Board Weighs Options For New A-F Grading Scale

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October 2, 2014 —

INDIANAPOLIS – Education officials wrestled Wednesday over how to measure student improvement and how that development should be factored into the state’s next A-F school grading scale.

Members of the State Board of Education made no final decisions, saying they need more time to tweak a recommendation from an A-F panel that will change the system for grades assigned next year.

But there was consensus about one key aspect of the new plan: It will give students, parents, teachers and the public more information about how individual students are improving.

“We are going to have a student-centered accountability system that looks at your child’s individual student growth,” said state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who chairs the education board.

“We’ll all be able to see it. We’ll all be able to get credit for it within the accountability system,” she said. “And that growth of individual student performance is valued.”

But working out the details won’t be easy. The A-F panel and the state board have been determined to develop a school grading system that is simple enough for parents and the public to understand. But several board members said Wednesday that shouldn’t be done at the expense of a system that provides an accurate look at how well schools are doing.

“You cannot give a school a grade that deceives the public,” said board member Dan Elsner. “A grade should not obscure a crisis.”

Among the questions board members must answer is whether students’ results on standardized tests should be measured against how the same students scored in the past or how their similar situated peers are doing – or some combination.

And once that’s determined, how much should the students’ improvement count toward a school’s grade? Should it be more or less than whether students actually passed the test?

The proposal currently under consideration equally counts passage rates and student improvement rates. Elsner said he wants the board to look at more models and the grades they produce for schools, including some models that emphasize actual achievement over student growth.

But Ritz said the concepts are key. “I don’t think we should skew the system with magic numbers of how many schools get an A or F,” she said. “What’s more important is an accurate representation” of how schools are helping students.

The changes are part of a mandate from the Indiana General Assembly, which required the board to scrap the existing grading scale in favor of one that emphasized the growth in student achievement. The goal is to reward schools for improving students’ scores on standardized tests and other measures, even if they don’t actually pass the exams.

It’s also meant to encourage improvement even among students at schools with already high passage rates.

But the changes are likely to mean fewer As and more Bs and Cs for schools, something that appeared to make some board members nervous. “We have to be able to explain it,” said board member Sarah O’Brien.

There will be a number of reasons why test scores and therefore school grades are lower. In addition to the changes in the grading scale, the state is implementing new curriculum standards this year and education officials are finalizing a new, more rigorous test to measure student knowledge of those standards.

Board member Cari Whicker said there will be schools that move up the scale and down the scale. “You have to be prepared for that,” she said.

“If we just expect the same results, then we should keep the same system,” she said.

Under state law, that’s not an option. The new system must be in place for grades handed out next year. That means the Department of Education must soon launch the rule-making process that will put the system in place, which gives board members just a few months to work out the details. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in as the rule making process progresses.

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