Data dive

Like schools, fewer Indiana districts got As in 2016

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

School districts across the state saw fewer A grades in 2016 when the Indiana State Board of Education released the latest data today.

Although for individual schools, poor grades can bring consequences such as state intervention or takeover, for districts, there are no sanctions. Overall for 2016, 7.9 percent of Indiana districts received As, 60.5 percent received Bs, 29.4 received Cs, 1.73 percent received Ds and 0.35 percent received an F.

Cynthia Roach, director of testing and accountability for the state board, said officials expected grades to cluster in the middle of the scale — more Bs and Cs and fewer As and Fs. Those results are consistent with trends seen in individual school A-F grades and 2016 ISTEP scores, which dropped for the second straight year.

Last year, lawmakers voted to shield schools and districts from dramatically lower 2015 ISTEP scores, the result of a new more difficult test. As a result, 2015 grades were only changed from 2014 grades if they were better. That means 2016 is the first year that grades have been released showing the true impact of a more challenging test.

But generally, it’s tough to compare 2016 to 2015, and not just because of the more challenging 2015 ISTEP test and the resulting action by lawmakers. Indiana is also using a brand new model to calculate A-F school and district grades for 2016, in which test scores and test score improvement is weighted equally. Other non-test-based measures are also included in the new formula.  Previously, the most important factor was whether kids passed the test.

In Marion County, only Speedway Schools got an A grade from the state in 2016. Franklin and Perry townships got Bs, Indianapolis Public Schools got a D, and the rest of the county’s districts got Cs. No district received an F.

McCormick, at her first state board meeting today where she was elected board chairwoman, said testing is one of her priorities, and she’s hoping to examine both state tests and how the state measures schools as she moves forward with her administration.

“I know the field is frustrated,” McCormick said. “Obviously we have work to do in the assessment arena. We’re going to tackle that… We can’t have that conversation without talking about accountability in the same breath.”

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County

ACT bump

Tennessee sees ACT gains after becoming first state to fund retakes for all students

Last fall, Tennessee became the nation’s first state to pay for its students to retake the ACT college entrance exam.

On Tuesday, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the investment paid off.

Nearly 26,000 students in the Class of 2017 opted to participate in the state’s first ACT Senior Retake Day in October. Of those, nearly 40 percent got higher scores. And about 5 percent — 1,331 students in all — raised their composite above the 21 necessary to receive the state’s HOPE Scholarship, which provides up to $16,000 toward in-state tuition.

The ACT retake also resulted in more students hitting the ACT college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects, an area where Tennessee has struggled. The percentage of students meeting all four benchmarks increased from 21.5 percent to 26.8 percent.

Additionally, over a third of school districts increased their ACT average, with the best gains in Maryville City, which increased its composite average by a full point.

Under the initiative, the State Department of Education paid the fees for students to take the test for a second time in hopes of boosting their scores and chances for college scholarships.

“Our goal is to open more doors for students after high school, and these results are one more step toward that vision,” McQueen said. “We want students to graduate from high school with the ability to access whatever path they want to explore, and we know too often low ACT scores create a barrier.”

The retake day cost the state $760,000. ACT provided an additional $353,000 in fee waivers for low-income students.

Gov. Bill Haslam has included money to continue the program in his budget proposal for 2017-18.