More on growth-only grading of schools

Hats off to the folks at the Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County for keeping a spotlight on the unfairness of Indiana’s A-to-F school grading system.

It’s unfair that schools in their first three years of operation are evaluated on test-score growth only, while other schools are graded on a mixture of growth and performance – the percentage of students who pass state tests. Those new schools are disproportionately charter schools, private schools or Indianapolis Public School “innovation” schools. The result is, their grades are inflated.

In response, the coalition’s Keri Miksza and Jenny Robinson have calculated the grades that public schools would receive if they were graded on growth only. They’ve been posting the results to Facebook and Twitter, using a format from a Washington Township (Indianapolis) parent council. A few examples:

  • Monroe County Community Schools – Using growth, 15 schools would get A’s, one would get a B and one a C. Under the actual grading system, there were about as many B’s and C’s as A’s.
  • Lawrence County — 10 schools would get A’s, four would get B’s and two would get D’s. Under the actual system, only one school got an A and most got C’s and D’s.
  • Owen County — four schools would get A’s and one would get a B. In fact, all got B’s, C’s and D’s.

Even in much-derided Indianapolis Public Schools, a majority of schools would get A’s and B’s if graded only on growth. Using the existing grading system, nearly all get C’s, D’s and F’s. Results are similar for South Bend schools.

Want to see how schools would do in a specific district? You can download this spreadsheet, in which schools are sorted by district, then ranked by their “growth grades.” (The data are for only K-8 schools; high-school grades include non-test factors and are more complicated).

Schools play up questionable results

Predictably, some schools that were evaluated on growth only are crowing about their grades.

Career Academy in South Bend posted a giant letter A on its website, linked to a news release in which the school’s director of marketing and public relations says the grade means it is “among the top tier in education for the state of Indiana.”

The Mind Trust, the Indianapolis education-reform think tank that is the force behind the IPS innovation schools, boasts at the top of its website: “In promising start, 6 of 7 Innovation Schools supported by The Mind Trust earn A’s or B’s.” It doesn’t mention that over 90 percent of public schools in the state would have earned A’s or B’s if they too had been graded only on growth.

Seven Oaks Classical School, an Ellettsville charter school that opened in 2016, posted a news release announcing that the school earned an A. To its credit, Seven Oaks does say the grade is based on growth only, and it plays down the importance of test scores.

Public schools ‘outgrow’ charter schools

If all schools were graded only on growth, traditional public schools would do better than charter schools. Some 74 percent of public schools would have received A’s compared to 59 percent of charter schools. Only 8 percent of public schools would get C’s, D’s or F’s compared to 19 percent of charter schools.

Of course, this doesn’t mean public schools are “better” than charter schools, or even that they do a better job of helping students improve their test scores. It’s just something to keep in mind when you’re talking with people who assume charter schools are academically superior.


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