Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

A-F Panel Recommends New Growth Categories For Next Accountability System

Southwest Allen County Superintendent Steve Yager, left, and State Superintendent Glenda Ritz listen to a presentation during the final A-F panel meeting.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Southwest Allen County Superintendent Steve Yager, left, and State Superintendent Glenda Ritz listen to a presentation during the final A-F panel meeting.

Indiana isn’t moving away from A-F letter grades for schools, but the metrics underlying the statewide accountability system will look a lot different moving forward — and it could mean more state tests.

A panel that’s spent six weeks rewriting the rules used to calculate school letter grades adopted a final report Monday. It goes to the State Board of Education for review next week.

Proposed changes include switching to a 100-point scale and adding data points for reading scores. But the biggest difference comes in the measurement of growth.

The proposed system includes more data points — that is, tests in grades 1-11. Right now, students in first and second grade don’t take state tests. But as state superintendent Glenda Ritz points out, they do take classroom assessments.

“We’re talking about an assessment piece to hopefully reduce all the assessments that are happening at the local level to inform instruction,” says Ritz.

Other recommendations include dividing students’ test scores into six to eight tiered performance groups. That’s a change from the current system where students’ scale scores can fall in three categories — do not pass, pass and pass plus.

In the new system, student “growth” would be measured by how many levels they increased or decreased in a year. At each of the lowest performance categories, the goal would be to move students up at least one band every year, even if they fall short of proficiency.

“It’s not about having lower expectations for kids at that level,” says Claire Fiddian-Green, the special assistant for education innovation for Governor Mike Pence. “We still need to be sure they’re growing.”

State lawmakers dictated that Indiana’s next accountability system measure growth to proficiency rather than compare students to their peers across the state. The panel is calling the new performance groups “students meeting targeted growth.”

That’s led to long discussions among the 17 panel members about how to handle students who arrive at school two or three grade levels behind their peers.

The goal was to design a system that rewarded incremental gains without punishing high performing schools where a majority of students are already proficient.

But as the panel discussed the new growth categories, Brownsburg Community Schools Superintendent Jim Snapp questioned whether the panel really met their charge.

“We can’t even get a model that meets our first and simplest goal, which was to make this transparent and easy to understand,” says Snapp, adding that he thought the different passing levels would be difficult to explain to parents.

But the proposal does do away with bonus points for high or low growth — points that made grades difficult to understand without context. Southwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Steve Yager, who co-chaired the panel with Ritz, says the result is a system that will better answer parents’ questions about local schools.

“Did the parents get the bang for their buck from that classroom teacher, and the curriculum, and the instruction during that school year?” says Yager.

Here’s what else is in the panel’s recommendation:

  • The current 4-point scale becomes a 100-point scale.
  • There will be different frameworks for grades 1-8, 9-11 and 12. Currently, there are two distinct models — one for elementary/middle schools and one for high schools.
  • The model will look at both proficiency and growth.
  • The ISTEP+ — or whatever assessment replaces it — will remain the primary indicator of school performance.
  • Reading performance and growth will be indicators under the new model.
  • At the high school level, PSAT participation will become an indicator of college- and career-readiness.
  • The model will add high school growth to proficiency once data is available — again, this depends on what test replaces the ISTEP+ and End of Course Assessments.
  • The state’s college- and career-ready goal will remain 25 percent of students, multiplied by 4 to get a score on the 100-point scale. Eventually, the goal would be to increase participation in college- and career-ready activities to 100 percent.

Of course, none of the recommendations are final — the State Board still has the ultimate say in how to rewrite the state’s accountability model. They’ll consider the panel’s proposal at their Nov. 8 meeting and vote on A-F categories Nov. 13.

The rule-making process could last as long as a year.


  • Karynb9

    Good grief. Where do I even begin…

    “Right now, students in first and second grade don’t take state tests. But as state superintendent Glenda Ritz points out, they do take classroom assessments. ‘We’re talking about an assessment piece to hopefully reduce all the assessments that are happening at the local level to inform instruction,’ says Ritz.”

