Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


Claire McInerny

Claire McInerny is a reporter/producer for WFIU/WTIU news. She comes to WFIU/WTIU from KCUR in Kansas City. She graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Kansas where she discovered her passion for public media and the stories it tells. You can follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

Preliminary IREAD Scores Show Slightly Lower Passing Rate

A lower percentage of students passed Indiana’s required third grade reading test on their first try.

The Department of Education released preliminary results from this year’s IREAD-3 exam, which show 83.8 percent of third graders passed on their first try. Last year, the percentage was 84.2.

IREAD-3 is a standardized test assessing third graders’ reading ability, and it is separate from ISTEP+.

More students took the test this year, 1,575, which may have had an impact on the passing rate. And the rate could go up, as students can retake the test in the summer. After unsuccessful  students had the chance to take last year’s test a second time, that passing rate jumped to 87.4 percent.

(Read more about the history of the IREAD-3 assessment.)

If a third grader doesn’t pass the IREAD reading test the second time, they will have to retake third grade versions of the ISTEP and IREAD exams the following school year. State officials say these students will probably also be held back from entering fourth grade.

Final passage results will be available at the end of the summer.

Ritz And Gregg Say Preschool Should Be Free For All Students

State superintendent Glenda Ritz and Democratic candidate for governor John Gregg want to create a universal pre-k program in the state.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz and Democratic candidate for governor John Gregg want to create a universal pre-k program in the state. ” credit=”Claire McInerny (Indiana Public Broadcasting)

INDIANAPOLIS — Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg and state superintendent Glenda Ritz detailed their proposal for universal pre-K Thursday. Universal pre-k would be free for all 4 year-olds, not just those from low income families.

Ritz will run for re-election in November, and the two Democratic candidates proposed the plan last week.

The state’s current pre-K pilot program, On My Way Pre-K, gives pre-K scholarships to certain families who have incomes up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level — about $31,000 for a family of four.

Ritz said she wants the program to be available for all students.

“Middle income families affording daycare and pre-K, it’s a stress on their budgets,” Ritz said.

On My Way Pre-K requires families to apply, and approval takes time. Some have identified this process as a barrier. Ritz said more students will enroll in pre-K if it’s universal.

The plan she and Gregg support would cost the state an estimated $150 million a year. The money would be allocated to 289 public schools with preschool programs.

Ritz said the Department of Education will propose this program to the legislature during the 2017 General Assembly, which is a budget year.

Gregg said this program is good education policy and hopes Republicans in the legislature recognize that.

“My fear is if you just make it income weighted, they think this is just another one of these government programs, that they would call welfare programs, and it’s not, it’s education,” Gregg said.

The program would not require families to enroll their child in preschool.

In terms of funding, both Ritz and Gregg said the state has money for the program. Their plan would pool dollars from state and federal funds, and could use money currently spent on assessment, if the ISTEP+ panel chooses a cheaper option.

Governor Pence signed the state’s current On My Way Pre-K pilot program into law in 2013. The pilot program does not have a long term funding, as its effects are currently being studied. The program launched last year in five counties.

Dual Language Programs Continue To Grow Around State

Eight Indiana schools will receive state grant money to begin or expand their own dual language immersion programs. (Photo Credit: Nathan Moorby/Flickr)

Eight Indiana schools will receive state grant money to begin or expand their own dual language immersion programs. (Photo Credit: Nathan Moorby/Flickr)” credit=”Nathan Moorby/Flickr

The Department of Education announced Wednesday the latest group of schools that will receive state money to create or expand dual language immersion programs, adding three new schools to five already existing grant-funded programs.

The goal of dual language immersion programs is to teach students to become bilingual by teaching 50 percent of their lessons in English and 50 percent in another language. These usually begin in kindergarten or first grade and ideally continue throughout elementary school.

The following schools received grants Wednesday, and the ones in bold are new recipients:

  • Batesville Primary (Batesville Community School Corp.)
  • Global Prep Academy
  • Waterford Elementary (Goshen Community Schools)
  • Landis Elementary (Logansport Community School Corp.)
  • Poston Road Elementary (MSD Martinsville Schools)
  • Pleasant Run Elementary (MSD Warren Township)
  • Eisenhower Elementary (Warsaw Community Schools)
  • West Noble Primary (West Noble School Corp.)

