Every Student Succeeds Act

Indiana has a new plan for schools and A-F grades. Here’s how it’s different from No Child Left Behind.

PHOTO: Photo by Shaina Cavazos/Chalkbeat
Kindergarten students at Global Prep Academy, an innovation school that was started with funding from the Mind Trust.

Indiana education officials today unveiled a state education plan to replace the remnants of the unpopular No Child Left Behind Act — and the plan has been years in the making.

The 132-page draft proposal makes a number of changes to state education policy, including adding chronic absenteeism into state letter grades, starting a school “climate” and culture survey, and setting ambitious academic goals for students of color, English-learners, students with special needs and those from low-income families.

The plan aims to meet the new requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which will fully take effect for the 2018-19 school year. It was designed to give states more flexibility in how they measure schools. It passed in 2015 under a bipartisan Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Overall, Patrick McAlister, director of policy for the Indiana Department of Education, said he’s pleased with the work that’s gone into the plan.

“We’re excited to share the plan with the public,” McAlister said. “ESSA is our moment to make some interesting investments and changes in the state and really try to make the process of education policy more transparent.”

The plan also means changes to Indiana’s A-F letter grade system, which was substantially overhauled last year to measure schools not just on test passing rates, but how much students improve. This time, the changes are smaller, but they seek to incorporate more information about schools rather than just data based on tests.

State education officials have spent bits and pieces of the past two years discussing and dissecting parts of ESSA. Much of Indiana’s accountability system already comports with the new law, but the main pieces that state must add are ways to measure how well English-learners are progressing and a “school quality or student success” measure in elementary and middle grades that isn’t based on test scores.

There will also be some changes to state testing rules and how low-performing schools are identified and supported by the state.

Now, A-F grades are composed of test passing rates, test score growth, and for high schools, a measure of “college and career readiness,” which includes the number of students taking advanced courses or obtaining industry certifications. Going forward, the English-learner proficiency and the school quality measures will be added in.

For English-learners, the state is looking to use results of an English language proficiency test called WIDA, which they will consider alongside student improvement on the test from year to year.

For the school quality measure, the education department is proposing looking at attendance in the short term and eventually, creating a student survey that focuses on school climate and culture.

Chronic absenteeism has been a popular measure among states because many schools already collect the data, and attendance is a major driver of student success. State education officials said Indiana’s proposed attendance measure — which looks at the number of students who attend at least 97 percent of the time and those who improve attendance from prior years — focuses on schools already doing well while still recognizing gains.

“The data is so clear on the impact of attendance,” said education department spokeswoman Molly Deuberry. “To ignore it is almost irresponsible.”

As part of the state’s long term goals, it is proposing to increase test passing rates by 50 percent for all students by 2023.

It’s a proposal that is slightly familiar to those who closely follow education policy. One concern from the NCLB-era was that proficiency targets were too dramatic — expecting all students to pass state tests by 2014 just wasn’t realistic. It remains to be seen whether Indiana’s modified proficiency goal is attainable.

“I think it meets the federal definition of ‘ambitious yet achievable,’” said Maggie Paino, director of accountability at the education department. “Especially considering the fact that we’ve recently transitioned to a different test, and will be transitioning again.”

Read: Here’s a sneak peek into how Indiana’s new ILEARN testing system might work

The plan next gets released for public comment through July 20. The Indiana Department of Education is scheduled to submit the plan to the federal education department on Sept. 18.

View the entire ESSA draft plan here.

Every Student Succeeds Act

The Indiana State Board of Education is hitting the brakes on a plan to overhaul A-F school grades

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in IPS School 91's multi-age first-, second- and third-grade classroom work on math activities.

The Indiana State Board of Education is pressing pause on a proposed overhaul of how schools are graded that drew criticism from educators and some education advocates.

Board members said they wanted more time to consider how the A-F proposal — initially created to address new federal accountability law — would work alongside new graduation requirements and to incorporate feedback from educators about how the school grades are calculated, especially for high schools.

That means for this year, the 2018-19 school year, and possibly longer, Indiana schools will be measured according to two different yardsticks — a state model introduced in 2016 and a federal system that complies with the new Every Student Succeeds Act.

Read: Indiana has a curious plan to sidestep federal rules — give schools two A-F grades next year

The board met Wednesday to continue hammering out the new process for calculating state grades, a draft of which was approved in January. But just as the meeting started, board member Byron Ernest suggested pausing process, aiming instead for a new A-F grading model for the 2019-20 school year at the earliest.

“I would like for us to take a step back and do some research,” Ernest said. Four of the state board members were absent, including state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. The seven present board members quickly reached a consensus that they should postpone a decision on the A-F rules, though no official vote happened.

As it stands now, the state and federal grading methods for calculating school ratings have important differences. The federal grade calculation, for example, would include school attendance rates and language proficiency of English-learners, whereas the state calculation would mainly rely on state test scores and test score growth. Because Indiana’s calculation also excludes certain students that the federal plan includes, such as those receiving credit recovery services, the final ratings could differ significantly for the same school. Although state and federal accountability metrics have differed in the past, the differences going forward would be more significant.

The differences ultimately add a lot of confusion to a state accountability system designed to be simpler to understand for teachers, parents, and the community.

