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New Indiana A-F Rating for Schools Could Focus on Student Growth

After the revelations this past summer about Indiana's A-F accountability system in 2012 that led to former state K-12 boss Tony Bennett's resignation from his subsequent job as Florida commissioner, one key question was how Indiana would change its school rating system. A legislative panel believes it has the answer after voting 16-1 to approve a plan Nov. 1 that emphasizes tracking individual student growth on tests in school grades.

The panel was led by Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, and included representatives of lawmakers, GOP Gov. Mike Pence, and the state education department. The state school board will consider the plan this month for final adoption.

The new plan won't take effect until the 2014-15 school year as the state transitions from its current A-F system. But the important change to highlight is that there's going to be a greater emphasis on how much students improve on state accountability exams from year to year.  And to complicate matters, the "performance" category gets more weight for high school students, but the "growth" category matters more to middle and elementary school students.

This concept of individual student growth isn't new to the state's A-F ratings, as Kyle Stokes of StateImpact explained a year ago when discussing the 2012 school ratings in Indiana (the ones that got Bennett in trouble). But the difference, as his StateImpact colleague Elle Moxley pointed out, is that under the proposed A-F system for 2014-15, students will "no longer be compared to their peers across the state" when determining points for growth.

All of this is not to say the raw scores of these exams won't be significant anymore. And scores from some new tests would be added to this proposed A-F overhaul. But the panel clearly wants to put more stress on students' ability to improve on a test, not just their ability to pass one. In addition, you can see the desire for more factors to be included in the state's A-F rankings reflected in the proposed shift from a simple 4-point basis for A-F grades to a 100-point scale. College- and career-readiness and graduation rates will also be factored in.

On page 8, you can see whether the panel decided to include various factors in the new A-F system, and if so, whether each factor will be placed in the "performance" or "growth" category. (Science test performance, as well as attendance, the suspension/expulsion rate, and classroom size won't get consideration in the new system.)

Now it's the state board's turn. Remember, there is an internecine legal spat going on between board members and Ritz (a member of the state board) over this year's A-F school ratings. Other board members say they want state legislative analysts to help Ritz in calculating those grades, but Ritz complained that the board broke the state's open meetings law in making that request. Could that impact the board's thinking regarding A-F accountability? Then again, given the nearly unanimous vote by the panel for A-F changes, some sort of significant shift for school accountability appears to be close.

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