The 2015 General Assembly created the dual language immersion pilot program, allocating $1 million over two years for schools to create or expand a program.

Batesville Primary School received one of the first grants last year and will enroll their first class of kindergartners in its Mandarin dual language immersion program this fall. Batesville Primary principal Heather Haunert says she spent the last year conducting research on successful Mandarin programs around the country. This included traveling to Seattle, Wash. and Portland, Ore. to see how Mandarin programs there were run.

Haunert says her school chose Mandarin because of a few businesses in Batesville with Chinese connections, but also because they wanted to provide a unique experience for students in the overwhelmingly white school.

“We’re just in such a small, tiny little pocket that it’s important for them to realize that there’s a big huge world out there and they need to have as many experiences as they can,” Haunert said.

After a year of researching and planning their program, Haunert says it was exciting to receive money for another year, but they are also planning how to maintain the program after state funding runs out. They hope to have one dual language Mandarin class at grade level, through fifth grade.

Waterford Elementary in Goshen Community Schools was one of three schools that received its first state dual language immersion program grant this week. It will launch a Spanish dual-language immersion program, and will follow a two-way immersion model. This means in addition to half of the instruction being in Spanish, half of the students will also be native Spanish speakers.

Unlike Batesville, Goshen schools enroll more 51 percent Latino students, many of them speaking Spanish. Their program will not only help English speakers learn a new language, but native Spanish speakers maintain their original language while practicing English.

Karen Blaha, Goshen English Language Learner director, said the fact that non-Latino families want their students to learn Spanish is encouraging.

“When I hear those comments from families who are native English speakers, to me shows that there is an interest for the whole dual language with the Spanish and English,” Blaha said.

Blaha says her district will spend this next year developing the curriculum for the program and preparing for its official launch in the 2017-2018 school year.

ISTEP Panel Unclear On Vision For New Assessment

Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma separately announced appointments to the panel that will recommend a replacement for Indiana’s current standardized test, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus or ISTEP. (David Hartman /Flickr)

The panel that is re-writing the ISTEP+ met for the second time Tuesday. photo credit: (David Hartman /Flickr)

The state’s ISTEP panel met for the second time Tuesday, with much of the discussion focusing on what the vision for the new assessment is. Many panel members struggled to agree on a shared goal.

The panel, established during the 2016 General Assembly, meets every month until December 2016 and will design a new state assessment to replace the ISTEP+. The 23-person panel is comprised of educators, legislators, state agency heads and business leaders.

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Marilyn Moran-Townsend, CEO of CVC Communications, said the group must have a goal for the assessment before digging into issues of technology, format and contract processes. This suggestion turned out to be complicated for much of the group.

Many of the educators that spoke up during the discussion, including Ft. Wayne Community Schools superintendent Wendy Robinson, want to have a more philosophical conversation about what this test would measure and what the state wants to know about student academic achievement.

“I just don’t want to get into the weeds until I’m clear that everybody on this committee, we’re all focused on the same thing,” Robinson said. “Teachers don’t want to get rid of testing, they just want to make sure what you’re having them spend valuable time on is actually going to help them change practice to get to proficiency, because that’s the goal.”

Scot Croner, superintendent of Blackford County Schools, brought up a specific goal he wants the panel to discuss. He says whenever the subject of testing has come up in recent years, people involved in the conversation say they want it to test if a student is ready for college or career. But how that actually plays out isn’t equal. He says students in his district’s welding program perform the worst on their End of Course Assessment with a 70 percent passage rate. But these same students have the highest passing rate for their industry exam, with 96 percent passing the welding exam. Which means they are ready for a career, but that’s not reflected on any state measurement.

“It’s mind numbingly painful to think we try to create these arbitrary tests that somehow measure college and career, when to my knowledge I think we know what college readiness means in the form of a test,” Croner said. ” It’s called the SAT and the ACT.”

