Some Indiana schools, many of them charter schools or Indianapolis Public Schools “innovation network” schools, got a break on the A-to-F grades the State Board of Education approved Wednesday.
That’s because the schools are new or newly reopened. And Indiana lets schools that have been open no more than three years calculate their grades on their students’ test-score growth from the previous year, ignoring their test-score performance.
For most schools, grades are calculated on a formula that weights performance and growth equally. The growth measurement awards points for how students fare on a “growth to proficiency” table. Schools with low test scores but high growth can raise their marks, but typically by just a letter grade or two.
But schools that are graded solely on growth are more likely to receive A’s, even if their test scores are low. And in some cases, that’s what happened.
Case in point: Seven Oaks Classical School, a charter school that opened last year in Ellettsville. Its test scores were not good: Only 37 percent of its students in grades 3-8 passed both the math and English/language arts sections of the ISTEP exam. But its students’ growth was above average, and that was all that counted. It got an A.
The provision for news schools took effect in 2016 along with the current A-to-F grading system, so it applied to school grades released a year ago. But no one seemed to call attention then, possibly because the entire system was new.
For Seven Oaks, there’s another reason its A should come with an asterisk: It was calculated on the test-score growth of only a few students. According to Department of Education data, only 41 of the 160 K-8 students enrolled in the school in 2016-17 met criteria to count their growth scores.
Across the state, beneficiaries of the new-school grading rule were disproportionately charter schools and IPS “innovation network” schools. The latter include former IPS neighborhood schools that were turned over to new leadership or outside management with high levels of autonomy.
By my count, about 20 new charter schools were graded on growth only, and at least seven were awarded A’s, a higher success rate than for established charter schools.
Five longtime IPS schools that reopened as innovation schools were awarded A’s. As the Indianapolis Star reports, the new-school loophole enabled four of those schools to raise their grades to A from D or F, even though fewer than one-third of their students passed both the math and English ISTEP exams.
You could argue the provision makes sense, that a new school should have time to implement its program before being accountable for student performance — especially if it serves as lot of poor children (which Seven Oaks does not). But all in all, this is just one more reason we shouldn’t use school grades to label or compare schools. Period.