Education policymakers’ past efforts to attach a pass-or-fail label onto Indiana public schools had them scurrying again to avoid blame during the 2021-22 legislative session. For a fourth straight year, the General Assembly passed legislation for schools to be “held harmless” from sanctions under the state’s school accountability requirements.

Ninety-seven percent of Indiana’s third- through eighth-graders took the state’s ILEARN test last year, after it was canceled in 2020. Fewer than 29% of students passed both the English and math sections.

Though scores improved slightly this year, just 40.7% of Indiana third graders and 41.1% of Indiana fourth graders passed the English/language arts portion of ILEARN. Learning gaps in reading proficiency persist: 17% of Black students, 24% of Hispanic students and 24% of students from low-income households scored proficient or better.

Next month, the Indiana Department of Education will upload a new school performance dashboard that will expand measurements beyond standardized test scores – a much-needed improvement over past efforts at school accountability.

From kindergarten to eighth grade, the new Indiana Graduates Prepared to Succeed dashboard will add indicators such as third-grade literacy, eighth-grade math proficiency, student performance, advanced coursework before ninth grade and 21st Century Scholars enrollment. For high schools, information will include SAT performance, attendance, college and career credentials, diploma strength, graduation pathways completion and Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion rates.

Site data can be filtered by factors such as students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, race or ethnicity, according to the education department.

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner told the Indiana Capital Chronicle last week that superintendents and building principals were given password-protected links to their dashboard pages to corroborate district data ahead of its launch. State Board of Education members also have access and are providing feedback.

The Journal Gazette made multiple unsuccessful attempts to reach state Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, for comment. In May, Behning told the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, “The goal is to provide more robust data for parents, policymakers and the public so they are better informed as to how their local schools are doing. It’s really about providing more transparency.”

Need for the new dashboard became evident with the identification of five traits students should possess when they graduate from high school: academic mastery; career and post-secondary credentials and experiences; communication and collaboration; work ethic; and civic, financial and digital literacy.

“Test scores alone we’ve never felt are a true indicator of a school’s success or a child’s success,” Krista Stockman, director of communication and marketing at Fort Wayne Community Schools, told The Journal Gazette earlier this year. “(The new GPS dashboard measurements) are all things that we are working on, as we’re working to develop our picture of what an ideal graduate is. Academic mastery is important, but that’s just one piece of what will make a student successful in life.”

The dashboard will focus on school and student improvement, and move away from the state’s almost-exclusive reliance on standardized test scores in terms of accountability.

The measure of academic success should be whether individual students are making progress. The goal of our public education system, after all, is to ensure every student gains the knowledge needed to achieve his or her potential. Behning told the Tribune-Star he anticipates some of the new dashboard indicators will be used for grading schools for the 2022-23 school year, but the General Assembly and State Board of Education must work out any overhaul of that system.

There is no consistency and continuity in Indiana’s student assessment program now, only chaos and unending costs. Education policymakers need to encourage teachers and administrators to focus on every student, to make sure no child is left behind. The new Indiana Graduates Prepared to Succeed dashboard appears to be a move in that direction.

Editorials are the opinion of The Journal Gazette Editorial Board: President Julie Inskeep, publisher Sherry Skufca, editorial page editor Fredrick McKissack and editorial writer Jeff Kovaleski.