Lots of B’s for Indiana school districts

The Indiana Department of Education released A-to-F grades for school districts this week, and 60 percent of districts were awarded B’s under the new grading system.

That’s probably about right. All the evidence suggests most public school districts in Indiana are doing a pretty good job. But if we’re honest, most could probably all do a little better.

School district A banner

Some school districts may need to change their branding as a result of new district grades.

One of the most consistent findings of the annual Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa Poll of the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools is that people are more likely to give their local schools a B than any other grade. And those are the schools that the public knows best.

The whole idea of labeling schools and school districts with letter grades still makes little sense, however. It’s quite likely that school districts that received A’s, for the most part, are no “better” than those that got B’s. And those that got C’s are no worse.

The 2016 results released this week were quite different from the previous year’s grades, when almost half of all school districts were awarded A’s. The old grading system relied mostly on the percentage of students who passed state tests. The new method gives more weight to test-score growth.

The new approach is fairer, but it still gives an advantage to districts that serve few poor families. Among the 23 districts that received A’s, only one, Speedway Schools, has a higher rate of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches than the state average. Districts that get C’s, D’s or F’s have progressively higher percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

frl-by-grade-cropped

Another way to look at the trend is to divide districts into four groups – from lowest to highest percentage free and reduced lunch – and look at their respective grades. Eighteen of the 23 schools that got A’s are in the lowest-poverty group. Schools in the highest-poverty group are more likely to get C’s.

district-grades-cropped

Grades don’t tell us a lot about schools, but maybe it’s OK that a lot fewer school districts will be able to market themselves as “an A school corporation.” B is a good, honest grade, nothing to be ashamed of. And, thankfully, nothing to brag about either.

Here are the school grades in spreadsheet format:

districts-sorted-by-grades

districts-sorted-by-free-reduced-lunch

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