Without much fanfare, as Indiana students were finishing this year’s round of ISTEP testing, the Indiana State Board of Education passed a big new A-F grading system.
While overhauling is needed on a variety of aspects of Indiana education, fixing the grading was one of the biggest. This proposal on the A-F Accountability Grades is a good start.
Rather than comparing how many students in a grade at a school pass the test his year compared to last year, effectively comparing different groups of students, the new proposal will put more importance on how students improve year to year.
That is the point of education. Even if a student lags in reading in early grades, if they improve over the years, a school should get credit for that. According to State Impact Indiana, a collaboration that covers education, test scores and growth in scores will be counted equally.
When A-F grades of schools come out, it’s big news statewide with coverage by nearly every outlet.
This change in the state grading system on April 15 was barely covered. The board unanimously approved the needed change, but few members of the media were there.
Not everyone was in favor of it. The Indiana Urban Schools Association said the proposal is discriminatory and not allowed by Indiana law. The association — of which Concord, Goshen and Elkhart are members — said it could have a negative impact on students based on race, socio-economic status and/or disability. Cynthia Roach, testing and accountability coordinator for the state board, said the proposal was vetted legally and that the growth piece of the proposal can close needed gaps in the state.
It’s unlikely the proposal solves every issue with the previous grading system, but particularly as ISTEP broke down, the grading system did too. The grades became meaningless at best and even harmful. The grades have a tremendous impact, ranging from families to entire communities, from children to property values.
Holding schools and students accountable is needed, but the hyperfocus on whether students pass or fail has damaged education in Indiana. The new A-F grades standards appear to be more fair, more likely to help understand how Hoosier schools, and their students and teachers, are actually doing.
With the end of ISTEP, a new test is on the way. With the new grade model, there’s some hope that the grades will mean something. That’s good for the state and those who are going to its schools to prepare for life and work here.