Private schools that got voucher waivers were losing state funding

Four schools jumped to the front of the line when the Indiana legislature offered to waive accountability requirements for low-performing private schools that benefit from state-funded tuition vouchers.

And no wonder. Those four religious schools had seen their voucher funding drop by over $1.2 million in two years after being sanctioned for persistently low marks on the state’s A-to-F school grading system.

The law that legislators approved this spring says private schools can have the sanctions waived if a majority of their students demonstrated “academic improvement” in the preceding year. It doesn’t spell out what academic improvement means, leaving it to the State Board of Education to decide.

The board voted 6-2 last week to approve one-year waivers for the schools that requested them: Central Christian Academy, Trinity Lutheran and Turning Point School in Indianapolis and Lutheran South Unity School in Fort Wayne. As a result, the schools can resume adding voucher-funded students this fall.

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Big changes likely in Indiana school grades

Over half of all Indiana schools could get Ds or Fs from the state next year if the State Board of Education approves recommended cut scores for the 2015 ISTEP+ exams.

That’s according to data provided by the Indiana State Department of Education, which charted the likely distribution of school grades if fewer students pass the exams.

Daniel Altman, spokesman for the department, cautioned that the figures aren’t exact but represent best estimates compiled by staff from the data that were available. But even if they are close, the grading changes are bound to get attention.

Under cut scores that go to the State Board of Education for approval Wednesday, it’s expected that the overall passing rate on ISTEP+ exams will drop by 16 percent in English/language arts and by 24 percent in mathematics. That’s mostly the result of more rigorous expectations for passing.

In 2014, over half of Indiana schools were awarded As in the state’s accountability system and only 12.8 percent got Ds and Fs. Those figures will flip this year if the DOE estimates are accurate.

  • With a 15 percent drop in performance, one-third of schools would get As or Bs and 40 percent would get Ds or Fs.
  • With a 20 percent drop in performance, 19.5 percent of schools would get As or Bs and 55 percent would get Ds or Fs.
  • With a 25 percent drop in performance, barely 10 percent of schools would get As or Bs and two-thirds would get Ds or Fs.

The chart below details how many and what percentage of schools could expect each letter grade with hypothetical drops in ISTEP+ passing rates of 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent, the approximate range we’re expecting. Again, these are estimates.

DOE-chart---2

Source: Indiana Department of Education

Over time, we can expect scores to improve as schools and teachers adapt to the standards and the new tests. Also, a new grade calculation formula will take effect in 2016; it’s supposed to put more weight on student academic growth and not as much on test scores.

But for this year, don’t be surprised to hear about an alarming number of “failing” schools.

Decision on test results state board’s hands

Indiana State Board of Education members were skeptical when Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz warned in July that schools could expect a big drop in ISTEP+ passing rates as a result of the new standards and new tests that took effect last year. At the time, Ritz was trying to persuade board members to “pause” the state’s A-F accountability system because the tougher test was likely to result in lower grades.

“I guess I’m trying to figure out why there will be such a different result when we did not make the dramatic change in our standards that other states did,” board member Gordon Hendry said.

“I just think we’d be saying we don’t have enough faith in our teachers that they can get students where they need to be,” added board member Lee Ann Kwiatkowski.

Now the results are in and they are worse than expected. The new ISTEP+ cut scores that the state board will be asked to approve Wednesday will result in huge drops in overall passing rates – by 16 percentage points in English/language arts and 24 points in math.

We don’t yet know exactly what that means for school grades, but it’s a safe bet there will be a lot fewer A schools and lot more schools getting Fs. Continue reading

New State Board of Education member asked board for patience

Early this year, Byron Ernest asked the Indiana State Board of Education for more time to improve the performance of Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter School.

The board agreed, so Hoosier Academy could return to the board in 2016. But next time Ernest will be on the other side of the table; or possibly on both sides of the table. House Speaker Brian Bosma on Wednesday appointed the Hoosier Academy head of school to serve on the state education board.

Hoosier Academy appealed to the board because it had received an F for four straight years under the state accountability system. If a charter school gets four straight Fs, the board may close it, transfer it to a different authorizer or reduce payments to the authorizer (Ball State University, in this case).

