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Indiana schools will no longer get two A-F grades. Here’s how the federal measure will change.

Multicolored file-holders sit atop four student cubbies holding papers, and backpacks in a classroom
Student cubbies in a classroom Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School, an elementary school in Indianapolis, Indiana. —April, 2019— Photo by Alan Petersime/Chalkbeat
Alan Petersime/Chalkbeat

School districts in Indiana will no longer receive a second A-F grade after the approach was criticized last year for being confusing. But the state will continue using two measuring sticks to rank schools.

In 2018, districts received two grades for the first time: One based largely on test scores, which is the A-F grade Indiana has been handing out for years, and one based on a new formula that Indiana added in order to meet federal requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Tacking on the federal measure allowed Indiana to avoid changing its A-F school grading system, which factors into teacher evaluations and can trigger state intervention. But the approach faced backlash because the two grades put different weights on different measures, and therefore weren’t the same for many districts.

Instead, starting this year the federal ranking will categorize schools as “exceeding,” “meeting,” “approaching,” or “not meeting” expectations.

The change is meant to both minimize confusion and make the federal measure a more positive experience for schools, said Indiana Department of Education spokesperson Adam Baker.

“Rather than looking at accountability as something punitive, which is the view of many schools regarding A-F grading, we looked at using it as a tool to measure achievement and motivate progress toward goals,” Baker wrote in an email.

Schools’ 2019 state grades are currently tied up by calls to pass a “hold harmless” provision to protect schools from low statewide scores on the new ILEARN standardized exam. The grades won’t be released until after the legislative session begins in January, when lawmakers are expected to approve a one-year reprieve.

The 2019 federal ratings are not affected by a hold harmless policy and are expected to be released in December.

According to Indiana’s rubric for the federal ratings, schools will be categorized based on how they score in seven different areas, which include state test scores, growth scores, graduation rates, attendance rates, the percentage of students who earn honors diplomas, achievement gaps, and progress for English-language learners.

Schools will be scored based on whether they are on track to meet the state’s long-term goals in each area. For example, Indiana set a goal to close the racial gaps in passing rates on standardized tests in English and math by 50% by 2023 for high schools and by 2026 for elementary and middle schools. A district that “meets expectations” can show that the school is closing gaps in most areas, according to a state plan.

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has pushed for the state to use only the federal measure, which some experts have said is tougher on schools because it considers more data and requires them to count more students, such as those in remedial programs.

But state lawmakers maintain that Indiana’s grades are the better option because it reflects Indiana law and policies, not federal ones.

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