Feelings mixed about new school grading system

Mary Beck is going to pump up their kids for ISTEP+ with a meeting more similiar to a party. How do other schools get kids ready?

Posted on Feb. 12, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

Local school administrators have mixed feelings about the state’s revamped school accountability system.

Indiana is one of 10 states so far to receive a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind and its Adequate Yearly Progress standards. In order to receive the waiver, states needed to develop other accountability standards for schools and begin the implementation process.

The Indiana State Board of Education approved the new A to F Accountability model Wednesday.

“Indiana’s new A-F Accountability model holds schools to higher standards and provides a more accurate picture of school performance by incorporating student academic growth, graduation rates, as well as college and career readiness variables as measures of school success,” according to the Indiana Department of Education. Schools’ letter grades, under the new system, will be available to the public this fall, according to Stephanie Sample, the department’s communications director.

Some local administrators question the transparency that the state claims will come with the new system.

“Everyone will understand the letter grades, but whether you will understand how they’re derived — and if how they’re derived is valid — is very important,” Elkhart Superintendent Mark Mow said. “The model is a complex model that ends up with a very simple result.”

“The A to F model right now is not very well understood by anybody,” Mow continued.

Diane Woodworth, Goshen’s deputy superintendent, wondered how easily parents or community members who try to understand the new system will succeed when school administrators are still working at processing it.

“I think it’s a little confusing for people,” she said.

Through the new system, elementary and middle school grades from the state will be handled differently than high schools’ grades.

According to a summary from the education department, for elementary and middle schools, the state will set base performance scores from Indiana Statewide Testing for Education Progress-Plus (ISTEP+) tests. The state will measure growth one year to the next, raising schools’ grades if students show high growth. What qualifies for high growth is higher for the lowest performing students, determined by the tests, from the top 75 percent. The state also incorporates attendance on ISTEP+ testing days into the grading equation.

For high schools, the state will look at performance on the English 10 and Algebra I end-of-course assessments and measure the growth from the ISTEP+ English/language arts and math sections to those tests. The state also awards high scores to schools based on graduation rates and by how many college credits, state-approved industry certifications and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate passing grades students earned.

With questions still surrounding the test for many administrators, Jane Allen, Middlebury’s director of curriculum and instruction, and Steven Thalheimer, Fairfield’s assistant superintendent, both said they’re happy with the new system, which they said seems to align with the initiatives the two school corporations have in place.

Concord administrators said that, though they have some questions about the A to F Accountability System, it is nice to be under just the state system instead of both federal and state system. But, said Bryan Waltz, Concord’s director of elementary curriculum, the new system is “not as clean cut as either of the systems before.”

“We’re anxiously awaiting clarification and more details,” Tim Tahara, Concord’s assistant superintendent, said.

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