Indiana education officials today unveiled a state education plan to replace the remnants of the unpopular No Child Left Behind Act — and the plan has been years in the making.
The 132-page draft proposal makes a number of changes to state education policy, including adding chronic absenteeism into state letter grades, starting a school “climate” and culture survey, and setting ambitious academic goals for students of color, English-learners, students with special needs and those from low-income families.
The plan aims to meet the new requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which will fully take effect for the 2018-19 school year. It was designed to give states more flexibility in how they measure schools. It passed in 2015 under a bipartisan Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Overall, Patrick McAlister, director of policy for the Indiana Department of Education, said he’s pleased with the work that’s gone into the plan.
“We’re excited to share the plan with the public,” McAlister said. “ESSA is our moment to make some interesting investments and changes in the state and really try to make the process of education policy more transparent.”
The plan also means changes to Indiana’s A-F letter grade system, which was substantially overhauled last year to measure schools not just on test passing rates, but how much students improve. This time, the changes are smaller, but they seek to incorporate more information about schools rather than just data based on tests.
State education officials have spent bits and pieces of the past two years discussing and dissecting parts of ESSA. Much of Indiana’s accountability system already comports with the new law, but the main pieces that state must add are ways to measure how well English-learners are progressing and a “school quality or student success” measure in elementary and middle grades that isn’t based on test scores.
There will also be some changes to state testing rules and how low-performing schools are identified and supported by the state.
Now, A-F grades are composed of test passing rates, test score growth, and for high schools, a measure of “college and career readiness,” which includes the number of students taking advanced courses or obtaining industry certifications. Going forward, the English-learner proficiency and the school quality measures will be added in.
For English-learners, the state is looking to use results of an English language proficiency test called WIDA, which they will consider alongside student improvement on the test from year to year.
For the school quality measure, the education department is proposing looking at attendance in the short term and eventually, creating a student survey that focuses on school climate and culture.
Chronic absenteeism has been a popular measure among states because many schools already collect the data, and attendance is a major driver of student success. State education officials said Indiana’s proposed attendance measure — which looks at the number of students who attend at least 97 percent of the time and those who improve attendance from prior years — focuses on schools already doing well while still recognizing gains.
“The data is so clear on the impact of attendance,” said education department spokeswoman Molly Deuberry. “To ignore it is almost irresponsible.”
As part of the state’s long term goals, it is proposing to increase test passing rates by 50 percent for all students by 2023.
It’s a proposal that is slightly familiar to those who closely follow education policy. One concern from the NCLB-era was that proficiency targets were too dramatic — expecting all students to pass state tests by 2014 just wasn’t realistic. It remains to be seen whether Indiana’s modified proficiency goal is attainable.
“I think it meets the federal definition of ‘ambitious yet achievable,’” said Maggie Paino, director of accountability at the education department. “Especially considering the fact that we’ve recently transitioned to a different test, and will be transitioning again.”
The plan next gets released for public comment through July 20. The Indiana Department of Education is scheduled to submit the plan to the federal education department on Sept. 18.
View the entire ESSA draft plan here.