Use cut-score delay to explain test changes

Here’s a suggestion for Indiana education officials now that the State Board of Education has delayed setting ISTEP+ cut scores that will dramatically lower grades for many schools.

Let people know what you’re doing. Explain why a more rigorous grading system is in the best interest of Hoosier children. Spread the word now so parents, teachers and others won’t be caught off guard when test scores and school grades are announced.

Because we’re talking about some significant changes. Barely half of Indiana’s seventh- and eighth-graders will pass the ISTEP+ math exam. Over 50 percent of schools may get Ds or Fs. About 100,000 more students will fall short of passing the tests.

The board was scheduled to approve the cut scores Wednesday, but it postponed making a decision. The reason: Indiana Department of Education staff allegedly didn’t forward an Oct. 2 report to board members, staff and experts until Tuesday night. Continue reading

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Grading pause an easy call? Not in Indiana

Glenda Ritz called a meeting of the State Board of Education in February 2015 to suggest pausing Indiana’s A-to-F school accountability system to let teachers and students adapt to new standards.

But board members would have none it. They deleted the state superintendent of public instruction’s proposal from the agenda without even acknowledging it – then questioned why she called the meeting.

Glenda Ritz (Department of Education photo)

Glenda Ritz (Department of Education photo)

Gov. Mike Pence also acted as if pausing accountability were some kind of radical idea. “We grade students every day in Indiana,” he said. “We should be willing to grade schools once every year.”

Never mind that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had invited states to request the delay under waivers from strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. The rationale was that school ratings would suffer as states rolled out new tests aligned with the Common Core standards. Indiana dumped Common Core but adopted new standards that, educators say, are quite similar.

Ritz made her proposal again in the summer, arguing schools should get a pass on having their grades drop as a result of tougher tests. This time the board didn’t refuse to talk, but members suggested that only the legislature had the authority to pause accountability.

Continue reading

New school grading system produces little change

The new school grading system that Indiana will adopt in 2016 is supposed to give more weight to student growth on standardized tests and less to straight-up test performance, making it more likely that high-poverty schools can earn high grades.

But that may not happen. In a comparison of the grades that schools received in 2014 with the grades that they would have received if the new system had been in effect, there’s not much difference.

A majority of schools would have received the same grade under the new system as under the old. Almost no schools would have seen their scores rise or fall by more than one letter grade.

The Indiana Department of Education calculated grades that schools would have received, based on their 2014 test scores, if the proposed new system had been in place. The department provided the grades in spreadsheet format in response to a public records request. Continue reading

Change coming for Indiana school grades

A change is coming next year to Indiana’s A-to-F school grading system, and it may be a bigger change than even the most education-attuned Hoosiers yet realize.

While the State Board of Education has approved the framework for the new system, it still needs to decide how to award points for student growth on test scores, a key component for calculating grades. That won’t happen until this fall.

And what it decides will matter, according to simulations of what grades would have been if the new system had been in place a year ago. Under one approach to measuring growth, 40 percent of schools would have received As. Under another, barely 20 percent. Either way, it’s a change from the current system, which awarded As to 54 percent of schools last year.

Up to now, elementary and middle schools have been graded largely on the percentage of students who passed ISTEP+ exams in math and reading. They could gain or lose points for student growth on test scores, but performance was the primary factor. And that meant affluent schools typically got As or Bs.

Growth was measured by the Indiana Growth Model, a complex formula in which each student’s test-score improvement was compared with that of all students who scored the same the previous year.

The grading system for high schools is and will remain more complicated. It includes graduation rates and “college and career readiness” measures as well as test-score performance and growth.

The new system for elementary and middle schools will rely on student test-score performance for 50 percent of each school’s score and growth for the other 50 percent. That suggests a more level playing field for high-poverty schools. They may be able to get good grades if students grow enough.

And growth will be based on a “growth to proficiency table,” a new method for awarding points for how much students improved their test performance. Here’s how it will work.

Continue reading

Anti-Ritz legislation is overkill

The way Indiana legislators’ are trying to fix the state’s education governance system calls to mind what an American officer reportedly said during the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

The lawmakers say they want to save the system from the dysfunction that’s come with feuding between Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the other 10 State Board of Education members, all appointed by Republican governors.

