Indiana has released new A-F accountability grades for schools throughout the state in response to concerns that the debut of more difficult ISTEP tests were too strong a blow to school ratings.
Chelsea Schneider, reporting for USA Today, writes that the grades for the 2014-15 school year include the erasure of what would have been a severe drop in schools' ratings brought on by the transition to a more stringent ISTEP standardized test.
A plan signed by Gov. Mike Pence declared that grades could not go down, but could only move up, meaning that schools either kept their current grade or raised their grade by improving their scores on the test.
Preliminary information showed that 17.6% of schools would have received a failing grade, a percentage reflecting four times as many schools as the previous year. But the new protection signed by the governor means that only 2.6% of schools received an F rating in 2015.
If lawmakers had not intervened, only 22.8% of schools would have earned an A grade compared to the 56.7% that earned an A after the alteration. School officials asked for the changes because the 2015 grades would not have inaccurately reflected the progress of Indiana's schools academically.
Some of the state's superintendents spoke to the Indiana State Board of Education this week, calling for education policymakers to fix the state's testing system. A bill is currently being considered in the General Assembly that would repeal ISTEP by 2017. The bill includes the establishment of a committee to recommend standardized testing changes.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said she was glad to release 2015 test results that are not penalizing schools and communities as Indiana goes through this transition. She also asked for reform of the annual tests that students in grades three to eight and ten will take this school year.
Indianapolis Public Schools would have initially had 80% of schools receiving a D or F grade. With the relief, however, only 46% received those marks. The 2016 test will move towards a plan for establishing A-F grades by using the ISTEP scores along with the growth of the individual student.
Other factors that will be reflected in the final grade are participation rates, high school graduation numbers, and the percentage of students who pass AP exams and receive dual college credit or industry certification, report Matt Adams and James Gherardi of WXIN-TV Indianapolis. Ritz said in a statement:
"While I appreciate the work of the legislature to hold schools harmless for the results of last year's ISTEP+ assessment, Indiana should move away from labeling Hoosier schools, and in turn Hoosier students, based on the results of a lengthy, pass/fail, high-stakes assessment. I support accountability but I support accountability that makes sense. I look forward to implementing Indiana's new Student-Centered Accountability System which more accurately reflects the great work happening in our schools and communities every day."
USA Today's Emma Kate Fittes writes that although the grades have been released, because of the "Hold Harmless" law, the results don't mean much. And still, she continues, the law did not benefit all schools.
Southside's middle school will keep the F grade it currently has for another year because it was unable to raise its rating this year. As for Muncie Central High School, it has little chance of getting back to an A grade since it fell to a B the same year this law was passed.