In the upcoming annual release of A-F grades, Indiana schools are receiving not one, but two ratings — and for many of those schools, the two grades are not the same, a sharp contrast that could cause confusion over how well schools are serving students.
One set of grades from the state’s rating system gave higher marks to about one-third of schools, a state presentation shows. The other set, based on new federal standards of the Every Student Succeeds Act, gave far fewer top ratings to schools.
The two grades illustrate differences in priorities — and in politics. Some national experts say the federal standards are tougher on schools than Indiana’s model because they require schools to count more students, such as those in remedial programs, and include other data not pulled from state tests, such as students who are chronically absent or the fluency of those learning English as a new language.
But state policymakers maintain that Indiana’s model is a better option because it reflects Indiana laws and policies, not federal ones. Currently, the state model is largely based on test scores, but state policymakers are working to update it so it includes more information about schools. So far they have resisted efforts to align the state ratings with the federal ones, in part because it would require changes to state law.
“Why should we conform to them, and why don’t they conform to us?” said Dennis Kruse, a Republican from Auburn, Indiana, who formerly chaired the state Senate education committee, in an interview last month with Chalkbeat. “Give us the flexibility we need to have standards we need and have A-F grade calculations we think are best for our state, and not be some cookie-cutter national thing that the federal government would want.”
Indiana is not the only state to splinter ratings into two scores: Colorado and Florida also operate separate systems for grades from the state and under ESSA.
Here’s what the dual system ends up looking like: Indiana gave As to nearly 29 percent of schools for 2018. But under the federal grading plan, only 11 percent received a top grade, and more schools received Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs.
Still, most schools — about two thirds — received the same grade for both the federal and state criteria. Only 2 percent of schools received higher grades under the federal formula.
Another key difference between two sets of grades is that the state rated private schools that receive school vouchers — public funding that is used to pay for students to attend private schools. Most of the private schools that receive vouchers are A- or B-rated by the state, but they were not evaluated under the federal standards.
Still, even when looking only at public schools, the state was far more generous with As than the federal model.
State education officials, including state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, have acknowledged that the two sets of grades will likely be confusing, sending two different messages to families who are trying to gauge the quality of their local schools.
Individual school grades have not yet been released but are expected to be made public Wednesday. The differences between state and federal ratings were released early as part of the Indiana State Board of Education’s Wednesday meeting agenda.
The state’s grades matter because they can trigger intervention in chronically failing schools. The federal standards are used to determine support for the lowest-performing schools and federal funding. But until school grades are released next week, it won’t be clear which schools fall into those categories.
State policymakers are in the middle of revamping the grading system, but it’s been a tumultuous process in part because of disagreements over adding the federal criteria. The state could ultimately combine the two systems into one, but so far lawmakers and policymakers have said it’s not a priority. It’s unclear when the state could decide on a new grading system.
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Correction: Nov. 9, 2018: The A-F grading presentation is still linked on the Indiana State Board of Education’s meeting agenda. This story has also been updated to reflect a recent change in Sen. Dennis Kruse’s title.