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The saga of education policy in Indiana has waged in both the statehouse and the classroom the last few years. Academic standards, the No Child Left Behind waiver, and the state assessment have all become points of contention, and this fall all of these changes are coming to a head for teachers and students.
Many Indiana teachers skipped summer vacation this year to re-evaluate lessons created for Common Core standards, and try to anticipate what the new assessment will ask of students.
Navigating The Unknown
Tami Geltmaker, an administrator in the Crawford County School Corporation, is one of those teachers and says she is facing more changes this year than any of her previous 31 years as an educator.
In July, Geltmaker joined dozens of school administrators from Southern Indiana for a professional development session in Huntingburg. She said she was looking for tips to help her prepare lessons around the state’s new academic standards and the new assessment students will take this spring.
“We have started our curriculum teams and we start this summer unpacking them,” Geltmaker said. “We will determine what the power standards are, where we need to focus, what the information the state is giving us, where do we need to focus our efforts, how does that align with our existing curriculum?”
Geltmaker, along with many teachers around the state, is struggling with the unknown. Schools only got the new standards in April. That meant they had less than four months to prepare, and they still don’t have the new assessment. Geltmaker says all that affects the day to day lessons in the classroom.
“We don’t have time to teach anything extra,” Geltmaker said. “And while teachers agree to that, right now they’re not sure what the extra is and what isn’t it, because our textbooks are aligned to old standards.”
The Mysterious New ISTEP+ Test
Getting proper resources aligned to the new standards is one of Geltmaker’s concerns, but more than that, she’s worried about the updated version of the ISTEP that still isn’t created. The DOE says technology will play a bigger role, but what does that mean? Geltmaker is worried that not giving students enough time to learn the new technology will only confuse them and distract students from the content of the questions.
“So this technology piece presents a whole new dilemma that we’ve been told very little about, and may be the thing that upsets us,” Geltmaker said. “We see the questions and we think ‘Oh yes my kids know how to do this!’ but they don’t know how to do it with this.
So how can Geltmaker and other teachers with these concerns properly prepare their students?That was the goal Schauna Findlay-Relue’s presentation to the administrators in Huntingburg. Findlay-Relue is a private consultant for the C2 Collaborative, a firm that trains teachers and administrators nationwide on college and career ready standards.Findlay-Relue gave the attendees at this session strategies for teaching to the new standards and preparing students for a new test. The first she says is to use the language of the standards everyday in the classroom. So for example, ask students to analyze, justify or attribute – words they would see on an assessment.
“So you have to be intentional about teaching that academic language so students have command of that, can use it, and then when they encounter it they know what they’re being asked to do,” Findlay-Relue said.
She also encourages teachers who created curriculum around Common Core standards to keep that work and just tweak it since Indiana’s new standards aren’t much different.
“I Need the State to get their act together”
At last week’s State Board of Education meeting, CTB/McGraw-Hill, the vendor that will write the updated version of the ISTEP+, gave some clues about how it will format the new test. The questions haven’t been written, but CTB officials say the format will be similar to the old ISTEP+.
They stay they’ll have sample questions to teachers this fall for practice.
State Board of Education member Brad Oliver says that gives him some peace of mind.
“I feel very good that we’ve got a logical, very sound, valid and reliable process to go forward,” Oliver said.
But until then, many educators are left in the dark, and Geltmaker says that will only hurt the state if teachers and students aren’t prepared for the assessment.
“I really need for the state to get their act together, be supportive and let’s get some things done and accomplished and we’re prepared, best we can, for this test in the spring.”
The sample questions for the assessment are supposed to be released by October, and resource guides to help teachers break down the new standards were released earlier this summer.