While Croner and others wanted to have this vision set in stone before moving forward, many at the state level, including superintendent Glenda Ritz, Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers and Representative Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, were more focused on the logistics of  format, technology and selection of a test vendor.

But discussions around these issues didn’t take place today. Before adjourning, Chair Nicole Fama asked the other 22 panel members to email her their individual visions for the test.

The panel has six more meetings before the December deadline to submit their redesign plan.


Draper: Expectations Have To Change Through The First Year


Over the last year, we’ve followed three first year teachers – from their college graduation, through the first school year. Sara Draper taught at Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County. To conclude the series, she and the other two teachers reflect on their first year of teaching.

For Sara Draper, teaching second grade was a long, slow journey– she likens it to running a marathon.

“It starts out and you’re feeling really great when you first start running, then by the middle you’re doing ok, you get some water,” she said. “By the end you’re exhausted but you think you can still make it because there’s only a few weeks left, or a few miles left.”

And after the last day of school, Draper had mixed emotions.

Draper’s confidence went up and down all year, and her perspective changed. When she graduated college, she says her expectations were idealistic.

“Every lesson is going to be life changing and exciting and they’re all going to be excited about it, but that’s just not realistic,” Draper said. “That can’t happen every minute of every day. It’s not always exciting and that’s something I had to get used to.”

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Hoffman: First Year Challenging, But A Success

Hoffman first year

Over the last year, we’ve followed three first year teachers from their college graduation and through their first school year. Gabe Hoffman taught at Nora Elementary School in Washington Township Schools in Indianapolis. To conclude series, Gabe and the other two teachers reflect on their first year of teaching.

On the last day of school, Gabe Hoffman told his third graders, the first class he ever had, that they’ll be the most memorable of his career.

“They’ll be a special group to me because they were the first group I had as a teacher,” he said. They also helped him execute a very important decision: proposing to his girlfriend.

But starting the year as a recent college graduate and ending it with a fiancé only covers some this years changes. Another change: the subject he was most confident teaching.

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Testing Advisory Committee Raises Concerns Over ISTAR Test

A testing advisory committee raied concerns about an assessment that tests students with severe cognitive disabilities. (Photo Credit: Robbie/Flickr)

A testing advisory committee raised concerns about an assessment that tests students with severe cognitive disabilities. (Photo Credit: Robbie/Flickr)

A state testing committee recommended the State Board of Education not include test scores from an assessment for students with cognitive disabilities into school A-F grades. The advisory committee cited issues with that assessment’s validity.

The Indiana Standards Tools for Alternate Reporting, or ISTAR, is the assessment in question. It’s an alternative to ISTEP+ for students with significant cognitive abilities. This is the first year students took the test, and the state’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), a group that provides guidance on testing issues, says it might not be valid.

The ISTAR costs the state $2.5 million each year, and tests around 7,000 students in grades three through eights as well as tenth grade.

The way this assessment works: All students taking it take a version in the fall that places them on one of three tiers, levels one through three. Level one is the least challenging of the test versions and level three is the most challenging. Then, three times throughout the year, ISTAR students take the assessment at the level they tested into.

The problem occurs with the scoring of this assessment, because each level is scored the same way. So a student taking the more challenging level three version could score less than a student who took the level one, even though his or her test was harder.

The TAC found, after the test was implemented for the 2015-2016 school year, that this scoring system isn’t fair to all of the students.

At the State Board of Education’s work session Tuesday, members of the TAC told the board they would recommend not using these scores in 2016 A-F school scores.

ISTAR’s test vendor, Questar, tried to put the different levels of the test on the same plane by putting common questions in all the tests. But the number of these questions worries TAC member Karla Egan.

“There weren’t enough to feel secure,” said Egan.

Fellow TAC member and testing consultant Ed Roeber echoed the concerns, saying the score on ISTAR doesn’t give the state a good picture of how these students performed.

“If you can’t compare the performance on tier one, two or three items, you may have a situation where fewer students are passing the third tier,” Roeber said. “You might conclude they didn’t do as well on the assessment.”

Roeber suggested the TAC should be involved in test development from the earliest stages, rather than reviewing it once it’s created.

