SYRACUSE — Indiana’s State Board of Education, by a 7-4 vote, approved changes in how A-F letter grades are issued to public schools at its Wednesday, Jan. 10, business meeting. The changes will especially affect how high schools are issued letter grades because test score growth will be entirely removed effective in 2023.
Currently both test proficiency and test score growth are used as part of the formula for how letter grades are issued. But the test score growth for high schools will be removed entirely in 2023 and replaced with an “on-track” measure. 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 English, math, science or social studies.
In addition, a “well-rounded” measure will be added for elementary schools and calculated based on state science and social studies tests.
School administrators have often lamented letter grades do not accurately reflect what is going on in their schools and too much emphasis is placed on test scores, rather than on how well students are progressing in their learning. These changes will likely make those negative feelings even worse.
“Taking student growth measures out of the high school formula will put almost all of the weight on graduation rate and actual test scores,” said Dr. Tom Edington, superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation. “High schools with a low percentage of free/reduced lunch (well off) students will, statistically, do well on the tests, graduation rates and school grades. High schools with a high percentage of free/reduced lunch (needier) students will, statistically, do less well on tests, graduation rates and school grades.”
Edington added, essentially, a statistician could closely rank Indiana high schools for school grade purposes without the time and expense of annual testing by looking at free/reduced lunch percentages, education level of the parents and community members, assessed valuation of property per student and “other social and emotional factors that play into the educational attainment of children.”
How the changes in assigning letter grades came about has also caused concern. Educators were not involved in the decision making process for the changes actually approved by the State Board of Education. Edington noted the process used to be more open but “it appears that the process is changing.” He said the state “used to be partners with schools.”
Dr. Steve Yager, a retired superintendent who serves on the State Board of Education, said he only became aware of the changes about a week before the Jan. 10 meeting. He said in his more than two years of serving on the board, “this has never happened.”
Adam Baker, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, said the department was not aware of many of the changes the state board had proposed and was also disappointed educators were not included in the process.
Indiana is working to comply with the new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. Apparently the changes approved by the State Board of Education were driven by complying with that federal law. Josh Gillespie, a spokesman for the state board, said the test improvement piece was removed because of recommendations that Indiana move to using the SAT or ACT as its high school test.
That change would mean growth could not be properly calculated as students went from an eighth-grade state-created exam to a national college entrance exam.