Less than a year after state education officials launched a new system for rating Indiana schools, the Indiana General Assembly sent the A-F accountability letter grade ratings back to the State Board for a rewrite.
Indiana schools have received accountability scores under Public Law 221 since 1999. The scores are based on factors like how many students are passing state standardized tests. But the system state policymakers approved in 2012 included a new calculation called a “growth model,” which compares Indiana students’ academic performance to their peers across the state.
Here’s how it works: State officials look at all of the students who scored the same on statewide tests in a given year. Then it tracks their academic progress over the next school year, again using standardized test scores. That helps the Department of Education determine how much growth on the state’s test is representative of one academic year. Students are then assigned a percentile based not on how well they scored, but on how their year-to-year scores ranked against their peers.
So a student could fail two years in a row and still show high growth as long as he or she made sufficient gains in learning.
But critics say Indiana’s tests weren’t meant to be norm-referenced (that’s the technical term for ranking scores by percentile). They say the state’s growth model ensures a third of students will always be ranked in the bottom 33 percent.
One of those critics is current state superintendent Glenda Ritz, who campaigned against the current A-F system. She doesn’t like the idea of labeling certain schools as “failing.” Now Ritz is helping drive efforts to rewrite the rule that governs school accountability in Indiana. The A-F labels will stay — that’s part of state law — but the new system can’t compare students to their peers across the state.
State lawmakers had already flagged the accountability system for a rewrite when it came out that former state superintendent Tony Bennett instructed his staff to tinker with the metrics used to calculate school grades. His actions lifted the scores of more than 160 Indiana schools, including a prominent donor’s charter.
An independent review of the 2011-12 letter grades found Bennett’s actions to be “plausible.” Still, Governor Mike Pence, Superintendent Ritz and statehouse leaders have assembled a statewide accountability panel to make recommendations to the State Board of Education. That has to happen by Nov. 1, 2013.
(We have last 2012 letter grades here.)