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.

What To Expect From A Pre-K Expansion This Legislative Session

Students at a Jump Start program in Seymour work with their teacher on learning the alphabet.

Students at a Jump Start program in Seymour work with their teacher on learning the alphabet. Seymour was one community where the current state funded pre-k program offered scholarships to low-income families. (photo credit: Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana)

When the General Assembly convenes for the 2017 legislative session, expanding state funded pre-K will be a top priority.

Legislative leaders have already said they are motivated to expand the pilot program, On My Way Pre-K, which provides tuition scholarships to a limited number of low-income 4-year-olds – 1,792 are enrolled this year.

There are still questions about how far the expansion will go, but details are slowly starting to emerge.

The Current State Pre-K Program

In 2013, the General Assembly passed a bill allocating $10 million to a new pilot program that gives scholarships to low income four-year-olds to attend a high quality preschool program.

On My Way Pre-K went into effect in January 2015, in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh Counties. The fifth county selected to offer the scholarships, Jackson, launched its program in July 2015.

The program gives families a voucher they can use to attend any high quality preschool in their town. The Family and Social Services Administration oversees the program, and makes sure every provider involved is rated a Level 3 or 4 on the state’s Paths to Quality system, the two highest rankings.

In the counties where the program launched, the demand far outpaced available spots, showing families wanted this opportunity for their kids but weren’t able to afford it.

Since On My Way Pre-K began in January 2015, it has served 3,702 children in the five counties, and advocacy groups and business leaders have called for an expansion. Legislative leaders agree, but there will likely be debate over what the expansion should look like.

The Request From Early Education Advocates

Through this past year State Supt. Glenda Ritz and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal pre-K, free preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state. This is something that we are not likely to see, however, as neither were elected.

A more likely option is an expansion of the scholarship program. Earlier this summer, a group of business leaders and advocates called for this. The United Way of Central Indiana is also an advocate.

“Four is a critical time,” says Christina Hage, vice president of public policy for UWCI. “Before the age of 5, 85 percent of your brain is developed. If these children are arriving at kindergarten and unable to do the basic skills, then they’re already behind. And there are studies after studies that show it is very difficult to catch up.” Continue Reading

Students At Indiana’s Universities Rallying For Sanctuary Campuses

Students at Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame are appealing to administration, asking to make the schools a sanctuary campus for undocumented students.

Students at Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame are appealing to administration, asking to make the schools a sanctuary campus for undocumented students. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

After the election of president-elect Donald Trump in November, college students around the state began asking their universities to become “sanctuary campuses.” This means university officials would not comply with immigration officials when it came to deportations or raids.

A week after the election, students at the University of Notre Dame staged a walk-out and protest calling for the sanctuary status at the school.

WNDU in South Bend reported on other demands in a petitions signed by students and faculty:

1. Declare Notre Dame to be a sanctuary campus that will actively refuse to comply with immigration authorities regarding deportations or raids.

2. Guarantee student privacy by refusing to release information regarding the immigration status of our students and community members to any government agency.

3. Create an undocumented student program, with a full-time director, and free on-campus access to legal counsel. Create funds to assist undocumented students (and faculty, staff and students with family members) in need.

4. Assure that all students receive a campus, classroom and community experience free of hostilities, aggressions and bullying regarding immigration status. Communicate unequivocally and repeatedly that undocumented students are full members of the Notre Dame community who will be protected to the fullest power of the administration.

5. In line with the Catholic tradition of providing sanctuary to the persecuted, identify particular spaces on campus where those who feel threatened can seek refuge and protection.

Similar requests are being made at Indiana University, when students asked provost Lauren Robel to make a similar distinction. But the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University reports this looks unlikely:

Robel met with the UndocuHoosiers Alliance on Nov. 28 after they delivered demands on Nov. 16 to her and IU President Michael McRobbie to meet with them and discuss how they will support undocumented students when Donald Trump takes office.

Robel said she thinks the possibility of opposing immigration officials being able to execute immigration law on the IU campus is an unwise step for a number of reasons because of her concern for IU students.

“So, I think the position we’ve taken is we will do everything that is legally within our power to protect our students and we do everything that we do with our students interest in mind, not with political statements in mind,” Robel said.

State Superintendent-Elect McCormick Announces Transition Team

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, 2016. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, after she defeated current State Superintendent Glenda Ritz. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

State superintendent-elect Jennifer McCormick announced her transition team Friday. The 17-person team will help McCormick is hiring her cabinet at the Department of Education and preparing her new administration. She takes office Jan. 9.

