LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – More than half of Indiana's schools met or exceeded priorities under the Every Student Succeeds Act last school year, according to federal accountability ratings released Friday by the Indiana Department of Education.
Fifty-three percent of schools across the state hit the two highest marks in the new federal accountability ratings for Indiana, which recently transitioned from an A-F letter grade to indicate how well its schools are meeting goals laid out in ESSA.
Those results were reflected in southern Indiana schools, 53% of which met or exceeded ESSA goals.
The ratings rely on standardized tests to show math and English achievement, academic growth and achievement gaps while also taking into account chronic absenteeism, graduation rates and other indicators to determine how well schools are performing.
Indiana’s new federal ratings have four categories by which schools are judged: does not meet, approaching, meets or exceeds expectations. While they’re both based on academic indicators and standardized test results, the federal ratings are different from the A-F letter grades that IDOE assigns to districts as part of its state accountability scoring method.
IDOE has not released the state accountability grades after poor first-year results for the new ILEARN test in 2018-19. Fewer than half of Indiana students were proficient in reading and math, according to those results.
Leaders have promised to keep those results from affecting teachers, schools and districts, with Indiana’s State Board of Education passing a resolution in September to assign the A-F accountability grades only after the General Assembly has taken such “hold harmless” action in this year’s legislative session.
Indiana is one of the only states in the U.S. that have separate state and federal accountability models. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said that Indiana policymakers should look to streamline the process into one system.
“I am proud of the work Indiana schools are doing to academically prepare our children for life beyond high school,” McCormick said in a statement. “To better serve schools for future successes, however, it is important we develop a single modernized state-legislated accountability system that is fair, accurate, and transparent. Our kids, schools, teachers, and parents deserve it.”
Schools in southern Indiana were far more likely to approach or meet their federal expectations than their peers across the state.
While 11.5% of state schools did not meet ESSA expectations, that percentage dropped to 3.4% for the 118 schools in southern Indiana districts. Likewise, 5% of schools exceeded federal goals compared to just one school, or 0.8%, in southern Indiana that reached that mark.
Out of 89 low-performing schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement across the state, only Medora Elementary School got that designation in southern Indiana.
With nearly half of Indiana schools failing to meet ESSA goals, some question whether the accountability ratings represent an accurate depiction of how the state’s students are performing academically.
Mark Eastridge, superintendent of South Harrison Community School Corporation, says frequent changes in how Indiana tests its students can feel like trying to hit “a moving target” for district leaders. Last school year was the first for ILEARN, the latest in a series of standardized tests used in Indiana in recent years.
If dismal ILEARN results have prompted calls from leaders like Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and McCormick to keep those scores from hurting schools and districts, Eastridge wonders whether that test accurately conveys student learning.
He also has trouble understanding how 47% of Indiana’s elementary and middle schools aren’t meeting their federal expectations. IDOE says that 53% of those schools and 56% of high schools met ESSA goals.
“I find it hard to believe that there are that many schools that really are not meeting expectations that we have, so there I ask the question: Does this system adequately and appropriately reflect the performance of our students in our schools?” Eastridge said Thursday.
South Harrison represents one of the higher performing districts in southern Indiana, with Heth-Washington Elementary the only school there approaching, but not reaching, federal goals.
Several school districts in southern Indiana had a more even split between the number of schools that met or exceeded expectations and the number that failed to reach those benchmarks.
In New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation, for instance, seven of its 14 schools met ESSA expectations while six were approaching those goals. One school there, Green Valley Elementary, did not meet its goals.
Of the 18 schools in Greater Clark County Schools, nine met federal expectations compared to eight that were close to those marks and one, Parkwood Elementary School, that failed to hit federal goals.
Clarksville Community School Corporation had its elementary and middle schools meeting federal expectations while Clarksville High School was approaching those standards.
For West Clark Community Schools, six of its eight schools met ESSA expectations while the others were simply approaching them.
Thomas Brillhart, an assistant superintendent at WCCS, said the district is “pleased” with the results and has taken steps to address deficiencies found at Silver Creek Primary School and Silver Creek Elementary School.
“We are committed to providing the best educational experience for all of our students no matter what the findings are,” Brillhart said in a message to WDRB News. “We will make improvements where necessary and grow in the areas of success.”
Officials for New Albany Floyd County, GCCS and Clarksville could not be reached for comment Thursday.
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