Indiana’s eighth-grade reading scores appear to be a bright spot in the mostly drab results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress. But on closer inspection, maybe not.
Indiana was one of 10 states that boosted eighth-grade reading scores between 2015 and 2017. But the improvement may be misleading, Indiana University professor Sarah Theule Lubienski said. Grade-retention policies that Indiana implemented five years earlier may have removed the lowest-achieving students from the group, leaving a stronger-than-normal class.
“I’d like to think this is a real gain, that the students in eighth grade were reading better,” said Lubienski, a professor of math education and an expert on NAEP. “But I worry we may have just lost our most struggling readers in that cohort.”
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, given every two years to a sample of students in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, measures math and reading performance in fourth and eighth grades. At the national level, the latest scores changed little from 2015.
Average teacher salaries in Indiana have declined by over 15 percent in the past 15 years after adjusting for inflation. That’s according to an interactive analysis produced last week by Alvin Change of Vox, drawing on data from the National Education Association.
Indiana’s pay cuts, Chang writes, are “worse than the nation as a whole, where teachers have had their pay cut by an average of 3 percent when we adjust for inflation. And since 2010, teachers in Indiana had their pay cut by 9.7 percent.”
They’re also worse than in West Virginia, where low pay and a lack of raises touched off a two-week teacher strike that pushed state officials to approve a 5-percent raise for educators. Clearly, lagging teacher pay is an issue across the country. The West Virginia strike could be a harbinger of things to come. Kentucky or Oklahoma could be next.
Chang quotes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to explain what has happened:
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.
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.
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
Indiana appears to be in the vanguard when it comes to adopting “graduation pathways” that students can follow to earn a high-school diploma. But two states, Colorado and Ohio, have gone farther down this path. What could we learn from their experience?
In Colorado, lawmakers approved legislation in 2007 calling for a redesign of graduation requirements. Ten years later, it’s starting to implement a system in which schools can choose from a menu of options for earning a diploma. The new system takes effect with this year’s ninth-graders.
Colorado developed its graduation guidelines through a process that included nearly 50 stakeholder meetings across the state, in-depth conversations with most school superintendents, working groups with 300-plus representatives and two years of statewide discussion.
Ohio, by contrast, moved quickly to a system in which students could graduate by earning points on high-school end-of-course assessments, getting a “remediation-free” score on the SAT or ACT exam or acquiring industry or workforce credentials. It was supposed to take effect with this year’s seniors.
But the state changed course when officials realized many students weren’t going to meet the requirements, said Ken Baker, executive director of the Ohio Secondary School Administrators Association. For the class of 2018 only, it added pathways that students could use to graduate.
School funding referendums were approved Tuesday in six of the eight Indiana school districts that asked voters to increase their own property taxes to help pay teacher salaries and other expenses. That sounds like strong support for public education.
But several successful referendums were in affluent communities where voters can afford to pay a few more dollars for the high-achieving schools that are key contributors to their property values. Referendums failed in two high-poverty districts – East Chicago and Cannelton – where students may have the greatest need for extra money.
The bigger issue is that most of Indiana’s nearly 300 school districts have never voted to raise local taxes to increase local school funding, and most probably never will.
Only about 40 Indiana school districts have approved school tax levy referendums since the referendum system began eight years ago. Most have never tried, because officials know the effort would probably fail. It’s not that people don’t support their local schools; it’s that the tax base is often so weak that it would take a big rate increase to make a difference – which could hurt many property owners.