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Students at IPS School 39.

Students at IPS School 39.

Proposed A-F grading rules would make test scores even more important in Indiana

Indiana state officials are again suggesting changes to the state’s A-F grading formula that would place even more importance on passing tests, and many were unaware about what was coming.

The proposed formula would factor in more strongly the number of students who pass tests and remove the measure of test score improvement for high schools, which educators have said they think is valuable. The changes come as Indiana works to create a plan comply with new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Scot Croner, superintendent of the northern Indiana Wa-Nee School District, said he doesn’t understand why educators — particularly the 15-member committee that helped the state draft its plan — weren’t involved in the discussion.

“It just seems like a lot of behind-the-scenes and not very transparent,” said Croner, who helped with part of the original plan’s development. “That’s unfortunate. It screams of politics.”

Read: Indiana has a curious plan to sidestep federal rules — give schools two A-F grades next year.

The state board is set to meet to consider the proposed A-F grade changes on Wednesday. If the board approves them, they will be posted for public comment.

Adam Baker, 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 that educators were not included.

“The concerns we are hearing from the field is the lack of transparency,” Baker said. “We’ve always believed in order to make good policy, you must have the involvement of practitioners. And given we were extremely transparent during the creation of our approach to meet ESSA requirements, those in the field expected the same.”

The education department and the state board of education have been separate since 2013. Generally, the education department deals with state and federal agencies and executes policy — the state board is tasked with creating or approving it.

When then-Gov. Mike Pence split off the state board from the department of education as part of his “innovative” Center for Education and Career Innovation, then-state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who headed the department and frequently butted heads with him, said it was a political ploy to take away her power. The board has 11 members.

The education department is in charge of the state’s plan to comply with new federal law, and state board members had several chances over the summer to give input and suggest changes before the plan was submitted to the federal government in August.

But even some state board members were unaware that new rules were being drafted. Steve Yager, a board member and former superintendent from Fort Wayne, said he was not part of the small group of four that made the rules, and he only became aware a week ago that they’d be up for a vote this month.

“In my two-and-a-half years on the board, this has never happened,” Yager said. “So I see it as a change in process or protocol or practice, and there are members of the board who are concerned about it.”

State plan grades 2016 - new formulas

The new formulas could look something like this:

Elementary/middle school:

  • Test proficiency: 42.5 percent
  • Test score growth: 42.5 percent
  • Chronic Absenteeism: 5 percent
  • English Language Proficiency: 5 percent
  • Well-rounded (science and social studies test): 5 percent

High school (before the 2022-23 school year):

  • Test proficiency: 25 percent
  • Graduation Rate: 30 percent
  • College & Career Readiness: 30 percent
  • English Language Proficiency: 5 percent
  • On-track: 10 percent

High school (after the 2022-23 school year):

  • Test proficiency: 30 percent
  • Graduation Rate: 50 percent
  • English Language Proficiency: 5 percent
  • On-track: 15 percent

Indiana’s A-F grades aim to rate schools based on whether students are learning. Although grades are based primarily on how many students pass — which many educators feel are unreliable after several years of changes in the tests — tests still bring consequences. After four years of consecutive Fs, the state can replace staff, bring in charter managers or close schools.

The changes proposed by state board staff members add two new pieces to state grades: A “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools and an “on-track” measure for high schools.

The “well-rounded” piece is calculated based on state science and social studies tests given once in elementary and middle school. 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.

For high schools, test score growth would be taken out entirely in 2023, as would the “college and career-readiness” measure. That piece was based on the number of students taking advanced courses or earning work-related certificates.

During recent A-F grade discussions, educators have stressed the importance of including measures that capture how much students improve, not just how they do at one moment in time. The board has gone back and forth on how to balance those factors. In this new proposal, growth for K-8 schools is also capped — previously, schools could earn extra points if they helped struggling students improve significantly.

Josh Gillespie, 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 properly be calculated as students went from an eighth-grade state-created exam to a national college entrance exam.

Read more of Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.

This story has been updated with the correct weights for high school graduation rate and high school test proficiency after 2023.