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Response to Recently Released Accountability Grades

January 11, 2017

 

Dear Northwest Allen County Schools Community,

 

We are proud of the work completed each day by our students, teachers, and staff.  Compared to other traditional public school districts, NACS continues to perform well.  We continue to perform consistently near the top, many times in the top 5% - 10%, of Indiana schools on ISTEP, Advanced Placement, PSAT, ACT, SAT, Accuplacer, End of Course Assessments, College and Career Readiness Measures, graduation rates, etc.  Unfortunately, like the recently released ISTEP scores, the recently released school and district accountability grades are not relevant to us.  Instead, we continue to focus on information and data that help us determine the learning needs of our students. 

 

Why are the accountability grades irrelevant to us?  Because the grades are based on narrowly defined criteria, primarily ISTEP results, and the ISTEP offers no information that helps us determine the current or future learning needs of our students nor does it provide information about our students’ development of creativity or skills in communication, collaboration, or critical or algorithmic thinking.  Thankfully, our NWEA and local assessment results and the expertise of our teaching staff, which we continue to develop through professional learning opportunities, provide us with information that helps us create action plans for continuous improvement.  Our locally created information helps us determine where each student is on the learning continuum so we can identify her/his learning needs and help her/him remain on target to graduate and become a contributing member of our community; this is, and will remain, our focus.

 

As we engage in conversations with local employers and representatives of post-secondary institutions, we realize to help our students become contributing members of our community our focus must not be on memorizing standardized information for standardized tests that offer no information in helping us determine the learning needs of our students.  Instead, we must remain focused on nurturing the creativity of our students while developing their communication, collaboration, and critical and algorithmic thinking skills.  We will continue to accomplish these tasks by remaining committed to providing a healthy and safe learning environment that engages our students in meaningful learning activities, supports our students when learning becomes difficult, and challenges our students to achieve more than they thought was possible. 

 

What are we doing to revise the system so it provides more value and meaning? We believe the quality of a school should not be narrowly defined by the results of a single standardized test.  We believe the quality of a school should be based upon many factors, including how the results of tests and other learning activities are used to address current and future student learning needs.  As a result, we support the recently released recommendations of the statewide ISTEP Panel, and we continue to advocate for an assessment system that effectively complies with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in a manner that;

               i.      accommodates the vast diversity of students served within the current educational system (i.e., English Language Learners (ELL), special needs students, Children in Needs of Services (CHINS), mobility, impoverished students, medically fragile students, etc.);

             ii.       identifies student strengths and weaknesses and reports them in immediate, actionable formats;

            iii.       effectively reports student strengths and weaknesses in a way easily understood by parents, teachers, students, principals, etc.;

           iv.       effectively reports student strengths and weaknesses in a way that informs school/district wide action plans for continuous improvement;

             v.       significantly reduces the amount of time students spend completing state-mandated tests in order to maximize the available time they are engaged in meaningful instructional activities;

           vi.       provides an authentic measure of student academic growth; AND 

          vii.       monitors and accurately identifies achievement gaps as required by ESSA.

We also continue to advocate for using the flexibility offered within ESSA to create an accountability system that incorporates …

               i.      student and parent voice;

             ii.      evidence of performance towards attainment of identified 21st century skills; 1

            iii.      authentic, research-based evidence of college, career, and citizenship readiness; 2

           iv.      compliance with state and federal mandates, such as school/district audits/mandated reports; 3 AND

             v.      evidence of creating effective conditions for learning. 4

 

Why do we believe ISTEP is a flawed system?  First, we believe the ISTEP system is flawed because of its history of repeated interruptions, scoring errors, wrong information published in the testing manuals, etc.  Second, the ISTEP results provide zero information about why students passed or did not pass.  Finally, the ISTEP yields outlier results that contradict information from other sources of data which are considered more reliable and valid.  For example, ...

