Are Children Learning

More Hoosier schools got As from the state in 2017. But most school grades didn’t change.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Angie Kendall, a master teacher at Southport Elementary School, works with a student. The school received an A from the state this year.

As with this year’s ISTEP scores, not much changed when it came to 2017 A-F grades for Indiana schools.

Compared to 2016, almost a quarter of schools improved by one or more letter grades in 2017, and about the same number saw grades drop. But more than half of schools ended up with the same grade as last year. This is not surprising, because test passing rates have been stagnant across the state — and tests are still major factors in the state accountability grades.

Find your school’s 2017 ISTEP scores here

The Indiana State Board of Education released 2017 A-F school grades at its meeting today.

“I am encouraged by the results of our current accountability grades as an indication of the great education Indiana students are receiving,” said state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick in a statement. “Our work, however, is not finished.”

The number of A-rated schools increased slightly from last year to almost 30 percent. The number of F-rated schools barely changed at almost 6 percent. Almost two-thirds of schools received an A or B (the same percent as last year), while 15 percent received a D or F, virtually unchanged.

This is the second year that Indiana has used a new accountability system that equally weights test score improvement and passing rates. Adding in the test improvement shows how schools are tackling the tougher tests that are part of more rigorous academic standards that started in 2014.

When you separate proficiency from test score growth, a little more than 2 percent of schools received the highest passing rates for elementary and middle school students, while almost three quarters improved. Even though it remains difficult for schools to get students to high scores, most seem to be getting students to do better than last year. In high schools, even fewer students are at or above proficiency, but most are showing growth as well.

Board member David Freitas said he worries that the test score improvement piece is overshadowing how few schools are meeting a “minimum competency.”

“I’m concerned that the growth data … is masking a real problem in Indiana,” Freitas said. “Only 14 percent of (elementary) schools are in the A and B category. That is very, very serious.”

Poor grades can bring consequences for schools such as state intervention or takeover.

But the state’s A-F model is expected to change. A new plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will bring more factors into state grades, such as English proficiency of students learning English and a non-test-based measure like attendance. It’s not yet clear how that will affect the distribution of grades across the state.

However, the state isn’t ready to adopt the new model just yet. Instead, Indiana will issue schools two sets of metrics for 2018 — one grade from the state and another that will be reported to the federal government.

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

Indiana 2017 A-F grade breakdown

Grade Number of schools Percent of schools
A 620 29.5 percent
B 688 32.7 percent
C 454 21.6 percent
D 190 9 percent
F 124 5.9 percent
No grade 28 1.3 percent

Marion County 2017 A-F grade breakdown

Grade Number of schools Percent of schools
A 32 17.3 percent
B 35 18.9 percent
C 38 20.5 percent
D 42 22.7 percent
F 37 20 percent
No grade 1 0.5 percent

Find your school’s 2017 grade using our interactive database.

you got data

Can Colorado do a better job of sharing school report cards with parents? Data advocates say yes.

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Just as the Colorado State Board of Education is expected to approve the latest round of school quality ratings, a national organization is calling on all states to do a better job of providing this kind of information to parents and taxpayers.

The Data Quality Campaign last week released a report highlighting states that are providing more and clearer data on its schools. Colorado, once known as a leader in collecting and sharing school data, was not among the all-star list.

The Washington-based nonprofit, which advocates for school data transparency across the nation, is suggesting states use plain language, disaggregate more data and communicate specific education priorities to parents and the public.

The campaign and other supporters of making school data more public believe the information can empower school leaders, teachers and parents to make better decisions for students.

“Colorado has long been a leader in making sure there is robust data,” said Brennan Parton, the Data Quality Campaign’s director of policy and advocacy. “But if you want the normal mom, community member, or policy maker to understand the data, maybe the goal shouldn’t be comprehensive and complex but meaningful and useful.”

State education department officials acknowledged they could do a better job of making data more accessible to parents, but said in a statement this week that they do not consider its annual “school performance framework” to be a report card for schools.

“We look at the SPF as more of a technical report for schools and districts to understand where the school plan types and district accreditation ratings come from,” Alyssa Pearson, the education department’s associate commissioner for school accountability and performance, said in an email.

The ratings, which are largely based off of student performance on state English and math tests, are used in part to help the state education department target financial resources to schools that aren’t making the grade. All schools are also required to submit improvement plans based on the department’s rating.

The department posts the ratings online, as do schools. But the reports are not sent directly to parents.

Instead, the department suggests that its school dashboard tool is a better resource to understand the status of a nearby public school, although Pearson acknowledged that it is not the most parent-friendly website.

“This tool is very useful for improvement planning purposes and deeper understanding of individual schools and districts — both in terms of demographics, as well as academic performance,” Pearson said. “We are also working on refreshing and possibly redesigning other tools that we have had on the website for reporting, including creating a more user-friendly parent-reporting template.”

Trezevant fallout

Memphis orders a deeper probe into high school grade changes

The firm hired to assess the pervasiveness of grade changes in Memphis high schools has begun a deeper probe into those schools with the highest number of cases.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the firm plans to “search for documentation and figure out what happened” at those schools, noting that not all grade changes — changing a failing grade to passing — are malfeasant.

Still, Hopson promised to root out any wrongdoing found.

“Equally important is figuring out whether people are still around changing grades improperly, and creating different internal controls to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he told Chalkbeat on Thursday.

Dixon Hughes Goodman, an accounting firm from North Carolina, was hired over the summer as grade tampering was confirmed at Trezevant High School. The firm’s report found the average number of times high schools changed a failing final grade to passing was 53. Ten high schools were highlighted in the report as having 199 or more grade changes between July 2012 and October 2016.

Source: Dixon Hughes Goodman

The report was one of several released Tuesday by the Shelby County Schools board following an investigation instigated by allegations in a resignation letter from former Trezevant Principal Ronnie Mackin.

The firm’s analysis concluded that “additional investigation around grade changes is warranted,” prompting Shelby County Schools to extend the firm’s contract to dig deeper.

The investigations have already cost the school system about $500,000, said Rodney Moore, the district’s general counsel. It is unclear how much the contract extension for Dixon Hughes Goodman will cost, but board chairwoman Shante Avant said it is less than $100,000, the threshold for board approval.

Hopson said there’s not a timeline for when the school audits will be complete. He said the district is already thinking through how to better follow-up on grade changes.

“For a long time, we really put a lot of faith and trust in schools and school-based personnel,” he said. “I don’t regret that because the majority do what they’re supposed to do every day… (but) we probably need to do a better job to follow up to verify when grade changes happen.”

Avant said the board will determine what policies should be enacted to prevent further grade tampering based on the outcome of the investigation.

“The board is conscious that although we know there’s been some irregularities, we do want to focus on moving forward and where resources can be better used and how we’re implementing policies and strategies so that this won’t happen again,” she said.

Chalkbeat reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.