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Administrators prefer state data over ESSA ratings

Administrators prefer state data over ESSA ratings Administrators prefer state data over ESSA ratings
J.C. Lyell, Staff Writer, [email protected]

The Indiana State Board of Education affirmed in September that there would be a delay in the public release of 2019’s school and school corporation letter grades. The hold up is part of fallout in wake of the state’s transition from ISTEP+ to the new ILEARN standardized exam last year, which showed a severe dip in student performance. In each testing category, less than half of all students who took the exam received scores of “proficient” or above.

In the weeks leading up to the scheduled release of the scores, Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a statement in which he asked lawmakers to introduce legislation that would hold schools harmless for ILEARN results so they would not have an adverse impact on teacher evaluations and school/corporation letter grades.

Proposed bills to hold the scores harmless have now been introduced in both the state’s House of Representatives and Senate, though the specifics of the legislation are still being determined.

While each corporation received its own schools’ grades when testing data was disseminated in September, the only government school ratings available to the public now are the federal accountability scores released in accordance with the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.

The format of the ESSA ratings changed this year as well, with the U.S. Dept. of Education assigning the following ratings instead of letter grades: Does not meet expectations, approaches expectations, meets expectations and exceeds expectations.

Each of Harrison County’s 14 public schools was rated “meets expectations” with the exception of Heth-Washington Elementary, which earned an “approaches expectations” rating. South Crawford and West Crawford elementary schools also received “approaches expectations” ratings, while the remainder of the schools in Crawford County earned ratings of “meets expectations.”

However, local school administrators say the ESSA ratings should not be interpreted as a replacement for the state letter grades.

South Harrison Community School Corp. testing coordinator Tami Geltmaker said the ESSA ratings calculate growth by comparing ISTEP+ results to ILEARN results, which exposes the same flaws that caused state legislators to withhold schools’ ratings.

This led to dissatisfaction with both state and federal ratings among SHCSC administrators, she said, because of the decline in overall student performance statewide in the transition to the ILEARN exam.

“That has been our bread and butter; we have been experiencing growth,” Geltmaker said.

The decline in performance led to a shake up in many schools’ state-assigned letter grades throughout Indiana.

“It seems, in most instances, a letter grade or two is what most schools have dropped (in state ratings) or even more,” Geltmaker said.

She also said the federal and state ratings weigh contributing factors differently. For instance, she said, attendance is more strictly judged in the federal rating.

“There are factors that we have very little control over,” Geltmaker said.

Dr. Mark Eastridge, superintendent of the South Harrison Community School Corp., and Mike Key, superintendent of the Crawford County Community School Corp., both said that their corporations are working with their respective prosecutors’ offices to do what they can to encourage parents to get their kids to school, but the responsibility ultimately falls on the students’ guardians.

Eastridge and Key also both noted that small class sizes at Heth-Washington, South Crawford and West Crawford elementary schools mean they are more susceptible to fluctuations in ratings due to the small sample size the scores are based on.

“We’re in a progressive state of mind,” Key said, adding that, in his opinion, it’s more important to show improvement from year to year than to focus on any one specific rating or test result.

With that in mind, Key said he was pleased when he learned CCCSC’s ESSA ratings.

“We are very in line with others,” he said. “I mean, I’m a competitor. Do I want to be on top? Of course. But, it sure was nice to look down and not see ‘does not meet expectations’.”

Eastridge and Geltmaker both said while the ESSA results are somewhat helpful, data from the state is primarily what they use at SHCSC to inform curriculum adjustments.

“We’re going to go with what we know is tried and true,” Geltmaker said.

Administrators at Lanesville and North Harrison community school corporations largely share the same attitude.

“We primarily look more at the state accountability ratings and how those change over time,” said Steve Morris, LCSC superintendent and principal at Lanesville Junior-Senior High School. “(ESSA ratings) are not part of conversations I’ve had with other superintendents. Data from the state has been, though.”

Dr. Lance Richards, superintendent at NHCSC, said for him and other administrators at the corporation, there were no surprises with their ESSA ratings.

“The federal stuff, to me, is a little more nebulous,” he said, adding that data from the state has more of an impact on curriculum and corporations’ performance incentives through its effect on funding.

Morris, like Key and Geltmaker, said, overall, the most important thing to consider is students’ improvement from year to year. This, however, gets difficult with the state frequently changing standardized testing processes and requirements.

“Really, over the past six to eight years, there has been no consistency (in testing),” Morris said.

Right now, local school corporations are preparing for this year’s standardized exams — to be taken during the spring semester — without knowing how prior exams will affect corporations’ and schools’ ratings and future funding.

“We’re going to get a grade again in October, but we don’t know what they’re going to be grading,” Geltmaker said. “And this is the kind of stuff we deal with all the time.”