Hearings underway on school grading changes

Today marks the half-way point for a series of public hearings on the Indiana State Board of Education’s plan to change the way A-to-F grades are calculated for schools and school corporations. These changes aren’t getting much attention, but they could matter a lot for schools.

To the board’s credit, it’s conducting hearings in all corners of the state. Today’s is at 4 p.m. at the University of Evansville. Additional hearings will be March 1 in Madison and March 9 in Indianapolis. The board then will discuss the plan in work sessions March 21 and April 3 and vote on it April 4.

The Indiana Department of Education spent seven months and conducted meetings with teachers, school administrators and members of the public to revise the A-to-F system as part of its plan for implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. But the board came up with a different approach. It gave preliminary approval its new school accountability rule in January.

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Graduation changes could be approved this week

Indiana educators have begun pushing back against a plan to dramatically reconfigure the state’s high-school diploma requirements. Will it matter? We could know this week.

The State Board of Education will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to consider “graduation pathways” that students follow to earn a diploma. The proposal comes from the Graduation Pathways Panel, created by 2017 legislation, which met nine times from August until November.

The panel’s recommendations would require students to not only complete high-school credit requirements but to demonstrate “postsecondary-ready competencies” and “employability skills” by clearing a set of barriers, such as passing tests, earning college credits or completing internships.

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Graduation pathways fast-tracked

You’ve heard of Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. Welcome to Indiana, where the children need to be average or above to earn a high-school diploma.

That may be where we’re heading with the recommendations approved Tuesday by the Graduation Pathways Panel and sent to the State Board of Education for consideration. The board could approve the recommendations – a significant change in what it takes to earn a diploma – on Dec. 6.

Panel members say their plan will expand access by creating more pathways that students can follow to graduate. What they don’t say is that each pathway includes barriers that could prevent some students from reaching the goal.

  • Students can qualify via the SAT or ACT exam, but only if their scores meet “college-ready benchmarks,” nearly the average for college-bound test takers.
  • They can qualify by getting a passing score on a military enlistment test, but today’s all-volunteer military doesn’t admit just anyone.
  • They can qualify by passing at least three dual-credit, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, but they need at least a C grade.

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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

Board members favor counting test scores more than growth

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

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.