Cari Whicker, a board member and principal, said the changes Indiana has made to testing and accountability have been exhausting and frustrating for schools.

“Either A-F accountability or testing has changed every year since 2011,” Whicker said. “That’s a lot for schools. What you consider tweaking is truly moving the target for people in the field.”

The pause is also an about-face from a meeting just a couple months ago, where board members shot down a similar proposal from Gordon Hendry to slow down. On Wednesday, Hendry said he was glad to hear Ernest’s proposal.

“That’s what I advocated for in January — wouldn’t it behoove us to take our time,” Hendry said.

In January, educators and education advocates came forward with concerns over the process for creating the new school grades, which they said was far too fast and not transparent. They also took issue with the substance of the state plan, which would have made test scores more important and limited how much test score improvement could have factored into high school grades.

It’s not yet clear exactly what changes the board wants to make in the state A-F grading model that haven’t already been discussed or considered. The Indiana Department of Education released its federal ESSA plan over the summer, and the board has had multiple opportunities to examine that plan and give feedback.

Further discussion is expected at the state board’s April meeting.

Every Student Succeeds Act

Plans for a single Indiana diploma advance with new rules that raise the bar for graduation waivers

In a move that might make it more difficult for some students to graduate, Indiana lawmakers are considering raising the threshold for allowing students to earn a diploma when they have fallen short of some state requirements.

A proposal to change the graduation waiver system is the latest attempt by the state to amend graduation requirements as part of a policy initiative to ensure that students are prepared for life after high school. The change in waiver policy could make it more challenging for students who struggle academically to complete high school.

“I want to make sure we have as few waivers as possible,” said Rep. Bob Behning, Republican chairman of the House Education Committee and author of House Bill 1426, which includes the waiver changes. And if a waiver is necessary, he said, he wants the requirements to be stringent enough to ensure post-graduate success.

The proposed waiver requirements are part of a sweeping effort by the state to align state law with the state’s new graduation pathways system. The bill, which passed its first major hurdle with the approval of the House Education Committee on Tuesday, would combine the state’s four diplomas into one to deal with the effects of a change in federal law that no longer counts the state’s less-rigorous general diploma in the federal graduation rate. With one diploma, Indiana would be more likely to pass muster under the new federal rules, but final approval from the federal government won’t come for several months.

An amendment to the bill proposed on Tuesday will change Indiana’s policy for allowing students to receive a waiver that, while controversial, is widely used. More than 8 percent of the more than 70,000 students who graduated last year received waivers from meeting graduation requirements.

Supporters say waivers provide opportunities to students who might face challenges that affect their ability to meet the basic graduation requirements. But critics say they allow high schools to push through students that lack the kind of skills needed to be successfully employed.

Waiver requirements for students with disabilities would not change under the new proposal.

The current system allows students who repeatedly fail required state tests in English and math to be granted a waiver that lets them graduate if they meet other criteria.

But under the new pathways system, which will affect students now in seventh grade, the state graduation exam will be replaced with one of several new graduation pathways requirements, which could include passing a college-entrance exam, taking career and technical education classes, or passing advanced courses.

Under Behning’s proposal, a waiver would be granted if a student had earned an average GPA of 2.0; maintained 95 percent attendance; or if he or she has been admitted to college, a job training program, the military or has an opportunity to start a career.

The bill allows a school’s principal to approve alternative requirements but doesn’t address how those would be developed. The new rules could also be used by students transferring from schools that are out of state or from private schools not held to graduation pathway rules.

The current criteria to receive a waiver do not call for students to be admitted to college, the military or a job. Students do have to maintain a 95 percent attendance record and a 2.0 grade point average, and also have to complete requirements for a general diploma, take a workforce readiness assessment or earn an industry certification approved by the state board. The standards also require students to obtain letters of recommendation from teachers (with approval of the school principal) and to use class work to show students have mastered the subject despite failing the graduation exam.

It’s not yet clear how many students might be affected by a change to the graduation waiver system. In the months since the Indiana State Board of Education approved the new graduation pathways, educators have raised concerns to state board staff members about the types of students who might not have a clear-cut pathway under the plan — for example, a student headed to college who might not have an exceptional academic record. A waiver outlined by HB 1426 could give them another shot. But for students without definite post-graduation plans, that waiver could be out of reach.

None of the educators or education advocates who testified on the bill spoke out specifically on the waiver changes. Mike Brown, director of legislative affairs for the Indiana Department of Education, said that based on a “cursory look,” the department didn’t have any issues with it.

Aside from the diploma and graduation waiver changes, the bill would also:

  • Make Indiana’s high school test a college-entrance exam, such as the ACT or SAT, instead of end-of-year tests in English and math.
  • Encourage the state board to look into alternatives for Algebra 2, currently a diploma requirement.
  • Ask the state board to establish guidelines for how districts and schools can create “local” graduation pathways and how they would be approved by the state board. It would also add $500,000 to fund development of local pathways that districts and schools could apply for.
  • Eliminate the Accuplacer exam, which schools now use to see if high school students need remediation in English or math before they graduate.

Because the bill includes a request for state funding, it next heads to the House Ways and Means Committee.