Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Attorney General’s Office: A-F Law Intact, Schools To Get Grades

After questions regarding the validity of the state’s A-F school accountability system surfaced this week, the Attorney General’s office sent a statement to the Department of Education and State Board of Education Friday to weigh in, stating that the law is valid and schools should receive A-F grades according to the rules currently in place.

As we reported, the question around the law stems from changes made to the A-F system over the last few years.

Specifically, in 2013, lawmakers said the state must trash old A-F rules once new procedures had been put in place. Questions about how that shift was executed are what prompted this week’s inquiry. 

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/Indiana Public Media)

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/Indiana Public Media)

Chief Deputy Attorney General Matt Light wrote the statement received by the IDOE and INSBOE, in which he says although it seemed murky to some, the transition from old practices to the current ones are legal.

“[T]he intention of the statute was to have the new set of comprehensive rules replace the old set of comprehensive rules,” Light writes.

He goes on to say the IDOE should calculate A-F grades for the 2014-15 school year according to current rules.

The Attorney General’s office also suggests the General Assembly introduce legislation next session to prevent further confusion on the issue.

“We would recommend looking at legislation for the 2016 session to retroactively confirm validity of all applicable rules so as to minimize potential for any challenges to them,” Light writes.

State Board of Education spokesman Marc Lotter says his colleagues are grateful for the Attorney General’s contribution to the matter.

“The State Board of Education appreciates the Attorney General’s Office putting these questions to rest and upholding the system that informs Hoosier parents how our children’s schools are doing,” Lotter said in a statement.

The new set of rules for calculating A-F grades will go into effect during the 2015-16 school year.

Is It Possible Schools Might Not Get A-F Grades This Year?

State officials are investigating whether or not A-F accountability rules still exist this year.

Indiana’s Department of Education is looking into the issue. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, tells StateImpact that he met with department officials this week and discussed a potential technicality in state law that will make whatever grades are assigned for the 2015-16 school year void.

This is pretty complicated, so stick with us….

The problem allegedly lies in whether or not the State Board of Education correctly followed the letter of the law in its rulemaking process for A-F between April 2013 and now. Some sources claim that if they did not, it means Indiana could potentially operate for a full school year without an A-F standard in place.

Even if this is true, it’s likely the grades assigned for the 2014-15 school year would hold true, and the state would still be able to pick up with a new, recently-approved A-F system in the 2016-17 school year.

This came about after Kenley met with IDOE staff this week to go over the timeline for administering performance pay for teachers, now that there is a delay in getting ISTEP+ scores. It was during that meeting, Kenley says, that the IDOE first brought up the concern that something might be off with the A-F law.

“[We're looking] to see whether the rule is valid or invalid and I don’t have any idea what the status of that is, it was just brought up as a discussion point,” Kenley says.

After this meeting Kenley took the issue to Legislative Services Agency and is waiting to hear back.

Department of Education spokesperson Daniel Altman did not acknowledge his department brought up the potential problem with the law, and says the IDOE is looking at the law in preparation for calculating the A-F grades for this year like any other year.

“Through those preparations we’re doing our due diligence making sure we have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed,” Altman says.

Altman says the Attorney General’s office has been contacted, although he would not specify for exactly what purpose.

It will likely fall to the Attorney General’s office to provide an opinion on whether a critical misstep was in fact made.

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State Expands Dual Language Immersion Programs

Theodore Potter is one of few dual language immersion programs in the state, but through a new pilot program created by the legislature this year, more programs like this one will start over the next year.

Theodore Potter is one of few dual language immersion programs in the state, but through a new pilot program created by the legislature this year, more programs like this one will start over the next year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny / StateImpact Indiana)

For the last few decades, dual language immersion programs in Indiana’s schools have been rare. A handful are sprinkled throughout the state, but after this year’s legislature allocated $500,000 to start a dual language immersion pilot program, five more schools will join the pool of available programs.

This type of language initiative provides a unique learning opportunity for students and has been shown to increase test scores.

Still, while many educators agree this type of program is academically and culturally beneficial for students, a lot needs to go into it for it to be successful.

