Big changes may be coming for high school diploma

A panel of unelected officials is making significant changes in what it takes to graduate from high school in Indiana. The process, initiated by the legislature six months ago, could wrap up in December. Yet it is getting little public attention.

If recommendations from the Graduation Pathways Panel are approved by the State Board of Education, no longer will students be able to earn a diploma by completing the required high-school credits and passing “end-of-course assessments” for algebra and 10th-grade English.

They will still have to earn the credits. But in place of tests, they will have to show they are “college and career ready” and have chalked up “applied learning experiences.” The former can include receiving a respectable score on the SAT or ACT test, completing industry apprenticeships or certifications, or earning advanced-placement credits. The latter can be after-school jobs, service-learning or project-based learning.

The new rules would take effect for students who are high-school freshmen in 2018-19.

The 14-member Graduation Pathways Panel has met from late summer through the fall. The schedule calls for it to finalize its recommendations Nov. 7. Then the State Board of Education could approve the pathways in December. Continue reading

Advertisements

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.

Continue reading

Why not grade all schools by growth?

What if we graded every Indiana school by growth, not by performance? And why shouldn’t we? Under state law, growth-only grades are considered appropriate for schools in their first three years of operation. And for Indianapolis Public Schools “innovation network schools” that reopened under new leadership. Why shouldn’t other schools get the same treatment?

In fact I’ve argued previously that growth should be the sole metric for using test scores to evaluate schools. Using performance – the percentage of students who pass state tests – produces entirely predictable results: Low-poverty schools are “good,” high-poverty schools are “bad.”

If we’re going to grade schools, it makes more sense to grade them on whether students improve over a year’s time, not on the education level of the students’ parents or real estate values in their neighborhoods.

Continue reading

A with an asterisk

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.

Continue reading

1960s consolidations transformed Indiana schools

Education in Indiana went through a huge transformation around 50 years ago, when a wave of school consolidations dramatically reduced the number of small school districts. With the Indiana Chamber of Commerce pushing for more mergers, now is a good to time to revisit that history.

The impetus was the Indiana School Reorganization Act of 1959, which called for each county to develop and implement a reorganization plan. The effort reduced the number of school districts from 966 to 402. Districts with fewer than 1,000 students fell from 801 to 156.

Myers Grade School

Myers Grade School in Cannelton. Cannelton is one of the smallest districts in Indiana with about 260 students in grades K-12.

“It was a remarkable change,” said longtime Indiana school administrator Harmon Baldwin, who was one of many local decision-makers in the school reorganization process.

Some school districts reorganized earlier, paving the way for a statewide law. Baldwin credited Howard County with the first modern-day consolidation in the 1940s. In Marion County, township districts built new, modern high schools and moved to being governed by school boards rather than township trustees. But they rejected merging with Indianapolis city schools.

With the 1959 law, a state school reorganization commission oversaw the county efforts but didn’t dictate local plans. J.B. “Heavy” Kohlmeyer, a Purdue agriculture economics professor, led the commission and used his considerable political skills to prod the local panels to act.

“The American High School Today,” an influential report by retired Harvard president James B. Conant, was published in 1959 and reinforced the push for consolidation. Conant argued that modern high schools needed to be large enough to have 100 students in each class.

Continue reading

Don’t look! It’s ISTEP time

It’s been said that Indiana’s ISTEP testing program is a train wreck. It’s also something like a car crash that you pass on the highway. You know you shouldn’t stare, but you can’t avert your eyes.

Scores from the spring 2017 tests were released Wednesday, and newspapers and digital news sites have already posted stories about how local and state schools fared. Admit it – we’re going to read them, even though we know in advance which schools will do well and which schools won’t.

I’ll leave the scorekeeping and analysis to others, but here are a few observations: Continue reading

PDK poll offers answers but leaves questions

Parents and the public favor racially and socioeconomically diverse schools, and they don’t put much stock in using standardized tests to measure school quality. At least that’s what they told the pollsters who conducted the 49th annual Phi Delta Kappa Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools.

But if that’s the case, why do so many affluent parents get up in arms over proposals to desegregate their neighborhood schools. Why do we accept the idea that property values are higher where schools are whiter and test scores are better?

Are the poll respondents just giving answers that make them sound reasonable? Or do a majority really embrace values of tolerance and diversity. As always, the poll provides a lot of information but leaves plenty of questions for us to debate.

Results of the PDK poll were released this week. On diversity, it found that 70 percent of parents say they would prefer for their child to attend a racially diverse school, and 61 percent prefer an economically mixed school. A majority of the public said racial and economic diversity is good for schools.

Continue reading