Source: The Corydon Democrat

Results mixed in 'complex' grading system

by Alan Stewart

December 31, 2013

Just like a nervous student at the end of the grading period, school administrators across Indiana recently waited for report cards from the State Board of Education to be released.

Indiana schools have received accountability scores under Public Law 221 since 1999, but last year a new calculation called a “growth model” was put into place to compare performance of Indiana students to other students throughout the state.

Student scores are tracked in multiple years using standardized test scores, then students are placed into a percentile based on how their scores each year compare against other students in the state.

Across the state, more than 800 public schools received a letter grade of A, and nearly two-thirds of public schools received either an A or a B.

Charter schools, which were heralded by former state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, were fairly balanced in letter grades, with 32 percent listed as failing, 27 percent with a D, 21 percent with an A and nearly 18 percent with a C. In the past two years, only 18 charter schools have shown an increase in their letter grades, while more than 100 have fallen at least one letter grade.

In the area of private schools, more than half received an A, 25 percent received a B, 15 percent received a D and the remaining 10 percent received either a D or an F.

Five schools taken over by the state in 2011 received letter grades of F. One other school, Broad Ripple Magnet High School, improved. Four schools in the state earned F’s for the fifth consecutive year.

Released two weeks ago, the findings showed mixed results as compared to past years in Harrison County.

Steve Morris at Lanesville and D. John Thomas at North Harrison were both All-A honor roll superintendents of their corporations.

Morris said the current grading system is so complex that it is hard to explain how a school earned a particular grade.

“The current model determines growth by cohort groups, which contain varying numbers of students which make an accurate comparison between groups statistically impossible. The state board has an enormous task in 2014 to devise a system that is fair, accurate and understandable since A through F grades are part of law,” Morris said.

Lanesville Elementary rose from a B to an A, while Lanesville Junior-Senior High School maintained an A grade that it has held for the previous two years.

North Harrison Elementary School received a C last year but this year came through with an A as the most improved school of the group. Morgan Elementary and North Harrison High schools bumped from B’s to A’s this year, while North Harrison Middle School maintained its A rating.

Lanesville Junior-Senior High School continued a string of A’s for the third straight year after consecutive B ratings. Prior to that, Lanesville had three A’s in a row.

Lanesville Elementary bumped up to an A after recording a B, an A, a C and four straight A’s.

“Overall, I am very pleased with the results of the elementary school, high school and school corporation,” Morris said. “Our grades reflect a great deal of work and effort on behalf of our teachers and support staff. The teachers work together to implement instructional strategies and hone in on individual needs of students.

“In this model, we received bonus points on the elementary level for growth in English and math and bonus points on the high school level for improvement on (End of Course Assessments) from 10th grade to graduation,” he said. “The one area of concern is that last year’s seventh-grade class did not show the growth we anticipated in math.” Morris added, “Moving forward, we will continue to refine our efforts with all students to show growth and improvement beyond a standardized test score. Letter grades are supposed to be more transparent than a label, but the criteria involved in making up a letter grade is very complex. Since the state legislature passed a bill to modify the existing model, it will be extremely important for the State Board of Education to devise a model that is actually based on growth of each individual student compared to himself, as opposed to a cohort group with varying numbers of students.”

The South Harrison Community School Corp., the county’s largest corporation with eight schools, was all over the board in regard to achievement.

As it has in all but one year (2009), Corydon Intermediate School maintained an A ranking. Corydon Central High School improved from an F in 2010 to a C in 2011, a B last year and to an A this year. South Central Elementary climbed from a C to a B.

Corydon Elementary School improved from a D in 2010, to a C in 2011 and matched its B from last year.

“The report that we got is mixed for us,” Dr. Neyland Clark, superintendent of South Harrison schools, said. “We were extremely excited about Corydon Central High School from what it has received in past years to an A this year.”

From there, however, Clark said there were some concerns.

After making an A and a B in the past two years, Heth-Washington Elementary scored a D this time around.

For the seventh time in eight reports, Corydon Central Junior High School received a D rating. The only time CCJHS did not receive a D was in 2010.

After achieving an A the past three years, New Middletown Elementary School fell to a C.

South Central Junior-Senior High School had a slight drop, going from a B to a C.

“Corydon Central Junior High is our biggest concern, and it’s a legitimate concern for us,” Clark said. “We’ve kept talking about our students who are on free and reduced lunches in the past being an area of concern and, actually, this year our low economic scores are actually higher than we thought they were.

“Really, the area we fell short was in special-needs instruction and non-English language learners (ELL),” he said. “We hope to hire an ELL person in January (because) we need legitimate improvement in that area. We’re also having some real discussion on the type and quality of instruction for special-needs students.”

Clark went on to say extremely small schools can easily be penalized because of the way the grades are done.

“With such a low enrollment at Heth-Washington, the statistical end is so small that two kids could swing that grade. It’s the same problem at New Middletown, because of the low number of students,” he said. “We appealed the grade at Heth-Washington because of that issue.”

Clark reiterated that he was not using two statewide computer glitches that caused significant delays during testing in the spring as an excuse, but, he said, it certainly could have also played a factor as students prepared to test were forced to wait for hours for the testing page to load.

“Some students had to wait until the next day, got frustrated and, frankly, some probably became bored with the situation,” Clark said.

Neighboring schools in Crawford County all received A’s.

Leavenworth Elementary received an A for the seventh time in eight years (it received a B in 2006); Milltown, English and Marengo elementary schools received A’s for the fourth straight year; and Crawford County Junior-Senior High School continued its improvement with an A this year after a B in 2012, a C in 2011 and five straight years of D’s.