U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signed off on Indiana’s federally required education plan, ushering in another era of changes—although not exactly major ones—to the state’s public school system.
The U.S Department of Education announced the plan’s approval on Friday. Like other states, Indiana went through an extensive process to craft a blueprint to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015.
“Today is a great day for Indiana,” state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said in a written statement. “Our ESSA plan reflects the input and perspective of many stakeholders in communities across our state. From the beginning, we set out to build a plan that responded to the needs of Hoosier students. From our clear accountability system to our innovative, locally-driven approach to school improvement, our ESSA plan was designed to support student success.”
The federal government highlighted two aspects of Indiana’s plan. One is a pledge to close achievement gaps separating certain groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, from their peers by 50 percent by 2023.
Another is a staple of other states’ plans, as well: adding new ways for measuring how ready students are for attending college or starting their careers. Indiana education officials and lawmakers have made this a priority over the past several years, culminating in a new set of graduation requirements the Indiana State Board of Education approved late last year.
Under Indiana’s plan, high schoolers’ readiness will be measured not just by tests but also by performance in advanced courses and earning dual credits or industry certifications. Elementary school students will be measured in part by student attendance and growth in student attendance over time. Test scores and test score improvement still play a major role in how all schools are rated using state A-F letter grades.
In all, 35 states’ ESSA plans have won federal approval.
Advocates hope the law will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked—including English-learners and students with disabilities.
Indiana officials struggled to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, such as graduation requirements and diplomas.
Under the state’s ESSA plan, A-F grades would include these measures:
— Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
— Test score improvement.
— Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
— Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
— At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.
The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and, in the case of chronic absenteeism, attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.
Because the Indiana State Board of Education passed its own draft A-F rules earlier this month—rules that deviate from the state ESSA plan—it’s possible Hoosier schools could get two sets of letter grades going forward, muddying the initial intent of the simple A-F grade concept parents and community members are familiar with.
The state board’s A-F changes include other measures, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of the state’s federal plan. The state board plan also gets rid of the test score improvement measure for high-schoolers.
While that A-F proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.
The state can still make changes to its ESSA plan, and the state board’s A-F draft is also expected to see revisions after public comment. But the fact that they conflict now could create difficulties moving forward, and it has led to tension during state board meetings. Already, the state expected schools would see two years of A-F grades in 2018. If both plans move forward as is, that could continue beyond next year.
Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.