Schools could earn fewer A’s next year under proposed state board rule changes

Schools could have a harder time earning A’s beginning in 2016 if the Indiana State Board of Education approves new A-to-F grading rules Thursday.

The new approach would try to better balance how passing rates on state tests and student improvement from one year to the next factor into accountability letter grades. This measure of student growth has been discussed intensely among board members, state officials and educators, with some districts arguing schools should get credit even if students don’t pass the test, but show strong gains.

Under the revised rules, half the score that figures into A-to-F grades for schools serving children in grades 3 to 8 would be based on how much students improve on their prior scores and half on how many kids pass.

For high schools, a “college- and career-readiness” score and five-year graduation rate would account for 60 percent of the score. Another 20 percent of the A-to-F calculation would be based on test score gains over the prior year and 20 percent on the number of students who pass.

The college- and career-readiness score would be based on several factors: the percent of students who pass Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, a school’s four-year graduation rate, and any professional credentials or college credit students earn before graduation.

The rules previously weighted test passing rates themselves higher than test score growth, with passing rates making up 60 percent of the A-to-F score. But during public comment sessions earlier this year, there was strong opposition to that set-up.

“We received about 218 comments through all the various forums,” state board spokesman Marc Lotter said. “A lot of the comments were taken into consideration and we included them in the final rule. I think the rule reflects the general thought … (people) want student performance and student growth treated equally in the grade model.”

However, projections using last year’s data and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education suggest the new approach could also make it more difficult for schools to earn A’s.

A requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind law would only allow the state to give A grades to schools that can show small groups of students — such as ethnic minorities, English language learners and those in special education programs —  meet passing rate and growth goals each year. If a district does not seem to be closing the test score gap between those groups and the rest of the schools, but still scores well on tests, the best it could earn would be a B.

Lotter said this aspect of NCLB is still in effect even though the state received a waiver from some sanctions of the law last year. The law previously asked schools to ensure all students were proficient by 2014, but the waiver gives schools more leeway — they can determine their own guidelines that are “ambitious but achievable,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Using data from 2014, the panel found that weighting passing rates and growth evenly, rather than having passing rates count for 60 percent, would have increased A grades and D grades slightly, to 41 percent from 40 percent and to 5 percent from 4 percent, respectively. But B, C and F grades would have stayed the same, at 38 percent, 14 percent and 3 percent.

Although there are minor differences between the 60-40 and 50-50 models compared to each other, the new 50-50 model would have significantly changed this year’s grades calculated by the current model, mostly affecting the top of the scale.

A’s would’ve dropped t0 41 percent from 54 percent, B’s would’ve increased to 38 percent from 20 percent, and C’s, D’s and F’s would’ve also dropped — to 14 percent from 16 percent, 5 percent from 6 percent, and 3 percent from 4 percent, respectively.