Saturday, September 3, 2011

Indiana's New "grades" for Schools

Thanks to FWCS Board President Mark GiaQuinta for sharing this:

For those of you who follow the news with respect to the “grades” assigned to schools and districts, the explanation of the grading may be a bit confusing. The Journal Gazette has done a superb job in its attempts to clarify the issue. Here it is in a nutshell:

1. PL 221 is the State statute that governs school performance. The state has decided to assign letter grades (A – F) to schools and districts based upon improvement shown in the standardized testing administered by the state (ISTEP).

2. The Federal Government through the DOE is also in the school evaluation business as the result of funding that comes from D.C. Their system is much more complex and is centered around improvement among subgroups of students. For example, if a school or district has minority students, it is not good enough to make progress as a school if one of the subgroups is lagging behind. The school or district is required to make progress in every subgroup it has and should it miss in even one of those, the entire school is deemed to have not made Adequate Yearly Progress. So, for example, if a school has all 37 boxes to check off (the maximum is 37 – most have far fewer but FWCS had all 37 up to this year when our native American population went down below the threshold) and misses in one, the entire school is deemed to have failed under the federal accountability system. Obviously, this makes the task of meeting the federal bar much more difficult in diverse districts and schools than in those with all white, middle class kids. (one of the 37 boxes is reserved for low income students).

3. The Federal Government requires the states to incorporate its system into the state performance system in order to qualify for federal funding. The State of Indiana does it by “capping” the letter grade Indiana will give to a school or district at the “C” level if that school or district fails to make AYP for two consecutive years under the federal system. So using the same example from above, if a school that might otherwise qualify for an “A” under the state system missed one of cells or boxes it has to check off to make federal AYP, the highest grade it can receive from the State is a “C”. Of course, if your district or school is non-diverse, your state grade is your grade since there is little chance of missing AYP as you essentially have only two categories – boys and girls.

This year the suburban schools are howling because many of them received C grades due to not making AYP two consecutive years. To make AYP a district has to show improvement year after year with its subgroups. As each year goes by, that improvement becomes more and more difficult to achieve. In other words, sooner or later, the school runs into the challenges a district like ours ran into years ago. When that happens, those districts begin to recognize the difficulty of making AYP to maintain an A score. So you can probably guess what is going to happen – that’s right. The schools with clout are getting waivers from having to meet AYP so they can once again receive their A score. They now recognize what FWCS saw years ago, the rankings are often times demonstrating the challenges faced by the teachers in a school or district, not their performance.

Funny isn’t it? For years FWCS had A schools receiving C grades due to the inability to check off all the boxes under AYP. Last year, we would have had 35 of the 53 schools ranked A but for the fact that only 9 of those 35 schools made two years of AYP. This year we have 16 A rated schools but 35 would have made an A again but for having missed a box under AYP ( and we have lots more boxes to check!). The good news is that FWCS made AYP as a district for the second straight year and was awarded an A as a district. Since the uproar from the suburban schools around the state is getting through to the State, it is likely that the 19 schools in FWCS deprived of the A ranking as the result of missing AYP will receive that score next year along with several more.

Hope this helps to understand the rating process. The Board, Administration, teachers, students and parents will not stop working until all 53 schools are rated “A”. Most importantly, this is good for the students, but also good for the taxpayers, good for real estate values, good for economic development, good for the soul of the community!

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