Confused by your school’s two letter grades? Some Indiana education officials are trying to change that.
Officials are proposing that the state scrap one of its two school A-F grades, a move they say will clarify for educators, parents, and community members how a school has performed.
“It was causing a lot of confusion,” said state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. “I think schools will be pleased.”
The Indiana Department of Education will instead ask federal officials to approve an updated school rating system under its plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which relies on four categories — exceeds, meets, approaches, and does not meet expectations — rather than letter grades. The state, however, will continue to assign A-F grades to schools as part of its own grading system.
The changes to the grades represent an attempt to get past the limited scope grades offer, McCormick said. It’s also an acknowledgement that Indiana lawmakers and state board of education members have opposed combining the state and federal grading model into one, despite urging from McCormick and other educators and experts.
“I over-assumed and underestimated the desire to take ESSA as seriously as we were,” McCormick said. “Our goal was not to have two (school grades), but we can control that obviously easier on our end.”
While the revisions would mean that schools across the state would get one grade, there would still be two yardsticks against which their test scores and other achievement data will be measured — one that meets federal law, and one that meets state law. The two ratings have different consequences for schools. The state grade would determine where a school falls on the timeline for state intervention, and the federal rating would count under rules for identifying struggling schools and those that govern Title I funding.
An education department spokesman said the state is submitting its revisions to the federal government in January and hopes to hear a response by April or May. If approved, the new model would be used for 2019 ratings, typically released in the fall.
In addition to removing the A-F grade labels, the federal plan would also change the components of the rating. Currently, federal grades are based on data from five areas — six for high schools, which report graduation rate — that still draw mainly from test scores. New to Indiana are factors that measure the fluency of students learning English as a new language and chronic absenteeism. Those aren’t included in state grades, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.
The updated version would keep most of the above factors, but remove data on course and credential completion and add a component measuring the share of students who graduate with the state’s Core 40 diploma, as well as another that focuses on test score gaps between students from different backgrounds.
Although the new ratings would still be based mostly on test scores — a requirement of federal law — they would involve more information that educators say offers a better and more fair picture of how schools are doing.
“I absolutely love it,” said Steve Baker, principal at Bluffton High School. “The letter grades have run their course — they are truly not an accurate description of what’s happening in a school.”
Baker said that unlike grades, the ratings aren’t as punitive and might not emphasize as starkly the disparities between schools in more affluent communities and those that serve more students from low-income families.
Also, different ratings could give parents more insight when choosing schools, he said. Just knowing that an “A” school is rated higher than a “B” school, without understanding what plays into those grades — which stem mainly from test scores and have been criticized for not including enough students or accounting for gaps between students from different backgrounds — isn’t going far enough, he said.
Baker said he hopes lawmakers and state board of education members consider working the ESSA changes into the state’s grading system, which after a delay, is currently under review by the state board of education.
McCormick was less confident other state leaders would lend their support. Although the education department is the state’s liaison with federal officials and doesn’t need approval to make changes to its ESSA plan, it can be helpful to have broader support, she said.
“It’s time for us to start working together,” Baker said. “Not being on the same page does not help the students of Indiana.”