Panel's A to F proposal would add new state tests

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz (center) and committee member Steve Baker (foreground)  shared ideas at Monday’s A to F accountability panel.

State testing would be expanded with new exams in grades 1, 2, 9 and 11 in Indiana under a new school accountability proposal.

Other proposed changes include a new method for measuring student test score gains, and giving extra credit to schools when student scores go up, and changing the grading scale for schools from 1 to 4 to 1 through 100.

The recommendations come from a 17-member committee appointed by State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, Gov. Mike Pence and legislative leaders. The group’s plan will be considered by the Indiana State Board of Education, which could accept, reject or revise it, next week.

Then education department staff will do statistical analysis to verify the model works as anticipated.

“This is the first phase of what we need to accomplish,” Ritz said.

By a 16-1 vote, the group approved an amended report with a conceptual framework for the model. The committee will stay in place to follow up after statistical verifications are done, Ritz said.

Only Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, voted no, saying he was not sure there was enough clarity on how growth is calculated.

Ritz, however, hailed the proposed growth measures.

“We do want our kids to be proficient,” said Ritz, who co-chaired the group. “This is a way to give teachers and the students themselves a clear view that you need to be proficiency and we are giving points for growth but you have to work a little harder to get where you need to go.”

At the youngest grades, Ritz said new tests would be reading-based and she hoped they would replace district-level tests that schools use to try to determine student proficiency.

Controversy over A to F grades heated up last year when Ritz’s predecessor, Tony Bennett, proposed adding a growth measure to give schools extra credit when students made gains on state tests, even if they were far above or far below a passing score.

The prior grading system was heavily based on the percent of students who passed. Critics said that unfairly hurt schools with large numbers of children who came to them far below grade level, often because of high poverty and fewer pre-school learning opportunities.

Even when those schools got kids to make major gains on tests they sometimes still fell short of earning a passing score. By ignoring growth, some schools complained they were making great strides but earning the same poor grades as schools where few kids were making much test progress.

But Bennett’s system was almost universally disliked. When hearings were held in 2012 after he proposed it, a parade of speakers from across the political and educational spectrum testified against Bennett’s plan.

The major complaints surrounded the use of a growth measure that was based on a similar model used in Colorado. It judged student growth by comparing each student with peers that met a similar demographic profile. Some opponents argued the measure was so difficult to understand schools could not even calculate their own scores. Others argued it was an unreliable gauge of student academic improvement.

Earlier this year, lawmakers ordered an overhaul of the growth measure so it rewards growth toward a standard, such as a passing score or advanced score, instead of growth as compared to other students. The A to F panel is one of the legislatively-ordered steps to a new system.

Separately, Indiana must alter its standards and testing system by 2015 so it measures whether students are “college and career ready.” That could mean Indiana will follow Common Core standards along with 44 other states or craft its own standards to meet that expectation. If it doesn’t, the state risks losing federal aid under an agreement it struck with the U.S. Department of Education releasing Indiana from some requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

The panel’s proposal to create new tests matches the design of Common Core-linked tests being created for grades 1 to 11 by two consortia known as SmarterBalanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). Indiana could use one of those tests or create its own.

The panel proposed a transition year in which grades would be issued under both the current A to F grading system and the new system.

Under the plan, the growth measure — a critical flashpoint in the debate — would be measured based on the progress students make toward the next rung of the testing scale.

Indiana students would still be rated did not pass, pass or pass plus on state tests under a new school accountability proposal, but schools would get extra credit for gains they make within those categories, too.

Indiana schools would earn bonus points on their state report cards each time a student moved up on one of eight performance levels — three in the “did not pass” category, two in the “pass” category and three in the “pass plus” category.

The first opportunity for the state board to consider the proposal is Nov. 8. The board is expected to approve a new A to F plan and forward it to legislative leaders by Nov. 15.