INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Sweeping changes to Indiana’s A-to-F ranking standards
for public schools have been approved despite complaints that the new rules
are too complex for schools and parents to understand.
The State Board of Education voted 6-2 Wednesday for the changes. The
overhaul means the grading scale for Indiana’s schools will now be attached
to a new evaluation system that gives schools more credit when students’
test scores grow faster than their peers, The Indianapolis Star reported.
The changes also add new measures to gauge how well schools prepare students
for college and careers.
A wide spectrum of educators and education-focused groups opposed the rules,
however, calling them too complex. They also said one growth measure was
potentially unfair to schools.
Board members said that while the system is not perfect, it provides more
information and greater flexibility than the old system.
State schools superintendent Tony Bennett said complexity could not be
avoided in getting a deeper understanding of school performance. Bennett
also said the new policy is flexible and will allow education officials to
“go back and revisit them” to make later changes.
Indiana replaced its school rating categories with A to F grades last
summer, though the methods used to rank schools remained unchanged for 2011.
Bennett had promised an overhauled school rating system for this year, and
the changes approved Thursday spell out the criteria or logic used to
determine each of those grades, said State Department of Education
spokeswoman Stephanie Sample.
Indiana’s public schools will get their first letter grades based on that
new criteria this fall. The grades will reflect schools’ performance during
the 2011-12 school year, Sample said.
Indiana also sought a waiver from the accountability requirements of the
federal No Child Left Behind law in its pursuit of creating a new system for
judging school quality. The state submitted its new A-to-F proposal to show
how it planned to do so.
Indiana is also implementing “common core” standards that will be shared by
45 other states and eventually bring new tests that could replace ISTEP, the
state’s standardized achievement test.
The new system is built on three primary test factors that judge if students
have reached proficiency, how much they improved and how their growth
compared to other students on their testing level.
But the growth measure has proved controversial.
Based on ideas borrowed from Colorado, it only gives students credit for
“high growth” if their gain is better than two-thirds of all students at
their testing level. Because this measure is percentage based, only a third
of students will be able to reach it — no matter how much their scores go
Some educators worry that could handicap some schools if their students make
solid growth but growth across the state is even better.
State Board of Education member Mike Pettibone raised that concern, saying
the state should want a student’s test scores to reflect at least a year’s
gain over a year’s time.
But the model would allow students to be labeled “high growth” with less
than a year’s gain in test scores if students across the state did poorly in
general. Or they could miss out on being labeled “high growth” even if they
made more than a year’s gain if students statewide scored higher than usual.
Board member David Shane argued that the system’s advantages outweigh those
“I’m not sure I love all of it but I find it intriguing that schools are
being judged on how well they got their kids to learn,” he said.
Board member Jo Blacketor said she was most concerned by reports that
schools and parents had difficulty understanding how their schools received
their grades. A simulation of the new system saw some grades jump or fall
Blacketor said A-to-F was supposed to be easier for parents to understand,
“It is not transparent to the general public,” she said. “It is not simple.
It is complex.”