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State committee ponders changes to school A-F grade system — again

Indiana is beginning the tedious, but important, work of making sure every part of its A-F school grading system meets new federal education rules.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz today held the first of what will be a series of meetings with a  group of 19 educators she tapped to help examine how the state rates schools. Indiana must submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Education by March 6, 2017, detailing how its accountability system will work.

“It’s more than just the assigning of A-F grades,” Ritz said. “It’s literally about the support system we have in place to support schools.”

The new Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, officially goes into effect for the 2017-18 school year. Ritz said the 19 educators on her accountability committee will help develop the plan over the next few months to adjust aspects of the state’s new A-F model, including how the state will get involved to help struggling schools.

The committee will advise Ritz and the Indiana Department of Education before the plan is due to federal education officials in March. Then, the recommendations will be shared with the Indiana State Board of Education, which can choose to vote on possible changes to state accountability rules sometime next year.

Ritz’s advisory committee will be contributing to the fourth round of changes to the state’s A-F grading system in recent years.

The system was last changed last year to expand the number of factors in school grades so test scores would not be the sole measure. Educators had for years complained that ISTEP test scores were not a true representation of how schools were doing.

While the grades have historically primarily considered schools’ results on the state’s ISTEP test, Indiana’s new A-F model, which will be used for the first time to calculate 2016 school and district grades, will include other details such as graduation rate and how many students pass Advanced Placement exams or earn industry credentials.

Ritz said the accountability committee that met today is looking for ways to further expand the number of factors that could affect schools grades as required by the new federal law, but the system as a whole doesn’t require a complete overhaul.

“The system itself is in place,” Ritz said. “Two years ago we began this hard work, and so our accountability system is in place. So now what we’re doing is putting in those elements required under ESSA … most all of them are involving how we actually serve the schools that need improvement.”

The main areas that Indiana must add to its grading system are how measure the progress and proficiency of English-learners and a school quality measure in elementary and middle schools. At the high school level, the state can use the AP and IB data, or it can add a different measure.

Beginning in the 2017-18 school year, Indiana must make sure its accountability system includes, at a minimum, these five components:

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Four-year graduation rate for high schools.
  • Student test score improvement in elementary and middle schools — optional in high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners.
  • At least one aspect of school climate or quality — such as chronic absenteeism, students taking advanced coursework and earning industry credentials or teacher or student engagement surveys.

The next A-F committee meeting will be Sept. 12. For more information on the Every Student Succeeds Act, check out resources from the Indiana Department of Education and Education Week.

This story has been clarified to reflect how the committee will work with the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana State Board of Education.