Most Indiana schools will receive a top rating when 2019 A-F grades are released this week, but that grade won’t say much about a school’s performance.
Grades for each school and district are expected to be made public Wednesday following the State Board of Education meeting, around eight months after the relevant school year ended.
Statewide, nearly two-thirds of schools received an A or B for 2019 — 73% — according to a summary posted to the State Board of Education meeting agenda. Only 3%, or 71 of the more than 2,000 Indiana schools, received an F. The majority of the state’s districts received a B.
But those results are essentially meaningless thanks to a hold-harmless exemption, which prevents schools’ A-F grade from being lower than in 2018. The state calculated grades using 2018 test scores if the 2019 scores were lower, which was true for the vast majority of schools.
In 2019, only about one-third of students passed both the English and math portions of the new state standardized exam, ILEARN. As a result, state officials previously said that without the exemption most schools would have received a D or an F.
Instead, more schools received a top grade than in 2018, when about 64% had an A or B, and fewer schools received an F.
The state’s last hold harmless was passed after Indiana’s previous standardized test, ISTEP, was changed to align with more rigorous academic standards in 2015. That means over the course of the five years between 2015 and 2020, schools and teachers will have been exempted three times from any negative effects of lower scores.
Grades and test scores are tied to teacher evaluations and therefore pay. And receiving multiple F-ratings can trigger state intervention at a school.
But exempting schools and teachers has fueled distrust of the state test and left families without a clear picture of how their school is doing. By 2020, A-F grades could be based on test scores from 2018, 2019, or 2020.
Republican leaders, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, argued this latest hold-harmless exemption would give schools time to adjust to the new test. Lawmakers faced pressure from school leaders, who said the test’s new adaptive format affected the results and muddled whether students actually knew the answers to questions. But critics said they shouldn’t be so quick to discount the results of an exam considered valid by testing experts.
The overwhelming support for the hold harmless at the Statehouse could signal openness to changing accountability measures, amid growing apprehension over the current system. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has called for Indiana to move to a system that isn’t as drastically impacted by test scores.