Doors have closed on the 2014-15 academic year – a year of great change – but state officials are just beginning to figure out what it all means for schools.
When Indiana dropped Common Core in 2014, the state rolled out an entirely new set of academic standards and an updated ISTEP+ test to match. Student scores are often low the first year an exam is introduced, which has many Hoosier leaders concerned over how schools would be held accountable.
Luckily, the state has options. The U.S. Department of Education has offered all states the option for some flexibility in using accountability during transition periods for standards and assessments. In response, a Senate committee asked Indiana’s Department of Ed this session to create a list of ideas for determining A-F grades that would fit within federal restrictions, so as not to jeopardize the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver.
The board eventually needs to approve whatever option the state decides to pursue, since the group has final approval of all school grades.
IDOE staff recommends an option it calls “Hold Harmless,” which would assign each school the better A-F grade received between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. They say this option is aligned to both state statutory requirements as well as federal flexibility standards, but it would not require legislative action.
“I think our challenge is we want to hold harmless for schools so that they have the benefit of the highest grade, but the interventions that are needed are still going to continue for students,” says Michelle Walker, Interim Director of Accountability at the IDOE.
Board member Sarah O’Brien expressed concern that a pause might not be the best option – especially because Indiana will administer a new version of the ISTEP+ test next year under a new vendor.
“Are we opening up the window then for a potentially a two-year pause?” O’Brien asked. “I just feel we don’t have enough information to be making such a monumental decision.”
O’Brien – who was elected by her colleagues to the post of board Vice Chair at Wednesday’s meeting – also said she felt a decision should be made only once 2014-15 ISTEP+ scores have become available.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz said she wanted to start the discussion early before scores were released to stay ahead and have a plan in case scores take a dip.
Board member Gordon Hendry expressed specific concern about the “Hold Harmless” option.
“I feel like you can have your cake and eat it too,” Hendry explained. “You get all of the upside and none of the downside. That doesn’t really seem to be a fair way to approach it. The logic just doesn’t seem to make sense there.”
Ritz responded that under this model, all consequences would still be in place, including state takeover requirements.
The timeline for making these decisions is undetermined as of yet. IDOE Deputy Superintendent Danielle Shockey says the board would probably need to take action by October – once they have established cut scores for the current set of ISTEP+ tests – although it would be preferable to move sooner rather than later, since A-F scores play into things like teacher evaluations and, in turn, teacher pay.