Comment period wrapping up on A-to-F rule

There’s nothing more snooze-inducing than the adoption of state administrative rules. It features technical language, choreographed hearings, public comment periods, legalistic processes – and a sneaking suspicion that the people making the rules have already decided what will happen.

But rules can be important: case in point, the new school accountability rule that the Indiana State Board of Education is in the process of approving. It will set criteria for awarding A-to-F school grades and ultimately have a big influence on the reputations of schools and communities.

So it’s good that some of the people who will be most affected by the rule – teachers, school administrators and school board representatives – have been making clear what they think is wrong with the proposal the board is considering:

  • They say a plan to put less emphasis on test-score growth and more on test-score performance will handicap high-poverty schools and provide an inaccurate picture of school effectiveness. The board’s proposal would cap math and language-arts growth points for elementary and middle schools and eliminate growth as a factor in high-school grades.
  • They worry that adding accountability for science and social studies could lead to more emphasis on testing and test prep if it isn’t handled properly.
  • They question details of the state’s move to a national college-admission exam, like the SAT or ACT, to measure of high-school performance. One official pointed out that students who aren’t college-bound may not take the test seriously, but schools will be judged on their scores.
  • They ask how the accountability rule, including the requirement of SAT or ACT exams, will mesh with new high-school graduation pathways requirements that the board has adopted.

In a statement to the board, Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, asked if school accountability regimes imposed over the past 30 years have had a significant impact on student learning – and if there’s any reason to think the new A-to-F criteria will be more effective. He suggested students and the public would be better served by a “dashboard” that provides detailed indicators of effectiveness for all schools and school corporations.

“Parents and the general public have the ability to discern high-quality schools when given multiple data measures to consider,” he wrote.

Coincidentally, a report this week from Achieve Inc. warns against using the SAT or ACT for accountability, arguing the tests would drive instruction away from state standards and toward college-admissions content. The Indiana General Assembly is about to approve legislation shifting the state to using the SAT or ACT for accountability.

After conducting four hearings around the state on the accountability rule, the State Board of Education has scheduled one last hearing from 4 to 7 p.m. March 19 at Ivy Tech Community College’s Fall Creek Center in Indianapolis. People can also comment at board work sessions March 21 and April 3, and they can email comments until March 29 to sboe_comment@sboe.in.gov.

The board is scheduled to decide whether to revise the rule and give it final approval at its April 4 business meeting in Indianapolis.

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