Measuring success

How to measure school quality beyond test scores? State officials count the ways

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students at Eagle Elementary School in Zionsville line up to for an assembly.

As Indiana — and the rest of the country — moves away from measuring schools based solely on student test scores, there are a lot of options on the table.

Thirty-four options, to be exact.

That’s how many ideas Indiana officials came up with when they surveyed other states to find out how they’re planning to go beyond test scores to assess schools, which the new federal education law requires.

The list ranges from including attendance to class size to student surveys. Some of the ideas could go into practice fairly quickly, while others would require new data to be collected. Some ideas are already in play in other states, but others might not meet federal rules.

Ultimately, the state will have to choose one to use in its new A-F letter grade system, but for now, all are under consideration, state education officials say.

“Nothing is really off the table,” said state Superintendent Glenda Ritz on Tuesday. “We just have to figure out if [the measure] can comply with regulations … and what it is we want to incentivize with our schools to actually improve achievement.”

The list is extensive, and includes factors such as student attendance, chronic absenteeism, suspension and expulsion rates, teacher retention, access to technology, school climate, dropout rate, class size, and school safety, to name a few. The Indiana Department of Education currently collects data on 22 of the measures.

Indiana already has the high school part of the equation down — measuring how many kids take and pass Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams and earn dual credit for college or industry credentials. A box still left to check is how to include a similarly non-test score based factor for elementary and middle schools.

State education officials already know that some “student success” measures on the list presented Tuesday to the Indiana State Board of Education will almost immediately be ruled out because they likely won’t pass muster with the federal government — either because they won’t differ significantly among schools or because there isn’t yet a statistically sound way to measure them.

Surveys on school climate are one option already being used in an effort from the city, Indianapolis Public Schools, and The Mind Trust, but some board members expressed concerns about relying on self-reported information. Other tools would either need to be created from scratch or found in existing research.

At a seminar earlier this month on the new federal education law, groups of educators and administrators gathered to rank what non-test score measures they’d like to see most. Topping the list was a desire for each district or school to establish its own measure that best reflects its needs — but that almost certainly isn’t possible because federal requirements say the chosen measure must apply to all schools in the state.

“I’m all for local decisions,” said board member and Warren Township Assistant Superintendent Lee Ann Kwiatkowski. “But then I’m wondering how we would meet that [federal] requirement.”

Other measures ranked highly were curriculum offerings, climate surveys, and whether a district meets its school improvement plan goals. Board member Steve Yager, a former superintendent from Fort Wayne, laid out a number of things the board should keep in mind as conversations continue.

“The practitioner side of me says be cautious,” Yager said. “Whatever we decide … can it be easily measured? Can it be easily reported and understood? Does research support the effort? Can we afford the effort? And can trends be tied to student success? That’s probably the most important thing.”

Ritz said next steps for the process include further vetting of possible success measures and gathering research on which are already highly correlated with student achievement. Whichever factor is chosen will ultimately count less in letter grade calculations than test-score based measures, however.

Ritz also announced that she has consulted with Senate President David Long, House Speaker Brian Bosma, and Gov. Mike Pence about reconvening the state’s accountability panel, which first met years ago to create the current A-F model. She wants the panel to dive deeper into what changes will need to be made under the new federal education law and report back to the board with a set of recommendations.

“We’ll come back with some research and information,” Ritz said. “We just have to hone in on where we think we want to go. We will be wrestling with this for a little while.”

See the full list of student success measures below.


ESSA Wrap up

Colorado bows to federal pressure, adopts second school quality system that penalizes schools for testing opt-out

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
State Board of Education members Angelika Schroeder and Steve Durham met with lawmakers to discuss the nation's new education law.

In an effort to keep federal dollars flowing to Colorado classrooms, the State Board of Education voted Wednesday to create two quality systems for the state’s schools — the existing one designed in 2009 by state lawmakers, and a new one that meets federal requirements.

The unusual arrangement amounts to a compromise between the state education department and the U.S. Department of Education.

After Colorado became a national epicenter for the opt-out movement in 2015, the State Board of Education adopted a policy that forbid the state from lowering a school’s quality rating if they missed the 95 percent participation requirement.

That proved to be a sticking point when state officials submitted Colorado’s plan for complying with the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Federal officials sent the plan back, saying the opt-out provision didn’t comply with the new law.

In the compromise, the state will continue to issue state school quality ratings that don’t penalize schools for high opt-out rates.

However, the state will create a separate list of schools based on the federal requirement that students who opt out are counted as not proficient.

Some state board members worried two systems would create additional work for teachers, create confusion among the public or misidentify schools.

