Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


Indiana's A-F School Letter Grades: How They Work Now & How They're Changing


Public Law 221

Public Law 221 is an initiative started by an act of the Indiana General Assembly in 1999 and later modified as a state-specific extension of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.  Under the provisions of this law, schools must make a “School Improvement Plan” which clearly states their designs for improving overall test scores in Grades 3-12.  Based on their students’ performance, schools are placed in one of five categories, ranging from “Exemplary Progress” to “Academic Probation”.

Unlike ISTEP+, which only measures academic achievement, PL 221 is designed as a dual track system.  Schools can achieve “Exemplary Progress” by either performing at a high level or by making improvements.  Meaning that poor performers who have made substantial improvements to their test scores are classed in the same group as high performers who have not see dramatic improvements.

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.

What’s This About A Rewrite?

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.

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.

Schools received grades for 2012-13 based on the old metrics, though those results were delayed because of computer glitches that locked students out of spring ISTEP+ tests.

Curious to see what grade your local district received? Use this table to search 2013 school letter grades for all Indiana schools — traditional public, charter, and private.

Meet The Education Leaders Rewriting A-F Accountability Rules

Typically overseeing the state’s accountability system falls to the State Board of Education. This time, an independent panel will take a first stab at rewriting the system. Indiana last updated its rules for calculating school accountability in 2011. That’s when the state started assigning letter grades based on a complicated measure called “the growth model.” But after just one year, state lawmakers flagged that system for a rewrite.

So Indiana’s school accountability system was already on track to be replaced when it came out that former state superintendent Tony Bennett and his staff changed the letter grades of at least 165 schools. Though an independent review of the 2011-12 grades concluded Bennett’s actions were “plausible,” state leaders have called for increased transparency in whatever accountability system comes next.

That’s why Governor Mike Pence, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro-Tem David Long announced an independent panel would make recommendations on how to rewrite the system to the State Board.

Ritz will co-chair the panel with Southwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Steve Yager, an appointee of Senator Long.

Here’s who else sits on the panel:

  • Bluffton High School Principal Steve Baker, appointed by Long
  • Huntington teacher Melanie Park, appointed by Long
  • Indiana Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Education and Workforce Development Policy Derek Redelman, appointed by Long
  • Brownsburg Community Schools Superintendent Jim Snapp, appointed by Pence
  • Stonybrook Intermediate School Principal Robert Lugo, appointed by Pence
  • Indianapolis teacher Casandra McLeod, appointed by Pence
  • Special Assistant to the Governor Claire Fiddian-Green, appointed by Pence
  • Shelby County Superintendent Shane Robbins, appointed by Bosma
  • Key Learning Community Principal Sheila Seedhouse, appointed by Bosma
  • Marion County teacher Jessica Dunn Feeser, appointed by Bosma
  • Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana Chief Operating Officer Scott Bess, appointed by Bosma
  • Evansville teacher Keith Gambill, appointed by Ritz
  • Beveridge Elementary Principal Cheryl Ramsey, appointed by Ritz
  • Portage Township Superintendent E. Frataccia, appointed by Ritz
  • Indiana Department of Education Director of Student Assessment Michele Walker, appointed by Ritz

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