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State tries new plan to track students' growth

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The Indiana Department of Education will track each student's academic growth instead of focusing on standardized tests to measure their progress and that of their schools, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said Wednesday.

The Indiana Growth Model will help school districts to identify which teachers and teaching methods are most effective at improving all students' performances.

Bennett said many schools now concentrate on getting "bubble" students who are close to passing annual state tests over that hurdle, instead of spending more time and resources on those who score very low.

The state expects all students to grow, no matter where they start.

"Every student is entitled to one year of growth in one year of instruction," Bennett said at a news conference in his Statehouse office.

Under the new system each student's yearly academic growth will be calculated by comparing their progress to others who began at similar levels of achievement, he said.

The model will record each student's scores on the annual Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus tests and summarize the yearly progress of that student and their school and school corporation based on those results.

A low-achieving student with high growth could conceivably show better progress than a high-achieving student who grows little, Bennett said.

"This is a new way of keeping score," Bennett said, adding that it was something educators have sought for many years.

Department of Education spokeswoman Lauren Auld says the model will initially measure math and English progress because those are the two areas students are tested on yearly in grades 3-8 under ISTEP.

Frank Bush, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said his group supports any measure that will help students and build skills. He called for a broader measurement tool that not only shows how a student fares in math and English but identifies deficiencies so educators can intervene early.

Nate Schellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association that represents nearly 50,000 education employees across the state, said a growth model was a good concept as long as it improved learning and was not used against teachers.

He said a student's progress should be measured using multiple tests and other factors such as teacher input, not a single standardized annual exam.

Under a state law, Indiana classifies schools in five categories based primarily on year-over-year passing marks on statewide ISTEP tests for grades 3 through 10. The categories are exemplary progress, commendable progress, academic progress, academic watch and academic probation.

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