For the first time, Indiana schools are getting graded on how well they’re serving some of the state’s most vulnerable students — and the data shows many are missing the mark.
Schools largely received lower grades for how they educated students of color, students with disabilities, students from low-income families, and those learning English as a new language than for how they educated white students. Nearly half of those graded for the performance of students with disabilities were rated F, and almost one-third received Fs for the performance of their black students. By contrast, of the schools serving white students, only two percent were rated F for those students’ performance.
“It’s alarming that students are not being educated,” said NAACP of Greater Indianapolis interim education committee chairman Garry Holland. “If no one says anything about it, it just continues each year.”
This year, every school in the state received two A-F grades, which the state publicly released Wednesday. One grade was calculated under a state model that relies largely on test scores, and the other was determined under a plan that Indiana uses to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. These grades include sub-scores for students of color, students with disabilities, students from low-income families, and those learning English as a new language in an effort to offer a better look at how schools are educating all students.
For example, a school could receive a B overall, but be rated lower when it comes to the performance of English-learners or multiracial students. School-level grades under the federal model and grades for so-called “subgroups” of students do not factor into Indiana’s timeline for state intervention, but they are used to identify schools where the state needs to invest more resources.
Only 10 schools in the entire state received A ratings for their black student subgroup, five of which are in Brownsburg schools, a district that posted some of the highest test scores in the state in 2018.
Adam Baker, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, said the subgroup grades can’t necessarily be tied to overall school quality — some schools have one or two subgroups of vulnerable students, while others might have more. For example, 500 of the state’s 1,818 schools received grades for the performance of black students and 384 received grades for the performance of English-Learners, whereas 1,634 received grades for the performance of white students. Schools might also not have enough students in a certain group to be graded at all.
“You should consider this information as areas where improvement could be made,” Baker said in an email. “We need to consider how are these subgroups doing in comparison to other subgroups at the school. For example, does the school see a huge disparity between its black subgroup and white subgroup? Or are all subgroups performing poorly?”
Disparities between white students and students of color were common, at the state and local level. In the vast majority of schools in Marion County where academic results from both white and black students were factored into grades, the performance of white students was almost always rated higher.
White students also earned more overall points, on average, for factors such as passing tests, test score improvement, graduation rate, attendance, and English proficiency, than black students in the county — 79 points compared to 64 points, corresponding to a C and D respectively. At the state level, the gap widens, with schools, on average, receiving a B for the performance of white students, and a D for the performance of black students.
Schools grades are highly reflective of state test scores, which have a well-documented history of gaps between certain groups of students. Although state test scores tend to make up a smaller overall piece of the federal grades than state grades, it is still the single largest factor, which raises some important caveats, experts say. Differences in test scores between groups of students, often called achievement or opportunity gaps, don’t reflect students’ innate abilities to learn. Nor do they always mean schools are doing a poor job educating different students. Rather, gaps can be attributed to any number of factors, including test question biases, parents’ education, students’ early childhood education, stress, trauma, and more.
Gaps in grades, in this case, could point out areas of inequities between schools, such as differences in teacher quality, curriculum quality, and availability of honors courses. The gaps also show the extent to which income disparities and poverty are present in a school. Students who come from low-income families and those who switch schools frequently tend to do worse on standardized exams, which would result in lower grades.
The Every Student Succeeds Act has been mentioned by some advocates as a way to address gaps between students, but Indiana’s plan to comply with the law has been criticized for not factoring the achievement of students of colors and those with more intensive education needs into overall federal grades.
Baker said the state has an advisory board dedicated to helping it guide schools on how to improve gaps between groups of students, among other resources. Baker also said the education department is working with the local NAACP and the Indianapolis Urban League to that end.