with higher pay for agreeing to work in the most challenging school districts, the ones with the highest percentages of poor children.

We do things differently in Indiana. Under the state’s Teacher Performance Grant program, created by the legislature and included in state law, we are rewarding teachers in low-poverty schools.

It probably wasn’t intentional, but it’s worked out that way. The grants are awarded to school corporations according to a formula that includes the passing rate on ISTEP exams, high school graduation rates and year-to-year improvement on both.

In practice, the more affluent schools – which tend to have higher test scores and graduation rates – get the bigger grants. The school corporations decide how to divvy up the money among teachers who are rated highly effective or effective.

The Indiana Department of Education informed schools of this year’s calculated performance grants in February. Based on a little sorting, here are some trends: Continue reading

More confusion on Title I allocations

The fallout continues from the Indiana Department of Education’s allocation of federal Title I funds for 2015-16, and nowhere near all the questions have been answered.

In the latest development, the department announced Monday that it is asking the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from restrictions on how some schools can spend the money. This is a belated attempt to help schools – most of them charter schools – that got a smaller-than-expected Title I planning allocation last year and a big bump when allocations were adjusted this spring.

The announcement says the department is asking for the waiver. But then it also asks the public for input on whether it should ask for the waiver, by May 16. So that’s a little confusing.

According to the department, Title I funds that are allocated for 2015-16 but aren’t spent by the end of the school year can be carried over and used during the following year. Typically, schools aren’t supposed to carry over more than 15 percent of their total allocation.

They can get permission to carry over more than 15 percent, but no more than once every three years. It’s that once-in-three-years limit that the state is asking the feds to waive, if I’m reading the announcement correctly.

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