Strengthening Indiana's School Accountability System

Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Daniel Altman
Press Secretary
(317) 232-0550
daltman@doe.in.gov

Chairman Kruse and Members of the Senate Education Committee:

With SB 416, we have the opportunity to strengthen Indiana's School Accountability System. A strong accountability system must be in place; a system that is accurate and transparent---a system that drives improvement. I believe in accountability, and I have been held accountable as a classroom teacher for 34 years.

The Department of Education is committed to strengthening our school accountability system to address its flaws that have been talked about in our schools and in our community. As you know, there has been previous testimony opposed to our current accountability system. I am sure several of you have heard stories in your own communities, as well. Our current A-F system is so complicated that the grades are unexplainable; educators are unable to communicate to parents and the community the meaning of the grades. Schools and communities can't comprehend how a school can be a 4-Star school one year and D-rated school the next year with very little change in ISTEP+ performance. There is no apparent explanation for how some schools went from being A schools to being F schools and how F schools became A schools in a year's time. While the assigning of grades A, B, C, D, or F should invoke a sense of security and transparency it has instead cause great controversy in our communities.

During the past few transition weeks, there have been many questions to the department regarding A-F. My department is doing its due diligence to provide answers. For the 2011-12 school year, 135 appeals were filed. Inconsistencies have been found to cause question about the system's integrity and validating the accuracy of the calculations is daunting. Because of this, I am not able to answer specific questions at this time regarding the inconsistencies, but the department is doing a thorough review. Right now, I am unable to communicate to a school how they can improve their overall grade. Schools deserve to have straightforward data to inform their school improvement plans. With sanctions placed upon schools for poor performance, we must have a system that is accurate and transparent.

This bill voids the administrative rule that has established the current A-F accountability model and allows for the creation of a subsequent rule that provides Indiana with a more rigorous accountability system in compliance with P.L. 221 that can report accurate and direct percentage data for schools in both student academic growth and academic achievement. In other words, the percentage of students showing academic growth from school year to school year would be reported and the percentage of students meeting or exceeding at grade-level performance cut-scores would be reported.

Measuring Academic Growth

Our current method of showing academic growth takes students' scores and compares them with their peers around the state of Indiana; thus educators and parents do not have a clear picture of each child's academic growth. To strengthen accountability, educators and parents need to see each child's true measure of growth from year to year. The most direct method of reporting percentage data for student growth is to administer true student growth measure assessments at the beginning of the school year and the end of the school year to show individual growth in a given school year.

However, since Indiana does not currently have true student growth measure tests in place, we must calculate individual student growth on our pass/fail ISTEP tests from school year to school year using individual scores.

Conceptually, one way to calculate individual student growth can be determined by calculating the gap between a student's performance score and the cut-score from year to year. The percentage of students in each school showing academic growth could then be reported.

Measuring Academic Achievement

For achievement, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the cut-score can be reported which reflects grade level achievement.

Estabilshing P.L. 221 Improvement Categories

According to Indiana's Elementary Secondary Act (ESEA) Flexibility Waiver that has been granted by the U.S. Department of Education in February 2012, schools would ultimately be classified as Reward Schools, Focus Schools, or Priority Schools. Classification in these categories would be determined by performance in both growth and achievement.

With both growth and achievement being reported, schools can determine a course of action through the school improvement process to raise both students growth and student achievement in language arts and math.

Under this system, each student's improvement counts equally. This means there would be no comparison to a student's peers, attention would not be paid to only the "bubble" students who are close to meeting the cut-scores, and schools would not be penalized for students already demonstrating high achievement.

Every student would carry equal weight and focus. School improvement would be focused on each and every child...creating a very rigorous system that is accurate and transparent to strengthen school accountability.

Thank you for your attention. I urge this committee to support SB 416.