Remember when you were in school? Hopefully, you did your best to work hard to learn. The payoff was a good grade based on your hard work and your demonstration of achievement. In recent years, schools have been labeled in much the same way.
However, beginning with the A-F grading system in Indiana, passing the ISTEP test is no longer good enough. A complicated growth model is now being added to the labeling of students and schools.
The federal Department of Education granted the Indiana Department of Education a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act in February. This waiver allows Indiana to rely solely on its own accountability framework for A-F letter grades.
The enhanced A-F methodology using the “Indiana Growth Model” was developed by the Indiana Department of Education (modified Colorado model) and was approved by the State Board of Education on Feb. 8 for full implementation this summer/fall.
The revised A-F labeling model includes the following elements that parents should be attentive to when striving to understand how this system works:
Growth has been elevated to a primary factor in determining a school’s grade. This model is determined by a formula that no one seems to understand or can explain.
Students are compared to each other based on performance and growth in separate state-wide cohort groups. We all should ask, “What is the profile of the students that make up the comparison groups? To which students is your child being compared?”
Are students being compared with others statewide?
Are students with different socio-economic backgrounds expected to demonstrate consistent, equitable growth?
Not all students have the same educational opportunities because of the financial variance of the state funding formula.
The state A-F grading model professes that the growth component is only comparing students who are essentially alike. By design, the growth formula compares students who have the same starting scale score in one year with how much those same students grow in the next year. The theory is that those students must basically be considered the same and their growth must solely be attributable to the ability and quality of the teacher and school.
But, here again, the issue of what it means to be “disadvantaged” has a terrible debilitating effect on growth. Just because students end a school year with the same state exam score does not mean they are essentially alike.
As public school superintendents, it is imperative that we lead our school systems to be win-win processes for all students, whether they are advantaged or disadvantaged. As school superintendents, we recognize and embrace the importance of accountability in the operations of our schools as well as in the achievement of our students. However, accountability systems that fail to recognize the natural variance that is inherent in all human beings is a system that is indefensible.
Furthermore, a system that does not recognize variation in human development as well as in environmental conditions that impact the student is a system of accountability that will produce a win-lose result.
The opinion expressed in this column is that of the Northwest Indiana Public Schools Study Council members and not necessarily that of The Times.