Future of Schools

Schools could earn fewer A's next year under proposed state board rule changes

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Students at the Center for Inquiry at School 27.

Schools could have a harder time earning A’s beginning in 2016 if the Indiana State Board of Education approves new A-to-F grading rules Thursday.

The new approach would try to better balance how passing rates on state tests and student improvement from one year to the next factor into accountability letter grades. This measure of student growth has been discussed intensely among board members, state officials and educators, with some districts arguing schools should get credit even if students don’t pass the test, but show strong gains.

Under the revised rules, half the score that figures into A-to-F grades for schools serving children in grades 3 to 8 would be based on how much students improve on their prior scores and half on how many kids pass.

For high schools, a “college- and career-readiness” score and five-year graduation rate would account for 60 percent of the score. Another 20 percent of the A-to-F calculation would be based on test score gains over the prior year and 20 percent on the number of students who pass.

The college- and career-readiness score would be based on several factors: the percent of students who pass Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, a school’s four-year graduation rate, and any professional credentials or college credit students earn before graduation.

The rules previously weighted test passing rates themselves higher than test score growth, with passing rates making up 60 percent of the A-to-F score. But during public comment sessions earlier this year, there was strong opposition to that set-up.

“We received about 218 comments through all the various forums,” state board spokesman Marc Lotter said. “A lot of the comments were taken into consideration and we included them in the final rule. I think the rule reflects the general thought … (people) want student performance and student growth treated equally in the grade model.”

However, projections using last year’s data and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education suggest the new approach could also make it more difficult for schools to earn A’s.

A requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind law would only allow the state to give A grades to schools that can show small groups of students — such as ethnic minorities, English language learners and those in special education programs —  meet passing rate and growth goals each year. If a district does not seem to be closing the test score gap between those groups and the rest of the schools, but still scores well on tests, the best it could earn would be a B.

Lotter said this aspect of NCLB is still in effect even though the state received a waiver from some sanctions of the law last year. The law previously asked schools to ensure all students were proficient by 2014, but the waiver gives schools more leeway — they can determine their own guidelines that are “ambitious but achievable,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Using data from 2014, the panel found that weighting passing rates and growth evenly, rather than having passing rates count for 60 percent, would have increased A grades and D grades slightly, to 41 percent from 40 percent and to 5 percent from 4 percent, respectively. But B, C and F grades would have stayed the same, at 38 percent, 14 percent and 3 percent.

Although there are minor differences between the 60-40 and 50-50 models compared to each other, the new 50-50 model would have significantly changed this year’s grades calculated by the current model, mostly affecting the top of the scale.

A’s would’ve dropped t0 41 percent from 54 percent, B’s would’ve increased to 38 percent from 20 percent, and C’s, D’s and F’s would’ve also dropped — to 14 percent from 16 percent, 5 percent from 6 percent, and 3 percent from 4 percent, respectively.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”