State board pushing late changes in ESSA plan

The Indiana Department of Education spent seven months holding community meetings, sitting down with teachers and school administrators and collecting public input for the state’s plan to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Now the State Board of Education is poised to upend that work and reconfigure a key section of the ESSA plan, one that describes how Indiana will calculate A-to-F grades used for school accountability.

The board could give preliminary approval to its version of the accountability rule Wednesday. Then it would conduct one public hearing and set a time for written comment, after which it could approve the rule effective for the 2018-19 school year.

The proposed changes, posted late last week, came as a surprise to Indiana Department of Education staff and the educators who had been working with the department. DOE spokesman Adam Baker said educators bought into the ESSA plan because they were involved in creating it.

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Positive review for Indiana’s ESSA plan

Indiana gets high marks for its plan for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, according to an evaluation by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success. Not that the plan is perfect, but it measures up well against other state plans, the evaluation found.

That’s a credit to Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick and her staff at the Indiana Department of Education, who put the plan together under a tight deadline and against ground rules that keep changing thanks to the Indiana legislature and the State Board of Education.

“Indiana’s plan was a strong one in many respects, particularly its plan for improving low-performing schools and determining when they can exit improvement status and for valuing students’ academic growth as well as well as academic proficiency,” Anne Hyslop, one of the authors of the evaluation, said in an email interview. Unlike some states, she said, “Indiana didn’t have any significant red flags.”

Indiana published its plan in August for meeting the requirements of ESSA, the December 2015 law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. The law gives more flexibility to the states but requires regular testing of students in math and English and measures to hold schools accountable for performance.

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Complying with ESSA ‘should be the floor — not the ceiling’

Anne Hyslop, an independent education consultant and former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, answered questions by email about state plans for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Hyslop was part of a team that reviewed state plans for Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative on Student Success.

 SCHOOL MATTERS: Based on the review, how does Indiana’s ESSA plan match up with other states? What do you see there that looks good or bad?

ANNE HYSLOP: Indiana’s plan was a strong one in many respects, particularly its plan for improving low-performing schools and determining when they can exit school improvement status and for valuing students’ academic growth as well as academic proficiency. And unlike some of the other plans reviewed by the peers in the second round, Indiana didn’t have any significant red flags.

There are some discrete issues, however, that could be addressed to strengthen the plan. For example, Indiana does not specifically incorporate subgroup data when it calculates school grades. As a result, the peers were concerned that schools that did well overall and earned As or Bs in the school rating system could be masking very low-performing individual groups of students, like English learners, low-income students, or students with disabilities. Similarly, there are some concerns with specific indicators that Indiana would like to use to hold schools accountable, such as its measure of student attendance and its graduation rate calculation.

SM: The reviewers seem to give Indiana high marks for a) its plan to provide support for low-performing schools and b) its plan for how schools will exit improvement status. How does that compare with what you’ve seen from other states? Continue reading

Graduation rate change hits some schools harder than others

News that Indiana won’t be able to count its general diploma when calculating high-school graduation rates came as a blow to many parents and educators. But the change will hit some schools much harder than others. And not necessarily the ones you might expect.

Some schools appear to have moved away from awarding the general diploma, and nearly all their graduates earn the Core 40 or honors diploma, which will count toward the graduation rate. But others continued to rely on the general diploma, awarding it to more than a third of their graduates. Those schools would see a big drop in their graduation rates under the change the U.S. Department of Education is pushing Indiana to adopt.

And high-school graduation rate is expected to be an important factor in the new school accountability system that Indiana will develop to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

In Brown County High School, for example, 42 percent of 2016 graduates earned the general diploma, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education. If those students didn’t count, the school’s graduation rate would have been only 57 percent. Counting those students, its rate was nearly perfect.

Laura Hammack, superintendent of Brown County Schools, said the general diploma is a suitable goal for many students. Some 18 percent of Brown County’s students qualify for special education and are more likely to earn the general diploma. Also, an increasing number of students are focused on career and workforce skills – something the state has encouraged – or plan to enter the military. Core 40 or honors diplomas aren’t required for those paths. Continue reading

An ambivalent farewell to No Child Left Behind

Nearly everyone from the White House to conservative Republicans to teachers’ unions has been celebrating the new federal education law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

At long last No Child Left Behind is being left behind.

The simplified version is that ESSA reverses federal education policy by leaving it to the states to set standards, adopt curriculum and design systems for holding schools accountable and turning around low-performing schools. As if the states weren’t already doing most of that.

Yes, the U.S. Department of Education created leverage for certain accountability and teacher evaluation schemes when it began approving waivers because states could no longer comply with NCLB. But the real education action has always been in the Statehouse, not the Capitol.

No Child Left Behind, which took effect in 2002, required annual testing and determinations of whether schools were approaching the goal of 100 percent proficiency. But it wasn’t the testing that made the law unpopular; it was the conditions that states attached. High stakes led to tense debates over test prep, accountability and who was really looking out for children.

Here in Indiana, the big changes in education policy – vouchers, charter school expansion, A-to-F grades for schools, a third-grade retention test, mandatory teacher evaluations, limits on collective bargaining – were pushed through the legislature by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett and the advocacy group now called Hoosiers for Quality Education. Continue reading