Data show issues with A-to-F grades

Over one-third of Indiana public schools would have received D’s or F’s for 2019 under the state’s school grading system if not for the “hold harmless” legislation that the Indiana Genera Assembly approved in January.

For elementary and middle schools, the figures are even worse. Some 43.5% of schools serving students in grades 3-8 would have received D’s or F’s.

That’s a far cry from the grades that will go on the schools’ official records, the ones approved by the State Board of Education. Under the hold harmless grading, just over 12% of all public schools got D’s or F’s.

Bar graph, all schools' grades

Grades that schools would have received if not for ‘hold harmless.’

chart of hold harmless grades.

Grades that schools were rewarded under ‘hold harmless’ law.

The Indiana Department of Education released the grades that schools would have received without hold harmless last week. I filed a public records request for the information in March; Chalkbeat Indiana filed the same request and published its story Monday on the data.

The newly released grades technically don’t count, but they highlight issues with the school accountability system that officials may want to address.

If the grading formula isn’t changed, schools can expect lower grades next year. Several elementary and middle schools in counties surrounding Indianapolis – in school districts known for “good” schools – would have received C’s and D’s if not for hold harmless. You have to wonder if legislators want that.

You can download an Excel file here with grades that schools and districts would have received if not for the hold harmless legislation.

The legislature approved the hold harmless measure in response to low proficiency scores that students earned on the new ILEARN exam, first given in the spring of 2019. It says that schools’ accountability grades shall not be any lower in 2019 or 2020 than they were in 2018.

The result is that, for many schools, the grades reflect student performance and growth on the previous ISTEP exam, not the most recent ILEARN test.

The newly released data also show that it’s a lot easier for high schools to get good grades than for elementary and middle schools. That’s because K-8 schools are graded only on test scores while high school grades also include relatively generous categories for “college and career readiness.”

Bar graph of k-8 schools.

Grades that schools serving students in grades 3-8 would have received if not for ‘hold harmless.

Bar graph of high school grades

Grades that students serving students in grades 9-12 would have received if not for ‘hold harmless.’

Indiana calculates test-score growth using a “growth to proficiency” scale that awards points if students are improving their scores enough to be on track to become proficient. As a result, schools with high proficiency scores – typically the more affluent districts – also tend to have high growth scores.

But there is considerable variation in growth. Many school districts have K-8 schools with growth scores both above and below the state median of 94.1, as you can see in this excel file (charter schools are grouped at the bottom).

This spring, the state canceled ILEARN exams after schools had to shift to online or remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the hold harmless law still in effect, schools can be expected to get the same accountability grades for 2020 that they received for 2019. But after that, who knows?

One option would be to drop school grades and adopt the accountability system that the Indiana Department of Education adopted for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the overly simplistic A-to-F system that Indiana has been stuck with for the past decade.

1 thought on “Data show issues with A-to-F grades

  1. Let’s just drop the state grades totally until we can figure out why we measure, what we measure, and how we measure. Until then, and even after, trust our teachers to be able to assess each student in the state.

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