Indiana DOE School Accountability Panel Recommendations Meets Senate Opposition

School Accountability Panel (Indiana Department of Education/YouTube)

By: Giavonni Nickson

After four months of examination, the Indiana State Board of Education’s School Accountability Panel made final recommendations for a revised accountability system used to assign A-F letter grades to Indiana high schools.

In a series of five meetings between July 25 and October 22, the panel heard from the Indiana Association of School Principals, the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association, the Indiana State Teachers Association, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indiana School Boards Association and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, among other education officials.

The 15-member panel voted 12-3 on the proposed recommendations, which also include the implementation of a new dashboard designed to replace current school improvement plan requirements and track students’ college and career preparation.

Senate Democrats have pushed back against the panel’s decision and its composition.

“My record shows that I stand with our Hoosier teachers and public schools, and I will continue to do so going forward,” said Senator Eddie Melton. “This new accountability system is not in the best interests of our teachers and schools and is recommended by a panel whose membership does not even include a single person from IDOE. In addition, the panel members who voted no to this recommendation were all educators. Why recommend a system that does not have the support of educators and will harm them in its implementation?”

The current system weighs only two factors — achievement and growth — and came under heavy critique following students’ low performance on the new Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network (ILEARN) exam.

This summer, state education officials expressed concern the current accountability framework was not modernized to sustain the low results of a new, more rigorous standardized exam which carried substantial weight in the current A-F accountability framework.

The School Accountability Panel is now recommending a three-tiered system of academic proficiency, high school graduation and college and career readiness indicators should be used for future assignments of A-F school grades at the high school level. With a weight of 70 percent, the college and career readiness indicator heavily influences a school’s overall score and is calculated using three outcomes: whether a student enrolls in post-secondary education, is employed through an apprenticeship, or serves in the military.

According to the panel, these indicators would likely offset the weight carried by standardized test scores and would place an increased emphasis on postsecondary preparedness being stressed among high schoolers through the state’s new graduation pathway requirements.

Some lawmakers believe these indicators fail to assess the work being done in the classroom and exacerbate socioeconomic barriers to academic achievement that currently exists across the state.

“With this new system, we would be putting teachers on the hook for the paths students decide to take after graduation. Teachers and schools would be graded on benchmarks they have no control over. If a student chooses a path not allowed by these new standards – such as choosing to work directly after high school to avoid the rising costs of post-secondary education – our schools might receive poor scores for that choice. This accountability system ignores the work that teachers do in the classrooms and the ways they help individual students improve in their education,” said Melton.

The School Accountability Panel was established in state legislation enacted this summer and given the charge of studying indicators for student performance in relation to new graduation requirements. Panel recommendations will be considered by the state General Assembly in the upcoming 2020 session. Legislators are also expected to consider the effects of this year’s ILEARN results within the state’s current accountability system at the session.

The Indiana Department of Education’s (IDOE) recently released Spring 2019 Indiana Learning Evaluation and Readiness Network (ILEARN) results reveal a dire need for improvement in student learning.

With the negative impact assessment results have on educators, schools, districts, and communities, the Indiana Department of Education has voiced plans to advocate for responsive legislative action preparing for what is sure to be a heated 2020 session; the voice of the community matters too. “I urge Indiana educators and residents to call your legislators and call the governor. Let your voices be heard as we get closer to the next legislative session,” said Melton. “Our state government can help our schools succeed and thrive as long as we listen to the hard-working Hoosiers who are actually educating our children.”

Giavonni is a passionate freelance writer native of Gary IN. She covers business, politics, and community schools for the Chicago/Gary Crusader.

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