How Dual Language Immersion Works

A group of first graders are listening intently as Pilar Sanchez goes through the list of steps for planting a lima bean at the front of the classroom.

It’s a typical lesson for an elementary school science class, except here at Theodore Potter, a K-6 school within Indianapolis Public Schools, the lessons sound very different from other schools. 

“Es una semilla,” Sanchez says as she holds up a lima bean.

“I only use Spanish mainly to teach the class because this is a Spanish immersion school so the whole point of it is that the kids learn the Spanish through the subjects,” Sanchez explains after the class ends.

This is how dual-language immersion programs work. During half of the subjects taught, the teacher only speaks to students in the target language. The same classes are taught in the same language every day – Language Arts is always in English, math is always in Spanish.

Theodore Potter also adds another layer to the language immersion – half of the students at the school are native Spanish speakers, and the other half are native English speakers. So in each class, no matter what language it’s taught in, half of the students are learning in their native language.

Research shows this strategy is working. At Theodore Potter, almost 90 percent of kids are passing the ISTEP+, compared to the rest of the district which has a 50 percent passage rate.

Nearly all of the school’s Spanish-speaking teachers come from Spain through a visiting teacher program run through the U.S. State Department, because as principal Tim Clevenger explains, foreign teachers are crucial for the native Spanish speaking students.

“If [the teacher's] native language is English and they learn Spanish, they possibly could be fluent, at a very high level,” Clevenger says. “But if things get difficult and they need to explain things in four or five different ways they might not be able to do that in the native language or the target language, and then fall back and rely on their English.” Continue Reading

Two Indiana Stops Planned For Department of Education Bus Tour

As kids all over the country head back to school, the U.S. Department of Education wants to come along for the ride.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted this picture of the USDOE's back-to-school tour bus last year, when he took over the official White House Instagram account. (Photo Credit: The White House/Instagram)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted this picture of the USDOE’s back-to-school tour bus last year. (Photo Credit: The White House/Instagram)

Federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior Department officials launch their sixth annual back-to-school bus tour the week of September 14. The team plans to make an eleven-stop, seven-state tour across the Midwest – and the route will include two stops in Indiana.

The bus will dock at Purdue University in West Lafayette, followed by a stop at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Exact dates and times will be announced through email updates and the department’s social media accounts.

The tour begins in Kansas City, Missouri.

This year’s theme is “Ready for Success,” which will bring attention to how states and local communities are working to increase access and opportunity from early learning through to the college level. Along the route, Duncan and his colleagues will host events “highlighting the progress and achievements of educators, students, families and leaders in expanding opportunity for students throughout the nation.”

The USDOE recently granted Indiana a three-year extension for the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, as well as more than $300,000 to help cover the cost of AP tests for the state’s low-income students.

Department Of Education Considers Legal Action Over ISTEP+ Delays

Updated 11:26 a.m.:

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman says he cannot confirm that the department is pursuing any type of legal action against testing company CTB, but says the department is “looking at and assessing what our options are under the contract” with CTB.

Altman adds that the IDOE’s legal team will likely take a look at (among other things) a part of the contract about liquidated damages.

Remember, the state is still waiting to receive scores from the 2014 test – so taking much further action would be speculative at this point.

A public information officer for the Indiana Attorney General’s office says it’s routine for state agencies to pursue legal action or suit against vendors who don’t hold up their end of a contract, although their office had not heard that the IDOE was planning to do anything.

Original story (from Network Indiana): 

Indiana students take a number of tests that are either summative or formative in nature. (Photo Credit: David Hartman/Flickr)

Indiana students take a number of tests that are either summative or formative in nature. (Photo Credit: David Hartman/Flickr)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s office might pursue a fine for the maker of the ISTEP+ over its latest problem in grading the exam, though it isn’t yet clear whether the state has any recourse.

Executives from CTB (the former CTB/McGraw-Hill) announced at last month’s State Board of Education meeting that they would re-grade some ISTEP+ tests administered last school year to correct what were initially marked as incorrect answers on some open-ended questions.

