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

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.

ESSA Wrap up

Colorado bows to federal pressure, adopts second school quality system that penalizes schools for testing opt-out

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
State Board of Education members Angelika Schroeder and Steve Durham met with lawmakers to discuss the nation's new education law.

In an effort to keep federal dollars flowing to Colorado classrooms, the State Board of Education voted Wednesday to create two quality systems for the state’s schools — the existing one designed in 2009 by state lawmakers, and a new one that meets federal requirements.

The unusual arrangement amounts to a compromise between the state education department and the U.S. Department of Education.

After Colorado became a national epicenter for the opt-out movement in 2015, the State Board of Education adopted a policy that forbid the state from lowering a school’s quality rating if they missed the 95 percent participation requirement.

That proved to be a sticking point when state officials submitted Colorado’s plan for complying with the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Federal officials sent the plan back, saying the opt-out provision didn’t comply with the new law.

In the compromise, the state will continue to issue state school quality ratings that don’t penalize schools for high opt-out rates.

However, the state will create a separate list of schools based on the federal requirement that students who opt out are counted as not proficient.

Some state board members worried two systems would create additional work for teachers, create confusion among the public or misidentify schools.

State officials said Wednesday, teachers, students and parents shouldn’t notice much difference. No school or district will be responsible for submitting more data. The state will be responsible for slicing and dicing results from annual tests as they have in the past.

Because Colorado students who opt out tend to be white and more affluent, this change could flag schools for financial support to boost learning that really don’t need it.

State education officials assured the board that it had discretion in identifying whether a school is truly low-performing or if its scores are deflated from low participation.

Earlier this fall, the state took a voluntary step toward the two-system approach when it published a list of schools that qualify for federal grants. The state adopted some, but not all of the federal requirements, when it created that list.

Board member Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said he hoped the state would not publicize the results from the federal identification system.

“It should not be given equal weight with the data that we find appropriate,” he said.

Durham also asked the state education department to remind schools that it is still illegal to penalize students who opt out of state tests. (It’s also against the law to incentivize students to skip the English and math exams.)

The state must resubmit its plan to the federal government by Oct. 23.

Correction: This post has been updated to clarify how the state previously penalized schools for missing the 95 percent participation rate before the state board took action. 

diploma discussions

Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
College acceptance letters in the main entrance at Tindley Accelerated School.

For years, Indiana has been grappling with how to re-imagine high school diplomas. Today, educators made a seemingly simple suggestion to state officials: Condense Indiana’s four-diploma system down to just one.

“Indiana needs just one diploma,” said Richard Arkanoff, superintendent for Center Grove schools. “But it’s critically important that we provide students with many multiple pathways to get to that one diploma.”

In a community meeting Tuesday night at Noblesville East Middle School, Ken Folks, chief of government affairs at the Indiana Department of Education, said the department is also interested in looking at a single diploma with different “gradations” depending on student needs.

Arkanoff was one of several educators who addressed the graduation pathways committee, led by the Indiana State Board of Education. The group is charged by Indiana lawmakers with creating pathways that will help determine students’ readiness for life after high school.

Currently, Indiana students have a single graduation requirement outside of what’s needed to earn a diploma — passing end-of-course exams in math and English. But next school year, that changes. Instead, to graduate, students will need to complete the pathway, which will replace the two tests, and earn a diploma. It’s not yet clear what those pathways will look like.

Byron Ernest, a state board member and the chairman of the committee, urged members to stay focused on the pathways.

“The purpose of this panel is to create a new system for determining if a student is ready to graduate high school,” Ernest said, adding later that the committee is not responsible for revamping the state’s diploma structure.

Multiple previous efforts to redo diploma requirements have resulted in little action and several false starts. The main impetus behind this flurry of discussion is the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which states that the general diploma can no longer count in the graduation rate Indiana must report to the federal government starting as early as 2018.

The general diploma is a pared-down option that only about 12 percent of Indiana students receive.

To many at the meeting, any conversation about graduation would naturally include diplomas, especially when there is so much urgency around the ESSA changes.

Because of the change, many schools across the state — as well as the state as a whole — would see graduation rates drop, a main factor in high schools’ A-F grades. If a school’s rate falls below 67 percent, the school could also be identified as needing extra support from the state. Folks said 275 Indiana high schools could face that reality going forward.

Laura Hammack, superintendent of Brown County Schools, is one example. She said the ESSA change would have gotten her below or close to the two-thirds mark in 2016 and 2017.

“The news about Indiana’s diploma options and connections to ESSA hit Brown County very hard,” she said.

Indiana lawmakers both at the state and federal level wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking for some time to deal with change before consequences would take effect.

Mary Burton, director of the Northeast Indiana Special Education Cooperative, said a single diploma could also offer benefits for students with special needs, who disproportionately receive general diplomas.

“It’s clear to students that the general diploma is of lesser value,” Burton said. “How about one diploma with (extra certifications)? This option would allow for the rigor we expect from all of our students while respecting and valuing each student’s learning differences.”

According to 2015 data compiled by Achieve, a nonprofit that helps states work on academic standards and tests, 27 states offer multiple high school diploma options. A 2016 analysis from the Virginia Department of Education found that of the 10 states with the highest percentages of graduates going to college, most had moved from multiple diplomas to just one.

Indiana has convened numerous panels and spent scores of hours discussing diplomas and post-high school options for students, with very little action taken.

The discussion around graduation pathways is a variation on that theme. So far, what a pathway is and how it might be structured has not been clearly defined. Mainly, the meetings have brought together educators, community members and business leaders to have wide-ranging conversations about preparing kids for life after high school, whether that’s college, career, military or other options.

After today, the group has six more meetings scheduled through early November.