The transition team consists of many public school principals, superintendents and leaders in higher education.

“I am excited and honored to work with such a dynamic and diverse group,” McCormick said in a statement. “The team’s commitment to Hoosier students will drive critical decision-making which will ultimately impact Indiana’s education system and ensure Indiana has one of the best Departments of Education in the nation.”

Here is the full list of McCormick’s transition team:

Dr. Brad Balch – Professor and Dean Emeritus, Indiana State University, Department of Educational Leadership

Dr. Todd Bess – Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Principals

Mr. Wes Bruce – Education and Assessment Consultant

Dr. Jeff Butts – President-Elect, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents

Rep. Tony Cook – Republican, Cicero

Mr. Denny Costerison – Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Business Officials

Dr. Scot Croner – Superintendent, Blackford County Schools

Mr. Steve Edwards (Transition Team Chair) - Retired Superintendent and Education Consultant, Administrator Assistance

Dr. Nancy Holsapple – Executive Director, Old National Trail Special Services Inter-Local

Mr. David Holt – Chief Financial Officer, MSD Warren Township

Dr. Lee Ann Kwiatkowski – Member, State Board of Education

Mr. Micah Maxwell – Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Muncie

Dr. Hardy Murphy – Executive Director, Indiana Urban Schools Association and Clinical Professor of Education, IUPUI, IU School of Education

Mrs. Kathryn Raasch – Principal, Wayne Township Preschool

Mr. Terry Spradlin – Director of Community and Governmental Relations, Education Networks of America

Mrs. Lisa Tanselle – General Counsel, Indiana School Boards Association

Mrs. Kelly Wittman – Executive Principal, Max S. Hayes Career & Technical High School of MSD Cleveland

Once Again, Indiana Plans To Launch A New Assessment In 1 Year

Testing expert Ed Roeber travelled to Indiana Tuesday to speak with the panel re-writing the state's assessment. Roeber encourage the panel to spend at least two years creating and implementing the new assessment system and not rush into it, like Indiana did in 2014.

Testing expert Ed Roeber travelled to Indiana Tuesday to speak with the panel re-writing the state\’s assessment. Roeber encourage the panel to spend at least two years creating and implementing the new assessment system and not rush into it, like Indiana did in 2014.  (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

When the 2017 General Assembly convenes in January, it will tackle one of the biggest education issues of the year: replacing the state’s assessment, the ISTEP+. Last session, the General Assembly passed a bill eliminating the current ISTEP+ and saying the replacement must be in effect by spring 2018.

This gives the legislature, the Department of Education, a test vendor and school districts less than a year to create and implement the new test.

It’s a road the state has been down before.

This started in March 2014, when Gov. Mike Pence and the legislature ditched Common Core standards and the PARCC assessment. The exit came without a contingency plan. And because of a waiver the state had with the federal government regarding the old No Child Left Behind law, they were legally obligated to give the test that year.

So the DOE and the State Board of Education wrote new standards in a few months and had test vendor, CTB, create an assessment to match.

Schools began preparing for test administration in Spring 2015, and many educators complained. The new 2015 version of the ISTEP+ was significantly longer than previous years. That’s because when a new test is created, best practice is to field test the questions on the test to make sure they are properly assessing a student’s knowledge. That field testing is usually spread out, but because of the short timeline, the pilot questions were tacked onto the real assessment, making it longer.

Parents and teachers were outraged at the amount of time students spent testing, and the discussion quickly turned into public accusations from the SBOE, the DOE and the governor’s office about whose fault it was.

Eventually, Governor Pence signed an executive order shortening the test, and the DOE worked with testing experts to figure out how to do make that happen.

Just over a year later, we’re back in a similar situation. If legislators keep the 2018 implementation deadline, here’s how the workflow of the test creation will play out: the General Assembly crafts a law that dictates how the new test looks. That isn’t finalized until late April or May of 2017 when the legislative session ends. Then the Department of Education, now under Jennifer McCormick, hires a test vendor to create the assessment. The vendor has a few months to create the test and the DOE has a few months to prepare schools for the change before it must be implemented spring 2018.

The legislation passed last year that eliminates the test, also created the ISTEP+ panel that was tasked with creating suggestions for re-writing the assessment.

