New ISTEP formula hurts high-poverty schools, testing begins Monday
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org March 5, 2012 10:24AM
Frankie Robinson with radio station Power 92 (center, with mic) calls a dance contest during a pizza and pool party for seventh and eighth-graders at Merrillville's Clifford Pierce Middle School at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza in Merrillville, Ind. Saturday March 3, 2012. The party was a reward for students with particular academic achievements before ISTEP testing begins. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
The new ISTEP metric
Last month, Indiana’s State Board of Education approved new A-F school accountability metrics, which include bonus points for schools driving growth in large numbers of students in the lowest 25 percent as well as the highest 75 percent of students in terms of academic performance.
Schools demonstrating low growth in large numbers of students lose points (and potentially an entire letter grade) in the new system.
The new way of grading Indiana’s schools was a key factor in Indiana receiving in February a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.
Indiana’s Growth Model measures growth in mathematics and English/language arts for students in grades 4-8 and for high school, it factors in the graduation rate and college and career readiness.
Learn more at www.doe.in.gov/improvement/accountability
Updated: March 5, 2012 7:08PM
As ISTEP testing begins this week, educators are worried the state’s new grading system will unfairly skew grades against urban and rural students living in high-poverty areas.
Last month, the State Board of Education adopted a new A-to-F grading system. It gives greater emphasis to how much improvement a student achieves from year to year.
Formerly, schools received more credit when the percentage of students who passed ISTEP was better than the previous year even if the overall passing rate remained low.
The U.S. Department of Education awarded Indiana a waiver from No Child Left Behind guidelines based on the rigor of the new testing standards.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett defended the new grading system calling it a “game-changer.”
“You used to be able to pass only 65 percent, and you still could be an A,” he said. “A school at 65 or 70 percent has to do better.”
An analysis by the Indianapolis Star showed that almost half of the schools that would see reduced grades are in high-poverty districts. Grades would go down 65 percent in Hammond, 53 percent in Gary, and 44 percent in Indianapolis. Rural districts with high poverty showed reduced scores.
Marquette Elementary, one of Gary’s highest performing schools, would drop from an “A” to a “D” under an estimated calculation.
Under the old system, Marquette fell below the state pass average but received credit for increasing its passing average. About 87 percent of the students at Marquette meet free and reduced lunch guidelines.
“Anytime there’s a change, it takes a while to get adjusted, but we will,” said Marquette Principal Becky Holloway.
Unfair to poor children?
Some educators say it’s not fair to compare the growth of poor children to that of advantaged kids.
“The difference between advantaged and disadvantage kids is what happens outside the school,” said Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux.
He said many students in his district haven’t gone to preschool and can’t afford private tutoring. He said about 25 percent of his students don’t have Internet access in their homes.
“And they’ll be compared in growth to advantaged kids. It masks growth because it’s always relative to how everyone else does,” Lux said.
In Portage Township, assessment coordinator Deb Dudek said under the new metric Portage High’s grade would move from a “C” to a “B.”
“What will be confusing to parents is the education of their child hasn’t changed... We expect growth in all our students. That won’t change.”
Dudek isn’t sure the new metric is a fairer method.
“It’s still one snapshot. We don’t make any decisions based on one snapshot.”
East Porter Superintendent Rod Gardin said the new system with all its extra credit measures could make the scores difficult to interpret.
“It’s not as transparent as it once had been. All the components they’ve thrown in have muddied the waters.”
Gary Superintendent Myrtle Campbell said the new system will also impact charter schools and rural schools in poverty.
Campbell said one of the reasons the state received a waiver from No Child Left Behind standards is because the new method promised to address equity.
“This grading system discounts equity,” she said.
Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said the old grading system was more volatile because it only looked at the passing rate.
“The new metric is more comprehensive in that it looks at the achievement gap, graduation rate, certifications and AP scores.”
Reach reporter Carole Carlson at 648-3154.