State officials said Wednesday, teachers, students and parents shouldn’t notice much difference. No school or district will be responsible for submitting more data. The state will be responsible for slicing and dicing results from annual tests as they have in the past.

Because Colorado students who opt out tend to be white and more affluent, this change could flag schools for financial support to boost learning that really don’t need it.

State education officials assured the board that it had discretion in identifying whether a school is truly low-performing or if its scores are deflated from low participation.

Earlier this fall, the state took a voluntary step toward the two-system approach when it published a list of schools that qualify for federal grants. The state adopted some, but not all of the federal requirements, when it created that list.

Board member Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said he hoped the state would not publicize the results from the federal identification system.

“It should not be given equal weight with the data that we find appropriate,” he said.

Durham also asked the state education department to remind schools that it is still illegal to penalize students who opt out of state tests. (It’s also against the law to incentivize students to skip the English and math exams.)

The state must resubmit its plan to the federal government by Oct. 23.

Correction: This post has been updated to clarify how the state previously penalized schools for missing the 95 percent participation rate before the state board took action. 

diploma discussions

Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
College acceptance letters in the main entrance at Tindley Accelerated School.

For years, Indiana has been grappling with how to re-imagine high school diplomas. Today, educators made a seemingly simple suggestion to state officials: Condense Indiana’s four-diploma system down to just one.

“Indiana needs just one diploma,” said Richard Arkanoff, superintendent for Center Grove schools. “But it’s critically important that we provide students with many multiple pathways to get to that one diploma.”

In a community meeting Tuesday night at Noblesville East Middle School, Ken Folks, chief of government affairs at the Indiana Department of Education, said the department is also interested in looking at a single diploma with different “gradations” depending on student needs.

Arkanoff was one of several educators who addressed the graduation pathways committee, led by the Indiana State Board of Education. The group is charged by Indiana lawmakers with creating pathways that will help determine students’ readiness for life after high school.

Currently, Indiana students have a single graduation requirement outside of what’s needed to earn a diploma — passing end-of-course exams in math and English. But next school year, that changes. Instead, to graduate, students will need to complete the pathway, which will replace the two tests, and earn a diploma. It’s not yet clear what those pathways will look like.

Byron Ernest, a state board member and the chairman of the committee, urged members to stay focused on the pathways.

“The purpose of this panel is to create a new system for determining if a student is ready to graduate high school,” Ernest said, adding later that the committee is not responsible for revamping the state’s diploma structure.

Multiple previous efforts to redo diploma requirements have resulted in little action and several false starts. The main impetus behind this flurry of discussion is the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which states that the general diploma can no longer count in the graduation rate Indiana must report to the federal government starting as early as 2018.

The general diploma is a pared-down option that only about 12 percent of Indiana students receive.

To many at the meeting, any conversation about graduation would naturally include diplomas, especially when there is so much urgency around the ESSA changes.

Because of the change, many schools across the state — as well as the state as a whole — would see graduation rates drop, a main factor in high schools’ A-F grades. If a school’s rate falls below 67 percent, the school could also be identified as needing extra support from the state. Folks said 275 Indiana high schools could face that reality going forward.

Laura Hammack, superintendent of Brown County Schools, is one example. She said the ESSA change would have gotten her below or close to the two-thirds mark in 2016 and 2017.

“The news about Indiana’s diploma options and connections to ESSA hit Brown County very hard,” she said.

Indiana lawmakers both at the state and federal level wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking for some time to deal with change before consequences would take effect.

Mary Burton, director of the Northeast Indiana Special Education Cooperative, said a single diploma could also offer benefits for students with special needs, who disproportionately receive general diplomas.

“It’s clear to students that the general diploma is of lesser value,” Burton said. “How about one diploma with (extra certifications)? This option would allow for the rigor we expect from all of our students while respecting and valuing each student’s learning differences.”

According to 2015 data compiled by Achieve, a nonprofit that helps states work on academic standards and tests, 27 states offer multiple high school diploma options. A 2016 analysis from the Virginia Department of Education found that of the 10 states with the highest percentages of graduates going to college, most had moved from multiple diplomas to just one.

Indiana has convened numerous panels and spent scores of hours discussing diplomas and post-high school options for students, with very little action taken.

The discussion around graduation pathways is a variation on that theme. So far, what a pathway is and how it might be structured has not been clearly defined. Mainly, the meetings have brought together educators, community members and business leaders to have wide-ranging conversations about preparing kids for life after high school, whether that’s college, career, military or other options.

After today, the group has six more meetings scheduled through early November.