But their approach is to blow up a structure that has served Indiana well for many years, even when the elected superintendent and governor were from different parties.

Their main weapon is House Bill 1486, approved last week on a party-line vote by the House Education Committee. It transfers significant elements of education authority from the Department of Education, headed by Ritz, to the State Board of Education.

The bill authorizes the board to hire an executive director and staff and to employ outside contractors. And the board is going to need a lot of help if it takes on all the duties described in the bill. They include new responsibility for turnaround schools, teacher evaluation, standardized tests, state learning standards and audits of federal and state education programs. Continue reading

Not everyone is sold on proposed Indiana school grading changes

Look for some push-back Tuesday morning when the State Board of Education conducts a public hearing on its plan to change the way letter grades are calculated for Indiana schools. It’s the only chance people will have to comment in person on the change, and critics are determined to make the most of it.

Vic Smith, a retired educator who helped start the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, has written detailed criticism of the proposed grading system, and he’s urging parents and public-school supporters to show up and make themselves heard.

Officials with Bartholomew Consolidated Schools in Columbus are also upset about the plan to change how schools are evaluated. In a guest column in Sunday’s Indianapolis Star, Bartholomew school board member Jill Shedd argued that the system focuses too narrowly on reading and math, ignoring much of what schools do for students.

Smith argues that the rule is flawed because it relies on statistical quotas to determine whether schools should get credit for improvement.

Using the state’s “growth model” for measuring year-to-year student gains on test scores, the DOE will arbitrarily determine that one-third of students show high growth, one-third show normal growth, and one-third show low growth. Schools can earn bonus points if a high percentage of their students show high growth; they can be penalized if too many students show low growth.

But growth is measured by how students perform compared to their peers, not whether they improve their ability to meet academic standards. “We might have a great year when everybody learns, but we’ll still have 34 percent with low growth,” Smith said Wednesday at a Bloomington forum on public education. Continue reading

Indiana moving forward on letter-grade criteria for schools

Schools are complex institutions, serving diverse constituencies and charged with a wide range of objectives. So it’s no wonder Indiana education officials are finding it a challenge to develop an A-to-F grading system that fairly evaluates schools – and that people can understand.

The State Board of Education last week approved a proposed rule that sets out the new grading standards, which are designed to replace both Indiana’s old Public Law 221 accountability system and the “adequate yearly progress” standard in the federal No Child Left Behind law.

For elementary and middle schools, the new system is fairly straightforward. Schools get basic scores for the percentage of their students who pass state math and English tests. From there, they can gain bonus points or be penalized, depending on students’ test-score “growth” from year to year and other factors. Add up the points and you get a grade.

Jonathan Plucker, director of the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University, had a hand in developing the new K-8 grading system. He said it meets three of his major criteria: 1) the letter grades are easy to calculate and explain; 2) the underlying statistical metrics are sound; and 3) it’s possible for schools to improve their grades by focusing on performance.

“So my take-away from this experience is that the K-8 model is better than what we have currently,” Plucker told School Matters by email.

He is less familiar with details of the model for high schools, and it’s there that the state seems to be struggling to get things right.

Under the model that the board approved last week, high schools will be graded on passing rates on state tests, graduation rates, and a category called college and career readiness, which includes AP and IB test results and completion of college credits and career/ technical certifications. The college and career readiness part will be phased in over several years, which means that most of the weighting will initially be on test scores and graduation rates.

Test-based accountability is a problem for high schools, however, because Indiana has standardized tests for only two high-school level courses — English 10 and Algebra I – which are taken each year by a small minority of students. But attempts to add other factors to the grading formula have been criticized for making the system too complicated.

“In systems such as these, accuracy usually equals complexity, which equals ‘hard to explain to people,’” Plucker said. “It’s a very troubling paradox.”

The Board of Education’s vote last week sends the proposed grading rule to the State Budget Agency for a cost-benefit analysis. Then the board will conduct a public hearing on the rule, possibly in January, with final adoption likely in February or March.