Many board members raised concerns about this process, saying this issue should have been caught earlier.

“I’m just curious,” asked board member Vince Bertram. “At what point are those type of issues discussed, rather than administering the test and coming to this conclusion.”

But Michelle Walker, Director of Assessment for the Department of Education, says it was challenging to develop the test in only six months. This is because the previous test used for these students was part of a national consortium, which the state had to pull out of after the legislature said Indiana couldn’t be part of testing consortiums.

The TAC is meeting Thursday, and the test vendor, Questar, will present possible solutions to address this issue.

Muncie Schools To Reduce Teaching Staff Amidst Budget Issues

Over the last few years, Muncie Community Schools have struggled to maintain its budget after property tax caps and a new funding formula went into place. They will end transportation services in 2018 and get rid of 37 positions this summer.

Over the last few years, Muncie Community Schools has struggled to maintain its budget after property tax caps and a new funding formula went into place. They will end transportation services in 2018 and get rid of 37 positions this summer. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

Muncie Community Schools will reduce their staff by 37 positions by next school year, through retirements, resignations and a few layoffs. The reduction comes after years of financial struggles for the district.

Superintendent Steven Baule said the district lost around $29 million after property tax caps and the new school funding formula.

Last year, the school board voted to end bus transportation by 2018 because of a protected tax law that diverted the district’s funds away from transportation.

The latest budget issues will affect staff, including teachers. Bale said he hopes to lay off fewer than 10 teachers, after they find out who is retiring and resigning – positions he will not replace.

Baule said the district can save money by replacing interventionists, staff who pull kids out of class to work on specific skills, with people who aren’t certified teachers. He said these employees are supplementing the child’s education so they don’t need to be certified, even though they would prefer it.

“That’s no different in what you see in healthcare today,” Baule said. “You don’t see the doctor all the time, you might see a physician’s assistant or you might see a nurse practitioner, it’s the exact same concept.”

Baule blames recent policy changes on the financial situation in his district, but some legislators don’t agree.

“Property tax caps should have had little impact on that funding stream,” said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis.

Behring said the legislature took measures to protect schools, when they put the property tax caps in place in 2008, through the state’s school funding formula.

This formula, updated during the 2015 legislative session, allocates money to students, not districts. So districts that draw more students, get more money. But districts like Muncie, which are seeing declining enrollment numbers, do not have that protection.

Behning said that is only fair since a district that is losing kids doesn’t need the same amount of resources to educate fewer students. And he said districts can also levy tax referenda to increase property taxes.

But Baule said the state should be able to help out more.

“If the state doesn’t change how it funds education, it’s really making a statement that they don’t feel public education has value,” Baule said.

Frankfort’s English Learner Teachers Scramble For Resources

Frankfort teacher Anne Lanum works with English learner students.

Frankfort teacher Anne Lanum works with English learner students. Photo by Claire McInerny

The English learner population is growing across the Midwest, as more immigrants settle in smaller towns, and Indiana is currently seeing an increase of students needing to learn English at a higher rate than the rest of the country.

While most schools struggle to meet the needs of students who don’t speak English, this challenge is especially obvious in rural school districts, where enrollment is decreasing and resources are tight.

Madeline Mavrogordato, an assistant professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University, conducts research on English learners. She said rural districts do struggle, but they can also adapt more quickly than large districts.

Melissa Griggs, on parent involvement

“So I think one of the things that’s amazing about working in a school district like that, is they tend to be smaller to begin with. So the power you have to actually impact change in a district like that is incredible,” Mavrogordato said.

In Indiana, the rural district Community Schools of Frankfort is also the district with the highest percentage of English learners in the state. Its need for English learner resources is also one of the highest in the state, and it is an example of how many schools are struggling to keep up with the growth of English learners.

Changing Attitudes To Effectively Teach

Frankfort is a small town in central Indiana with a little more than 16,000 people. Over the last few decades, as more factory jobs became available, more Latino families moved there.

Anne Lanum started as a elementary school teacher in the Frankfort school district, 16 years ago. Over that time, the number of her students with English learning needs grew from 20 to 90 percent. In the beginning of this boom, Lanum says negative attitudes about the population change in the community reached the schools.

