What students do after graduating could determine their high school’s rating

High schools in Indiana may soon be rated on what their students do after graduation — not just how many of them pass state tests and earn a diploma.

A committee of educators and lawmakers is considering changing Indiana’s high school grading system to account for the percentage of students that are enlisted, employed, or enrolled in post-secondary education within a year of graduating.

This approach is meant to align with the creation of graduation pathways, which offer Indiana high schoolers multiple options for completing the requirements to graduate. Students choose their path based on their interests, such as going to college or earning a technical certification.

“I think we have a real opportunity here to transform the way we do this for our students,” said Byron Ernest, a committee co-chair and a member of the State Board of Education. “If we were doing all those things for every student, we’ve improved the lives of a lot of students.”

Incorporating post-graduation metrics gives schools additional time for more students to hit the goals they set forth, Ernest said. However the idea that schools’ quality rankings would rely on decisions students make after leaving high school is concerning to some.

“K-12 can’t be the fix for everything,” said Pat Mapes, a committee co-chair and state education board member. “To think that I’m going to be responsible for that student beyond that step is something I can’t agree with… Once they walk out we just hope they make good decisions.”

Plus, he said it could prove difficult to track down some students after graduation.

The committee’s work falls in line with state leaders’ prioritization of workforce development and an ongoing push for schools to make students “college and career ready.” In 2019, just 37.1% of Indiana’s 3-8 students passed ILEARN, the state’s new standardized test that focuses more than the previous ISTEP test on college and career readiness. And around 12% of 2017 high school graduates needed remediation in college, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s 2019 report.

An early draft of the new grading system, discussed by the committee on Thursday, listed a few ways students would be considered successfully enrolled, enlisted or employed. The list is still being created, but includes measures such as passing the statewide test (which will soon be either the SAT or ACT), earning an industry-recognized certification, taking college credits in high school, or remaining in college for a second year.

The Indiana State Teachers Association is opposed to using post-graduation measures to evaluate schools, the union’s lobbyist, John O’Neal, told the committee Thursday. He pointed out that a student’s decisions after high school could be spurred by situations that schools shouldn’t be held accountable for, such as a death in the family.

If the committee moves forward with these changes, he asked that the post-graduation timeline be limited to six months and the grading system takes into account the community’s poverty levels, assessed home value, and unemployment rate. Those variables can affect a graduate’s job, salary and career advancement, O’Neal said.

Since high schools are currently graded heavily on test scores and graduation rates, it’s unclear how such a change would affect the ratings overall. In 2018, 87% of high schools received an A- or B-rating from the state.

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick recently renewed her call for the state to revamp its accountability system for all levels, advocating for dropping A-F grades in favor of the federal measure schools already receive. The accountability committee does not include any officials from the Indiana Department of Education.

The committee is tasked with making its recommendations to lawmakers by Oct. 30.