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
Students at Global Prep Academy, a charter school, learn about comparing shapes. All schools could see less funding if lawmakers do not fix the funding shortfall.

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.

double take

Will Indiana go through with a ‘confusing’ plan that could mean every school winds up with two A-F grades?

Students work on assignments at Indianapolis Public Schools Center For Inquiry at School 27.

Imagine a scenario where Indiana schools get not just one A-F grade each year, but two.

One grade would determine whether a school can be taken over by the state. The other would comply with federal law asking states to track student test progress and how federal aid is spent. Both would count, but each would reflect different measures of achievement and bring different consequences.

This could be Indiana’s future if a state board-approved plan moves ahead at the same time the state is working on a conflicting plan to comply with a new federal law.

If it sounds complicated, that’s because it probably would be, said state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. Originally, A-F grades were intended to be an easy way for parents and community members to understand how their school is doing.

“It’s extremely confusing to have multiple accountability systems with multiple consequences,” McCormick told board members last week. “All along our message has been to get as much alignment as we can.”

Indiana would not be the first state to consider dual accountability systems — Colorado operated separate systems for years under No Child Left Behind and is now doing so again. Virginia, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have also had two models in years past. But this move would be a big departure from Indiana’s efforts over the past several years to simplify accountability, and education officials warn it could create more problems than it would solve.

Dale Chu, an education consultant who previously worked in Indiana under state Superintendent Tony Bennett, said it’s actually not common for states to have multiple systems, and doing so for political reasons, rather than what helps students and families, is concerning.

“We all know how confusing accountability systems can be when you just have one,” Chu said. “To create a bifurcated system, I don’t see how you gain additional clarity … I would certainly hope that if that’s the direction the state is going to move in, they are very thoughtful and intentional about it.”

The changes come as Indiana works to create a plan to comply with a new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. McCormick’s education department has been working to align the federal system with Indiana’s grading system, and is struggling to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, most notably in the area of graduation requirements and diplomas.

At the same time the Indiana State Board of Education is negotiating this alignment, it is also revamping the A-F grade system.

A new grading proposal approved by the state board last week would put more emphasis on student test scores than the A-F system that now unifies state and federal requirements. Those new rules would include extra categories for grading schools, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of  the state’s federal plan.

While that proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.

Officials were already expecting to issue two sets of A-F grades to schools in 2018 — one state grade, and one federal — as the state continued to work all of Indiana’s unresolved education issues into the new federal plan. Figuring out how to ensure state graduation rates don’t plummet because of other federal rule changes dictating  which diplomas count and incorporating the new high school graduation requirements, for example, will take time — and legislation — to fix.

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

But ultimately, officials said, if some of the state board-approved changes make it into final policy, and Indiana’s federal plan doesn’t change to accommodate it, the state and federal accountability systems could remain at odds with each other — meaning schools would continue to get two grades after 2018.

The original intent was to have all Indiana’s state grading system line up with federal requirements before the plan was sent to federal officials in September. Then, once the federal government gave feedback, the state A-F revamp could continue.

But just this past fall, after the federal plan had been submitted, some members of the state board began adding in additional measures, some of which reflect their personal interests in how schools should be rated.

Those measures were added after board members had multiple chances to discuss the federal plan with the education department, conversations that were held in an attempt to ward off such changes this late in the game. Yet even last week at the state board’s monthly meeting, where the new grading changes were approved, some board members didn’t seem to realize until after the vote that the A-F systems would not match up.

David Freitas, a state board member, said he didn’t see the conflicting A-F grade rules as a problem. The board can make Indiana’s state A-F system whatever it wants, he said, and there will be plenty of time to iron out specifics as the rulemaking process unfolds over the next several months.

“We’re not banned from having two different systems,” Freitas said. “But we need to consider the implications and consequences of that.”

Read more of our coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act here.

moving forward

State board OKs new A-F grade plan that ‘will affect every school in Indiana’

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
The state board met for its January meeting on Wednesday.

Student test scores would play a bigger role in determining school A-F grades under new draft rules approved by the Indiana State Board of Education, despite concerns from some board members and educators from across the state.

The rules, approved 7-4, are only proposals at this point. Next they go into a formal rulemaking process that begins with opportunities for public comment. After revisions, the state board will vote on final A-F grading rules so it can go into effect for 2018-19. The vote would probably be this summer.

Steve Baker, principal at Bluffton High School, said he was frustrated and disappointed that the board didn’t vet some of the changes with educators or have a public discussion before working them into the draft that would begin rulemaking.

“Not one educator I talked with knew about this,” Baker said. “Yet this plan will affect every school in Indiana.”

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who is a member of the board, voted in favor of the changes. But the rules are far from final, she said, and she doesn’t necessarily agree with them in their current form.

“Do I think it’s going to change? Yes,” McCormick said “I think it’s a good thing for people to know what the board’s thinking.”

The changes come as Indiana works to create a plan comply with new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The vote followed a contentious conversation that took hours. Initially, board member Gordon Hendry suggested the board table their vote until they could discuss the grading changes further. Last week, educators and some board members were caught unaware by some of the grade formula changes, which hadn’t received a discussion in public.

“Some of the language didn’t receive the proper discussion before being crafted,” Hendry said. “The cart was a little bit before the horse, and there should have been, in my opinion, a full board discussion before pen was put to paper.”

Chad Ranney, an attorney for the board, said some board members asked him about making some changes in the A-F model. When he saw the number of changes coming through, Ranney said he decided to solicit feedback from the entire board.

It’s not clear which board member saw what email when, particularly over the winter holidays, but some did not offer input and were surprised when they learned the new rules would be up for a vote in January without additional discussion.

Ultimately, a majority of board members wanted to stick with the new proposed rules, arguing that they had plenty of time to weigh in.

The proposed formula would give more weight to the number of students who pass tests and stop measuring how much high school students improve their test scores. Also, two new measures would be added: “Well-rounded” for elementary and middle schools and “on-track” for high schools.

The “well-rounded” piece is calculated based on state science and social studies tests given once in elementary and middle school. The “on-track” measure would be calculated based on whether high school students, by the end of their freshman year, have received at least 10 course credits and have received no more than one F in either English, math, science or social studies. For high schools, improvement in test scores would be removed entirely in 2023, as would the “college and career-readiness” measure.