It’s been not quite a year since state lawmakers decided to make Ball State responsible for Muncie Community Schools (MCS). In the past 12 months, administrators have been working to adjust to the comprehensive language of House Bill 1315. 

One thing that changed with the passing of the bill was the requirement for MCS to publish their state report card. MCS was waived of the yearly obligation to publish its state-assigned grade. 

“There were a number of things waived for MCS in HB 1315, and it was to give MCS the opportunity, working in partnership with BSU, to be innovative,” said Steve Edwards, interim superintendent administrator assistance of MCS.

Students within the district are still required to take all state-standardized tests, and the district will not be waived from disclosing its federal accountability assessment results.

The federal evaluation grades are based on categories including academic achievement and academic progress as measured by growth of the student, Edwards said. High schools are also graded on their graduation rate and college and career readiness.

This summative assessment, however, may not completely represent the success of a school, Edwards said. 

Instead, Edwards suggests also using formative assessments — which “monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching,” according to Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center. 

“Regular measures of progress are better than one test at a point and time,” Edwards said. 

Jim Williams, MCS board president, agreed. 

Williams said, with formative assessments, “We see where a kid starts and where a kid ends so it’s much less of a snapshot.” He added that the high-stakes nature of summative tests puts more emphasis on how a student may test on a particular day and may be negatively impacted by environmental conditions outside a school’s control.

Those conditions can ultimately affect a district’s grades.

“Folks understand that when they were in school a D meant you were a knucklehead. An F meant you were a total screw up. So [for] Muncie Schools (if one building) gets an F, [then the parent says] ‘Well, I don’t want my kids going (there). It’s an F school,’’’ Williams said.

What that grade doesn’t show, Williams said, is that a student may have learned throughout the year even if they are not testing at their grade level. While he said it is the goal to have all students where they should be, a child’s socioeconomic obstacles, for example, could impact their performance.

He said that doesn’t mean a child isn’t learning.

Additionally, Eberly Center research says formative assessments “help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work,” as well as “help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately.”

However, Christy Hovanetz, senior policy fellow on school accountability policies at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said formative assessments are more for educators to assess and adjust their day-to-day instruction, rather than measure student growth. Therefore, she said using formative assessments to grade schools overall isn’t the best way to hold schools accountable. 

“The whole point of school accountability isn’t necessarily they make the changes,” Hovanetz said. “They highlight what needs to be changed and get educators and policymakers to act on those.” 

The current federal grading system outlined by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and state accountability systems do more good than harm, Hovanetz said, and allow for greater accountability for aspects that schools are in control of.

“A grade doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the school. But it gives you a pretty high-level analysis of whether or not it’s an effective school,” Hovanetz said.

Hovanetz said if formative assessments would begin being used for “high stakes accountability” for schools in the state, the value for instructional practices of an educator in the classroom diminishes. This is because teachers would now be held more accountable for all students doing well in the classroom.

She said she would worry that people wouldn’t understand how the tools should really be used. 

“[Then, schools could be] looking at scores as a way to improve your letter grade rather than a way to improve your instruction in the classroom,” Hovanetz said.

For MCS officials, it’s not about choosing one assessment or the other. Instead, it’s about helping community members — including parents, business owners and stakeholders — understand the single grade doesn’t provide a complete picture of the learning happening in the classroom. 

Still, Williams doesn’t shy away from the work that lies ahead.

“I want to make sure it doesn’t sound like excuses because there are things that MCS can do better — teach better, govern better, administrate better.” 

Contact Andrew Harp with comments at adharp@bsu.edu or on Twitter @adharp24. Contact Brooke Kemp with comments at bmkemp@bsu.edu or on Twitter @brookemkemp.