·      Indiana’s 2015 eighth graders ranked 11th in the nation and significantly above the national average on the mathematics section of NAEP.  Indiana’s 2015 eighth graders ranked 16th in the nation and significantly above the national average on the reading section of NAEP.  However, statewide, less than 48% of Indiana’s eighth graders passed both sections of the 2015 ISTEP and less than 47% of Indiana’s eighth graders passed both sections of the 2016 ISTEP. 5

·      Indiana’s 2011 fourth graders, the same students earning the 2015 eighth grade NAEP results, ranked 17th in the nation on the mathematics section of NAEP and ranked 28th in the nation on the reading section of NAEP. 6

·      Indiana’s 2015 fourth graders ranked 4th in the nation and significantly above the national average on the mathematics section of NAEP.  Indiana’s 2015 fourth graders ranked 10th in the nation and significantly above the national average on the reading section of NAEP.  However, statewide, less than 55% of Indiana’s fourth graders and less than 54% of Indiana’s fifth graders passed both sections of the 2016 ISTEP. 7

·      Statewide, about 70% of Indiana’s students passed the 2015 mathematics End of Course Assessment; the assessment used to determine eligibility for graduation.  However, the statewide Grade 10 ISTEP mathematics passing rate is 34%.

·      Statewide, Indiana’s 2015 average SAT mathematics score was near the national median.  However, the statewide Grade 10 ISTEP mathematics passing rate is 34%. 8

·      Statewide, Indiana’s 2015 average ACT mathematics score exceeded the college admissions ACT score used by many colleges and universities.  However, the statewide Grade 10 ISTEP mathematics passing rate is 34%.

·      Statewide, Indiana’s 2015 Advanced Placement exam passing rate to determine college credit qualification exceeded 50%.  However, the Grade 10 ISTEP passing rate for both, the math and English/language arts sections, is 31%.

To further illustrate the outlier nature of the ISTEP results, consider the following:

Ø NACS earned all 100 accountability points related to graduation rates because our 2015 graduation rate of 96.3%, which exceeded the statewide goal of 90% for at least the 9th consecutive year.  Additionally, 42.9% of NACS graduates, a historical best, earned an Academic or Technical Honors diploma (up from 28.7% five years ago).

Ø NACS earned all 100 accountability points related to College and Career Readiness (CCR) because nearly 75% of NACS graduates earned college credit, passed AP exams, or earned an industry certification, surpassing the statewide goal of 25% of all graduates.  Additionally, nearly 60% of all NACS graduates achieved more than one of the CCR criteria.

Ø NACS earned 99.3 of 100 accountability points related to academic “growth,” which was determined by comparing students against each other via percentile rankings instead of comparing a student’s current score with her/his previous score.

Ø 93% of all current junior class cohort students met or exceeded the state mandated mathematics assessment graduation requirement.  This information is not used in the state accountability formula.

Ø 94% of all current junior class cohort students met or exceeded the state mandated mathematics CCR graduation requirement based on PSAT and Accuplacer results.  This information is not used in the state accountability formula.

Ø 48% of all current junior class cohort students passed the 2016 Grade 10 ISTEP mathematics section ranking NACS 29th in the state, or in the top 10% among all traditional public school districts.  This information is a part of the state accountability formula.

 

Respectfully,

 

Chris Himsel

Superintendent

Northwest Allen County Schools

 

 

 

Footnotes

1    for more information about 21st century skills, visit http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/docs/P21_framework_0816.pdf

2    for more information about researched-based evidence of college and career readiness, visit www.redefiningready.org

3    examples of government mandated audits and reports include:  implementing statutorily required curriculum, adhering to federally required equity processes such as IDEA requirements, OCR reports, Title I audits, food service audits, etc., adhering to state safety requirements such as fire drills, severe weather drills, health department inspections, Fire Marshal inspections, bus inspections, etc.; adhering to financial accounting requirements as determined and audited by State Board of Accounts; adhering to other government imposed mandates such as submission of school safety plan, school improvement plan, discipline summary reports, remediation plans, alternative education reports, well-water reports, air quality reports, dual credit reports, teacher evaluation plan, teacher assignment reports, etc.

4    examples of creating effective conditions for learning include:  using relevant formative and summative assessment data to inform school improvement action plans, reduce achievement gaps, increase access to 21st century skill development activities, etc.; implementing strategies to overcome obstacles to learning; climate audits; attendance rates; processes for developing and sustaining effective teachers; etc.

5    the 2015 eighth graders are the same cohort of students earning the 2015 eighth grade NAEP results

6    the 2011 fourth graders are the same cohort of students earning the 2015 eighth grade NAEP and the 2015 ISTEP results

7    the 2016 fifth graders are the same cohort of students earning the 2015 fourth grade NAEP results

8    the median is the score by which 50% of test-takers achieve scores greater than the median and 50% achieve scores less than the median – in large sample sizes, the median score and average score are typically very close, if not equal




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