The most effective school districts in Indiana aren’t the affluent suburban districts that produce the highest test scores year after year. Instead many are smallish, rural districts that don’t get much attention outside of their own communities.
That’s according to data from Stanford professor Sean Reardon, whose research shows how well the nation’s school districts did at improving test scores over a five-year period.
The results “defy how we typically think about wealth and education in America,” the New York Times said in a report on Reardon’s work. Students in affluent districts do tend to score higher on standardized tests; but when it comes to year-to-year growth, schools doing a good job are nearly as likely to serve many poor students.
“Many districts with high average test scores have low growth rates, and vice versa,” Reardon writes in a working paper. “And many low-income districts have above average growth rates.”
In Indiana, the standouts include Elkhart, Brownsburg, Middlebury, South Vermillion, Blackford County, Southwest (Sullivan County), Speedway, South Adams and Eastern Greene. Other than exemplary student growth, there’s nothing obvious that those districts have in common.
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.
Indiana education officials took a step forward by deciding in 2015 to count growth as equal to proficiency when using test scores to calculate school A-to-F school grades. Now it sounds like members of the State Board of Education want to turn back the clock.
At least five of the 11 members said last week that they favor giving more weight to proficiency – the number of students who pass state-mandated tests – than to year-to-year growth.
“I think we reached some consensus on some core values. Proficiency is more important than growth,” board member David Freitas said, according a story in to the Indianapolis Star.
“Growth, to me, is much less important than proficiency,” added B.J. Watts, another board member. Members Tony Walker, Byron Ernest and Kathleen Mote agreed, according to the Star.
Freitas and Watts made the same argument but didn’t prevail when the board approved the current A-to-F formula. Mote and Ernest weren’t on the board in at the time. Walker missed the meeting.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick favors keeping the equal weight for growth and proficiency, said Adam Baker, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education. But she would probably agree to a formula that gave a little more weight to proficiency than to growth, he said.
Until 2014-15, Indiana relied heavily on test-score proficiency in determining grades; growth wasn’t a factor. The result was what you’d expect: Low-poverty schools reliably were rewarded with As. High-poverty schools struggled to avoid getting Fs. Schools with poor students were labeled as failing schools. Continue reading
The Indiana State Board of Education took a step toward fairness when it decided test-score growth should count as much as test-score performance for calculating school grades. But we’re not there yet. The new A-to-F grading system will still favor affluent schools. Like the old system, it will label some schools as failing largely because of how many poor children they serve.
The board wrapped up work on the new system Friday when it approved a “growth to proficiency table” that specifies how many points students will earn for various levels of growth. The board rejected an earlier proposal that favored high-scoring students and approved a more equitable approach.
A chart copied from a staff presentation to the board tells us a whole lot about grading schools on test scores. It shows that, when it comes to performance – the percentage of students who score “proficient” on state exams – there’s a huge gap in Indiana between black and white students, between poor and non-poor students, and between special-needs and general-education students.
Source: State Board of Education
The proficiency gap between white and black students is 26 percentage points in English/language arts and 32 points in math. The gap between students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and those who don’t is about 25 percentage points. That’s cause for serious concern.