    She/they really think that adding a state test will DECREASE the number of assessments these students already take?!? No, it will increase the number of classroom assessments. You’ve taken assessments that are currently used solely for the purpose of informing instruction and added a high-stakes this-is-how-your-school-will-be-graded-which-will-almost-certainly-also-become-how-your-teacher-will-be-evaluated assessment. This assessment will probably be given at the end of the school year (like the current time-frame for ISTEP). There won’t be time to treat this as an “inform instruction” assessment — this is a high-stakes summative assessment. Are these people that spend time with first graders on a regular basis?!? We currently have “pep rallies” in elementary schools to encourage students to do their best on ISTEP and try hard…so now we’re going to invite first graders to those pep rallies and let THEM know that “the whole school is counting on you and you need to do your best and this is the biggest test of the whole year and this is the ONE chance you have to show your teachers and parents and principal and even the WHOLE STATE that you learned a lot this year” and expect these seven-year-old kiddos to get through this without stressing out and crying?!?

    Second of all, has anyone bothered to do any research with the experts who developed ISTEP (I may not be big fans of CTB/McGraw-Hill, but they at least have employed experts in psychometrics) to determine whether or not their “plan” to assess growth by dividing the DNP/Pass/Pass+ categories into smaller levels is even remotely statistically valid? How are they going to decide the “cut-off scores” for these sub-levels? Are they going to ensure that kids have an equal chance of advancing from one level to the next no matter where they begin (it can’t be “easier/harder” to get a kid from DNP Level 2 to DNP Level 3 than it is to get him/her from Pass+ Level 1 to Pass+ Level 2 if this model is going to be fair)? The model adopted is going to have very real consequences for schools and for the jobs of teachers and administrators. It cannot be based on something that “just seems like it should make sense.”

    I understand the charge of the committee that it should be “simple” (and, like Dr. Snapp, I disagree that this is a “simple” model), but if a “simple model” isn’t going to be statistically valid, it’s completely worthless.

    • Elle Moxley

      Hi Karynb9,

      As always, thanks for the thoughtful comment. In terms of statistical validity, the A-F panel sent their recommendation to the State Board with the caveat that experts still need to look at these metrics to make sure they’ll work in practice.

      The logic behind having multiple bands within each performance category is that schools say now they’re growing students but they’re too far behind to reach proficiency in just one year, and this would be one way to measure it.

      I’m not sure if that clears any of this up, but we will post the full report with the final language the panel adopted once we get it from the DOE!


      • Karynb9

        Any discussion on whether a not a school can receive bonus points for taking kids who are at the highest “Pass+” sub-level and maintaining them at that level (since there is nowhere higher to go)? It’s not fair to treat that as “neutral” in the same way you’d look at kids who were in the lowest “Pass+” sub-level and stayed there instead of going up. Do you get a certain number of “points” for having kids in the various sub-levels whether or not they grew in order to get there? If we’re back to only looking at Pass/DNP as your “base score” and then calculating growth from there and awarding bonus points or penalties, there’s no incentive to get your 3rd graders to be Pass+ in the first place. You’ll be better off as a school if you get those younger kids to just barely pass, leaving plenty of room for them to grow in future grades. At least a kid who barely passes can grow — a kid who scores in the highest sub-level of Pass+ cannot. If the base score treats a Level 3 Pass+ the same as a Level 1 Pass, you have zero incentive to get young kids to really excel on the test.

        At least we’ll be the only state with teachers who feel compelled to cheat to help their kids MISS answers on high-stakes standardized tests…

  • Jenny

    Is the goal here for all our children to be above average? That can happen in Lake Wobegon, but from where I come from it is statistically impossible. With all due respect to Superintendent Allen, “bang for my buck” in terms of higher performance on I-STEP is the last thing I think of when I think what I want schools to provide to my children and everyone else’s. I want well-staffed schools, with nurses, certified school librarians, P.E., art, music, social studies, and science, all taught by teachers specially trained in those areas. I want language arts programs that inspire kids to enjoy books and want to communicate. I want math that is developmentally appropriate and challenging. I want a recognition that child development does not happen in a linear fashion and at the same rate for all children. I want my schools to be thriving, engaging communities, not score factories. We need to vote in a legislature which will fund our schools, not measure them with puny yardsticks.

  • indyscott

    This committee was made up of mostly educators and their solution is to add more mandatory testing.
    The funny thing is that most educators complain about standardized
    “high stakes” testing yet their solution time and again is to require more of it. But
    then the media and unions turn and blame the legislation for all of the

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