The delay means ISTEP scores will likely not be available until December according to the company, which could push the distribution of A-to-F grades for the 2014-15 school year as late as February 2016.

“Once you have ISTEP grades, there is a lot more process to go through,” said Daniel Altman, spokesman for the Department of Education. “It pushes the calendar back for ISTEP+ grades and other information schools are looking for.”

In 2013, when ISTEP was plagued with problems during the administration of the exam that mostly had to do with computer servers not being able to handle the online testing load, CTB had to repay $3 million to the state for the delays, only a small portion of its $95 million, four-year contract. This spring’s ISTEP was the last one to be given by CTB before the expiration of the contract, so it isn’t clear whether the state can assess another fine for the delayed scores.

“That’s something we are taking a look at. We are having our legal staff take a look at the contract to see what options are available to the state,” Altman said.

CTB would likely fight any attempt to recoup money they have already been paid for ISTEP+. At the State Board meeting last month, company president Ellen Haley essentially blamed the grading problems on the state’s new education standards and the creation of a new ISTEP to adhere to those standards. The quick change caused ISTEP+ to be longer in length since test questions could not be tried out in practice exams and weeded out before the actual ISTEP took place. Haley also says the company didn’t have a chance to test their new grading guidelines, which she says did not foresee the way some students answered technology-based questions.

What Do Indianapolis Mayoral Candidates Plan For Local Schools?

Joe Hogsett is the Democratic candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/WTIU News)

Joe Hogsett is the Democratic candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/WTIU News)

As Indiana’s capital city and home to the state’s largest public school district, Indianapolis is a hotbed for education policy.

That’s why we care about this year’s Indianapolis mayoral election, among others. Since current mayor Greg Ballard is not running for a third term, who is running and what he or she plans to do with the city’s schools matters on both the local and statewide levels.

Late last week, Democrat and former U.S. attorney Joe Hogsett made headlines when he announced a five-point plan for education, which he says is the key to solving violence and crime throughout the city.

Hogsett’s plan is anchored in the following ideas:

  • Expanding high quality pre-k
  • Offering discounted housing for teachers
  • An “Indianapolis Mayors’ Scholars Initiative” to eliminate barriers to high school graduation
  • Smarter school discipline
  • Excellence in charter schools

WFYI’s Ryan Delaney attended Hogsett’s press conference Friday – here’s how he explains the basics of Hogsett’s platform:

He wants to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities and address the high childhood poverty rate. He also would like give younger teachers the chance to buy city-owned homes at a discount, as a way to attract talented educators.

“I think it’s time that we start being creative in terms of incentivizing teachers,” he said.

The program has been tried before — mostly around police officers and firefighters — to limited success.

Hogsett’s ideas also include a high school completion and college scholarship program.

“The greatest barrier to educational progress in recent years can be found outside the classroom, in parts of our community where students don’t even see college, don’t even think of college as a possibility,” he said.

Hogsett would like to replicate a program in Columbus, Indiana that increases tutoring in high schools and offers scholarships to eligible students to state colleges, centered around public-private partnerships.

As far as how Hogsett plans to pay for these initiatives, Hogsett For Mayor spokesman Thomas Cook says the vast majority of this plan will require zero additional tax dollars.

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Is There Actually A “Teacher Shortage” Or Not?

The so-called “teacher shortage” is making daily headlines across the entire country. Educators, policymakers and journalists have been debating the merits of various data to find out where the most teachers are needed and arguing potential solutions – but few have examined the premise of whether or not an actual shortage exists. Our friend Shaina Cavazos of Chalkbeat Indiana digs into the data and really looks at what is making this such an issue for Indiana schools. She finds the picture may not be as dire as some are painting it, and that the problem isn’t the number of certified teachers but a mismatch between them and available jobs.

Superintendent Tom Hunter grew worried this summer when he realized that fewer people were applying to become teachers in his rural district, Greensburg. In one extreme instance, a high school teaching position that he said would have drawn 100 applications a few years ago yielded just three.