Ernest started working for Hoosier Academy in 2014, so he’s not responsible for those Fs. Before that, he spent two years as principal of Indianapolis Manual High School, which the state had turned over to Florida for-profit company Charter Schools USA. It got an F his first year, a D his second.

Before that, Ernest taught agricultural science at Lebanon, Ind, schools. He was Indiana Teacher of the Year in 2010. Continue reading

Pence education plan: Olive branch or club?

Gov. Mike Pence has got this feint-one-way-and-move-another business down to a science. Witness the education agenda that he unveiled yesterday, heading into the 2015 legislative session.

The blockbuster news – the headline generator – was the announcement that Pence is disbanding the Center for Education and Career Innovation, the super-agency that he created 18 months ago. The Republican governor spun this as an olive branch to Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. Ritz heads the Indiana Department of Education, which CECI and the State Board of Education have been doing their best to elbow into irrelevance.

“It is time to take the politics out of education in Indiana, or at least out of the State Board of Education, and get back to the business of investing in our schools in ways that prepare our kids for the future that awaits them,” Pence said.

Never mind that the governor dialed up the politics by creating CECI and naming board members who seem determined to undermine Ritz. He wants credit for making peace. Continue reading

State Board of Ed wants to expand takeover experiment

The State of Indiana took over the five “persistently failing” schools in 2011 and handed their operation over to charter school operators. How has that worked out?

Four of the schools still got Fs in the 2013-14 school grades that were released this fall. One inched up to a D. This is after two full years of the turnaround operators being in charge and promising results.

The state takeover was profoundly disruptive to children and to staff. In Indianapolis, lots of students initially left the schools. Turnaround operators reaped a windfall in state funding for children who no longer attended. For a time, they also picked up the lion’s share of School Improvement Grants.

Even so, one of the turnaround operators, Tindley Accelerated Schools, is now bailing on its agreement to run Arlington High School, sending it back to Indianapolis Public Schools. Another, Edison Learning, appears to be emerging from a nasty fight with Gary Community Schools over who’s responsible for what at Roosevelt Academy.

It looks a whole lot like the turnaround experiment, not the schools, has been a failure.

But the State Board of Education’s response is to decide Indiana needs more state takeover, not less. Under current law, the state can take over a school after six consecutive years of F grades. Wednesday, the board proposed changing the law to allow takeover after four straight years of Ds or Fs.

That just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Does growth model measure up to Indiana law?

There’s a lot to be said for the Indiana Growth Model, the statistical method that Indiana uses to calculate year-to-year student growth on math and English test scores. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a much better measure of how schools are doing than looking at how many students pass the tests.

It may be a challenge, though, to use the model while complying with a state law that says Indiana must measure students’ growth in relation to their proficiency on state standards.

That’s especially true now that Indiana has adopted new “college and career ready” standards and will be giving a new version of the ISTEP+ exams, aligned with the new standards, in the spring of 2015. Is it possible to measure growth in proficiency when you give a test for the first time?

The law in question is House Enrolled Act 1427, adopted in 2013. It says accountability measures “must be based on measurement of individual student academic performance and growth to proficiency” and “may not be based on a measurement of student performance or growth compared with peers.”

But the State Board of Education voted this month to use the growth model in 2015. Indiana’s Center for Education and Career Innovation and the state Department of Education recommended the approval.

CECI and DOE staff cited an analysis by testing expert Damian Betebenner, who helped design the Indiana Growth Model and advises the state. He suggests using a statistical adjustment called “equi-percentile concordance” to correlate the 2014 test with the new, 2015 test. That, he says, will make it possible to keep using the growth model to measure students’ test-score gains.

But his report to the board also says that, with the move to new ISTEP+ exams, it won’t be possible to evaluate students’ gains or losses on a single test from one year to the next. “Without gains/losses,” he writes, “growth must be calculated using norm-based metrics that compare like students as they progress from the ISTEP+ to the Career and College Ready Assessment.” (Italics added). Continue reading