Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Accountability Under New Federal Education Law — From The Experts

Indiana will soon release its plan for complying with the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which means a new way we give schools an A-F grade.

Indiana will soon release its plan for complying with the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which means a new way we give schools an A-F grade. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/ Indiana Public Broadcasting)

For the last few years, Indiana has used an A-F system to hold our schools accountable. The way a school received a grade is mainly based on ISTEP+ scores, which was met with a lot of criticism. But now that Congress has passed the new version of the Every Student Succeeds Act (the re-write to No Child Left Behind), Indiana’s A-F system could see a huge overhaul.

The new law gives states more input on how they test their students and more importantly, how low-performing schools are held accountable to get on track to improve.

Now that the law was passed with bi-partisan support at the federal level, all 50 states are re-writing their accountability systems.

Indiana’s Department of Education has already been working on its plan, but before its made public, here’s a primer on what new provisions they are working with.

The main difference between the old accountability system and what states can do now, is that test scores won’t be the main factor in calculating a grade.

“You have to use student results in a more significant way than the other metrics,” says Chris Minnich, a member of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “But I don’t know any states that were going to go away from student results. I think this gives us an opportunity to balance.”

And that balance means more factors will create a school for a grade. Here is what the law lays out for elementary and middle schools:

  • Academic achievement (how a child performs on a test)
  • Academic growth (how a child improves year to year on a test)
  • Language proficiency for English Language Learners
  • Indicator of the state’s choice (more on this below)

Here is what will be used to calculate a score for a high school:

  • Academic achievement (how a student performs on a test)
  • Graduation rate
  • Language proficiency for English Language Learners
  • Indicator of the state’s choice (more on this below)

So what are these measures the state’s can choose from? Some have called these “non-academic” measures, but in fact some of these definitely have to do with academics.

A few examples a state could use in its accountability system are school climate, technical training certificates earned by students, access to a variety of courses, chronic absenteeism or disciplinary action. The challenges with these indicators is making sure they are measured correctly and are tested, so one school isn’t saying it has a great school climate to help its grade.

But once a state figures out how to measure these indicators, Charmaine Mercer of the Learning Policy Institute says this is hugely important to making sure school is a positive experience for students.

“[School climate] feels like it doesn’t matter, but there are communities where kids are walking through areas that we would never walk through,” she says. “You should be able to come to school and be and feel safe.”

And ESSA really tries to give opportunity for states to address the inequities in schools with all of the complications that come with that.

Liz King of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights says focusing on disadvantaged kids is so crucial for states, because these students often attend the schools considered “low performing.

“A lot of the time when we are talking about accountability we are talking about very poor, very racially isolated schools,” King says. “You can yell at them all you want, but these are schools with very low capacity and it is not hard politically to come down hard on them.”

State superintendent Glenda Ritz is currently holding meetings with a group of stakeholders to develop Indiana’s new accountability system, but it is not known when the plan will be finalized and released.

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