Read more at:

Generally Positive Feedback For Big Changes At IPS

The Indianapolis Public Schools board meets last summer. The board has since added a new member – one of several big changes the group agreed to Thursday night. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

The Indianapolis Public Schools board meets last summer. The board has since added a new member – one of several big changes the group agreed to Thursday night. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Some would argue that Thursday was a historic day for the Indianapolis Public Schools district.

As was reported on our site, the IPS School Board approved a teacher pay increase of 12.1 percent – making base pay there one of the highest in Marion County. This is the first raise IPS teachers have seen in five years.

In addition, the board also voted in a new member among their ranks – Eli Lilly and Company executive and former Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Michael O’Connor – in addition to giving the go-ahead for a new strategic plan focusing on autonomy.

RTV6‘s Anne Kelly breaks it down:

It’s a three-year plan that will would alter the way IPS operates. It lays out 22 goals for the district, including giving schools more autonomy to decide where their money goes and hiring a more diverse staff (that better mirrors the student population).

The plan also calls for a major improvement in the district’s high school, with IPS aiming for a 20-percent increase in kids taking Advanced-Placement (AP) classes and a 25-percent increase in students who graduate with honors.

Reaction to all of the above was generally positive from the various stakeholders:

Scott Elliott at Chalkbeat Indiana described the mood of the meeting as “jubilant,” quoting participants who saw the moves as “a potential turning point for the city’s schools:”

“When we heard what we were going to be able to do, I got chills,” board member Mary Ann Sullivan said. “We are breaking through so we can really be competitive.”

State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, who represents the Seventh Congressional District in Indianapolis, said he was particularly excited about the pay increase.

“I want to commend Dr. Ferebee, the IPS Board of Commissioners and the Indianapolis Education Association for negotiating the first raise for our teachers in five years, increasing the starting salary for new teachers and adjusting the scale to help retain mid-career teachers who are likeliest to leave,” Hendry said in a statement. “I’m encouraged that agreements like this one send the message that we must value teachers to keep them in our classrooms.”

Hendry is currently working on a proposal he’s put forth to address concerns about pay in attracting the state’s top students into the teaching profession. He is one of many who have argued that the financial return on a teaching degree is one of the biggest contributing factors to the current teacher shortage in Indiana, as well as nationwide.

This was atop the minds of many, including one concerned and cautiously optimistic parent who spoke with Kris Turner from the Indianapolis Star:

Eugenia Murry, a parent at George H. Fisher Elementary School, said the district made some strides in helping attract quality teachers, but more needs to be done.

“The most important factor in improving our children’s education in the classroom is quality teaching,” said Murry, a member of Stand for Children Indiana, an education advocacy group.

“There were some attempts to help make that happen in the IPS plan, but we think this area needs more work. The district is in the midst of a teacher shortage and needs to take big steps to address that.”

IPS will host a launch event for its new strategic plan Saturday at the Brightwood Community Connector.

IPS Teachers To Get First Pay Raise in 5 Years

Updated 7:00 p.m.:

All teachers at Indianapolis Public Schools will get their first base-pay raise in five years as part of a proposed two-year contract that aims to attract new educators and reward those who carve out a career in the district.

The 2015-16, 2016-17 contract was approved tonight by the IPS Board in a 6-0 vote. The contract was ratified by 93 percent of Indianapolis Education Association President members, the union that bargains for IPS teachers, who attended a Wednesday meeting.

The contract sets base pay for IPS teachers at $40,000 — an increase of 12.1 percent and now one of the highest in Marion County. That means, 500 teachers in their first few years of teaching who currently earn less than $40,000 will have their pay bumped up retroactively to July. The total cost of this increase is $4 million.

“At a time when IPS is one of the school corporations in Indiana that is slated to lose the most money in our state school funding formula, we are one of the school districts, we believe, that will make the greatest investment in teachers,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said after the board approval.

The overall cost of the pay increase for more than 2,200 teachers is more than $12 million over two years.The district faces a potential $16 million reduction in state funding during the next two years based on lawmakers’ new funding formula.

District reserves will help fund the new salaries during the future years. Cutting costs will be required, Ferebee said, over the next two years to keep the pay sustainable.

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