Olivia Rothenberger, on attitudes from administrators

“At that time they weren’t really accepted, people didn’t want them at the other schools,” Lanum said.

She said the community is more comfortable now. But she and other teachers said other challenges are harder to overcome, including the student to teacher ratio.

Frankfort has the largest percentage of English learning students in the state, 800 students in a small district. But it only has eight teachers, and that team said they’re always trying to catch up.

After seeing the negative attitudes toward Latino students, Lanum decided two years ago to get her English learner certification and switch jobs. She’s now one of those eight teachers split among the hundreds of kids needing her specified instruction.

She said it’s been a tough transition, because these students are not the district’s top priority. For example, Lanum meets with more than 200 kids at one elementary school, but she doesn’t have her own classroom.

“If there’s a room that has to go, it’s my room and I just have to find a space,” she said. “I have to find a breezeway or a corner to teach kids.”

Anne Lanum, on resources

Other teachers said they get pulled away from working with English learning students to proctor ISTEP+ exams or do lunch duty. And they all said the schools need more dedicated, certified EL teachers. But Frankfort’s Director of English Learning, Lori North, says that’s a tough ask right now.

“We had teacher cuts this year so it’s really hard for me to go and say ‘I need more EL teachers’ when they’re cutting general education teachers,” North said.

They all said the attitudes have gotten better in the community and in the schools toward these students. Principals and other administrators are starting to understand why English learning classes are important for these students to succeed in the rest of their classes.

“Everyone’s an English learner teacher”

The situation for the Frankfort schools is typical for most schools with high English learner populations.

Right now in Frankfort, there is typically one EL teacher per school that has hundreds of students needing their services. This one teacher spends the days helping classroom teachers co-teach, a combination of pull out sessions with small groups and large class sessions.

Teachers in Frankfort said this is not ideal because students aren’t getting enough uninterrupted, individual instruction.

Karie Cloe, on language barriers

Mavrogordato said that’s a common problem everywhere, and if schools that aren’t able to hire more English learner teachers want to better serve the kids there is a more plausible solution.

“If you’re lucky kids are going to get pulled out of class maybe two days, three days a week to receive services,” Mavrogordato said. “But the other six hours of the day across five days a week, they’re with general education teachers. So if the general education teachers have not received training or professional development to help them address the linguistic and cultural needs of English language learners, it’s going to be an uphill battle.”

The teachers in Frankfort are trying to employ this tactic in their schools. Melissa Griggs is one the English learner teachers and also coaches classroom teachers on tactics to use in the classroom.

“So much is suffering because they’re not learning grade level content if they’re not learning the language,” Griggs said. “But I think that’s also where we do a great job of informing the teachers and giving them strategies on how to help too.”

And Griggs said, in a district where up to 50 percent of the class could not understand what the teacher is saying, every teacher becomes an English learning teacher.

“They Just Need Language”

For North, the most frustrating part of not having enough staff and training to help students learn English is that she knows that these students are smart.

Lori North, on stigma

The Community Schools of Frankfort received Ds on the state’s A-F system the last three years. English learners must take the ISTEP+, but they cannot have it translated. This means most English learners fail the test, and with a third of students in the district learning the language, ISTEP+ scores are often low.

North said the district doesn’t put pressure on her team to perform better, but the teachers are disappointed by this situation.

“I think we feel pressure in our own buildings because we feel tired of failing,” North said. “We’re tired of working so hard, but we don’t get the numbers.”

But once the English learners master the language, most are strong academically.

“They just need language,” North said. “Once they have language, in many ways, they outperform the general population.”

Because the school district is tight on money for everything, North said she can’t ask for too much for the English learners. She has grant money that she wants to use to get classroom teachers EL certified. She says if more teachers know how to help the kids, the better it is off everyone.

“They just deserve every opportunity they can give them,” North said. “I know my EL teachers work really hard to do that, but it never feels like enough. I think that’s what we feel like, we’re eight strong. Like we’re doing our best, we’re doing the very best we can but is that enough?”

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