Saturday, November 16, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #159 – November 11, 2013

Dear Friends,

At the November 8th State Board meeting, the plan for school letter grades from the bipartisan panel was presented by co-chairs State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Southwest Allen Superintendent Steve Yager. The panel did a good job of wrestling with the difficult question of how to measure student growth against fixed standards without resorting to peer comparisons, the fatal flaw of the current system. The panel has proposed two measures of growth: categorical growth and targeted growth.

According to the report given Friday, the definition of the targeted growth concept is still in development. Derek Redelman of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce told me that the unfinished portions of the plan led him to cast his vote against approval of the plan, which the panel approved by a vote of 16-1. Below are the details of the two growth measures and my proposal for completing the definition of targeted growth.

Categorical Growth

Categorical growth divides the domains of “Did Not Pass”, “Pass”, and “Pass+” into levels and then gives credit to students for achieving a higher level from Year 1 to Year 2. In this way, schools can get credit for strong improvement by students who have still not reached the “Pass” mark. Alternately, schools can be penalized when those not passing fall even further from the pass line.

The example in the report came from Alaska. Currently Indiana has set scale scores that define “Pass” and “Pass+”. Based on the Alaska example, Indiana would divide the portion of students below the pass line into three groups: “Did Not Pass 1”, “Did Not Pass 2”, “Did Not Pass 3”, with “Did Not Pass 1” being the lowest scoring students. Presumably, the additional cut scores would be set by mathematically trisecting the current range of scale scores below the pass line.

Next the scale scores between “Pass” and “Pass+” would be bisected to create “Pass 1” and “Pass 2” levels, with “Pass 1” defined as the low pass level and “Pass 2” defined as the high pass level.

Finally, the “Pass+” scale scores would be trisected to create levels called “Pass+ 1”, “Pass+ 2”, and “Pass+ 3”, with “Pass+ 1” as the lowest level of the Pass+ students.

This creates a system of eight categories. Points would be given to every student based on their movement up or down in these eight categories from Year 1 to Year 2. Points are based on the idea that if a student passes the test one year (Pass 1) and then passes again at the same level the next year (Pass 1), they would get 100 points. If they do better and move to a higher category, they get more points. If they do worse and move down, they get fewer points. The points table used in Alaska was included in the panel’s report.

This system is commendable for being completely criterion-referenced, with no hint of peer comparisons or quotas. If a student does better, they will get more points. If a student does worse, they will get fewer points. All students could potentially get more points.

Targeted Growth: Still in Development

Targeted growth was defined in the panel’s report as “the minimum growth expected for an individual student, as measured by performance on two consecutive assessments.” The importance of the phrase “growth to proficiency” comes into play here. The panel report referred to the slope of the line from a student’s score in Year 1 to the proficiency line stretched out over, for example, a three year period, indicating that the student is on target to pass in three years.

According to the report on Friday, the panel is still working to define the minimum growth expected for each student. When they define it, they plan to report the percentage of students with scores for two years who have met targeted growth.

Targeted Growth – A Proposal

After reflecting on the incomplete development of this targeted growth metric as reported on Friday, I offer this proposal to complete the task. I do this in hopes that members of the panel will read these notes and that this is the quickest way to share these ideas with the panel and others working to finalize a criterion-referenced measure of growth. The proposed answer to the problem comes in three parts:
1) What Should Be the Targeted Growth for Students Below the Pass Line?

This part is clear. For these students, the fixed target for growth should be the pass line. The presumption is that growth is expected for the student to reach the pass line in three years. A trajectory line between the student’s initial score and the passing score three years out will determine the targeted growth expected each year.
This makes sense for general education students who have fallen behind. For special education students who have a cognitive disability, there is no evidence that a steady catch-up pace can be expected.
2) What Should Be the Targeted Growth for Students Above the Pass Line but Below Pass+?
This group should be expected to continue to grow at least the same level. If a student scores two scale scores above the pass line in Year 1, normal growth would mean that the student would also score two scale points above the pass line in Year 2. That would be the expected growth. There is no need for a three-year trajectory line with this group.
3) What Should Be the Targeted Growth for Students Above the Pass+ Line?
Students above the Pass+ line have achieved very well and should be expected to stay in Pass+. It would be unfair, however, to penalize a student and a school if a student scores 10 points above the pass+ line in Year 1 but only 9 points above the pass+ line in Year 2. Growth to stay in Pass+ should be sufficient to define targeted growth for Pass+ students each year. Again, there is no need here for slopes or trajectories.

There it is, a proposal offered to advance the discussion of targeted growth. It is important for the State Board to speed the final development of the new rules to replace the current discredited system, which sadly is still being used to grade schools. Public release of new letter grades is now scheduled for mid to late December.

Quick Action Would Help

A speedy rollout of the proposed new system would promote a correction of the biggest flaw I see in the panel’s report. They have called for use of this new system for 2014-15 student data, giving us yet another year of the flawed current system for 2013-14 data.

That delay is not appropriate. The General Assembly asked for a new system effective November 15, 2013, not two years from now. Testing of the panel’s new system, if finalized soon, could clearly be checked and rechecked using the 2012-13 data that is just now available. Testing out the new metrics now for a full year using current data should get all the kinks out to use it next fall for 2013-14.

The State Board will address these and other matters in an extra meeting on Nov. 13th at 8:00am.

Public Comments

Indiana must move on from the flawed current A-F system to end the damage it is doing. I addressed the problems of the current system in public comments to the State Board at the Nov. 8th meeting. I have attached these comments for those interested describing the shortcomings of the A-F system we are still suffering under.

I hope you will send comments you have about the A-F system to the Panel members and to State Board members. Thanks for your support and actions on behalf of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

ICPE is working to promote public education and oppose the privatization of schools in the Statehouse. We thank all who came to the three membership meeting this fall in Indianapolis, Lafayette and Bloomington. They were all excellent discussions! Many renewed their memberships at the meetings. If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew by going to our website.

We need additional support to carry on our advocacy for public education. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on our three ICPE membership meetings this fall. Thanks!

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.

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