The panel took testimony from Ed Roeber, a testing consultant based in Michigan who previously consulted with Indiana when the test was too long. He told the panel that the state should take at least two years to fully plan and implement a new test.

“When things get rushed, then you take shortcuts,” Roeber said at the October meeting of the ISTEP+ panel.

The panel issued its final report this week, and it does include a suggestion the state retain the current version another year and take two years to re-write and implement its replacement.

House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Education Chair Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, have both said they would discuss changing the deadline. The legislature could re-write that deadline during this year’s legislative session.

ISTEP+ Panel Submits Recommendations For Writing New Test

State superintendent Glenda Ritz has come under fire for an education department contract that was awarded to AT&T. The mobile company worked with a softward developer that later hired one of Ritz's aides in an exuctive position. (Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz was one of two people on the 23-person ISTEP panel who voted against the final recommendation. Ritz says this plan was too broad and doesn’t ask legislators to make dramatic changes from a testing system many are unhappy with. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

The ISTEP+ panel, a 23-person committee tasked with writing a recommendation for re-writing the state’s assessment system, voted on a final version Tuesday. Rather than promoting the sweeping changes that many, including the legislature wanted, the final plan offers slight differences from the state’s current test.

The plan came in before the Dec. 1 deadline and will now be given to lawmakers for the 2017 General Assembly.

The most notable changes from the current assessment system:

  • Administering a test once a year, rather than twice
  • Putting that testing window at the end of the school year in May
  • Proposing that other Indiana teachers grade the assessment

The recommendations also call for a shorter assessment and quicker turnaround of results, but do not specify how to achieve that.

Nicole Fama, the panel’s chair and principal at George H. Fisher School 93 in Indianapolis, says she wanted the group’s final recommendation to be broad for a reason.

“We’re not the experts, we’re not the psychometricians, we wouldn’t know exactly where those things are to meet state requirements, so we left that to them,” Fama says.

The General Assembly voted to eliminate the current ISTEP+ by 2018, after parents, teachers and legislators voiced overwhelming dissatisfaction with the test.

Lawmakers formed this committee to help craft its replacement, but its final recommendation is conservative in its changes to the current assessment system.

Over the last six months, one of the main goals of the panel was to reduce the time students spend testing. One of the suggestions to achieve this was eliminating the IREAD-3 test, an assessment that tests reading skills in third grade. Many on the panel supported this suggestion, but it is not present in the final recommendation.

Fama says, while many want to see that happen, the group decided not to address it in their plan. They will instead ask the State Board of Education to advocate against that test.

But House Education Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, says getting rid of IREAD-3 might not be the best move. He says, ever since Indiana introduced IREAD-3, fourth grade student scores on the federal assessment, NAEP, showed more growth than most states.

Behning says he is willing to consider other options, but that assessment put a greater focus on reading in classrooms.

“It would be my preference at this point in time that we look at options but I think IREAD-3, if you look at the performance we have right now in NAEP, let’s not set ourselves back,” Behning says.

The plan passed 21-2, and the two votes against it were placed by state superintendent Glenda Ritz and Ayana Wilson-Coles, a teacher at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Pike Township.

In a statement, Ritz said this plan wasn’t a dramatic change from the current testing system, and she was disappointed that the group didn’t recommend more detailed recommendations for the legislature.

“Earlier this year, Indiana’s General Assembly said that the time had finally come for an end to the inefficient, expensive, pass-fail, high-stakes ISTEP+ system,” Ritz said in a statement. “The recommendations adopted today will do nothing to shorten the time of the test and will not save Hoosiers any money nor reduce the high-stakes associated with ISTEP+.”

Before the vote, Ritz also raised issue with the fact that this final draft of the plan was compiled through email and didn’t allow for the group to discuss it before voting on it.

These email discussions determined language in the final draft that was not otherwise debated in a public meeting space.

Fama acknowledges that left these discussions were held out of the public eye, but she says that tactic was necessary to meet the deadline.

“I think it was as transparent as it could be with our timeline to meet Dec. 1 and get things going,” Fama says.

This recommendation is only a jumping off point in a longer process to re-write the test. It is only a recommendation. The General Assembly has full control over the future the assessment.

Behring says, when the legislature convenes in January, he will use these recommendations as he and other legislators craft a bill to create a new testing system.

“I can generally support almost everything that’s in the report,” Behning says. “I think we’re going to make some really positive movement forward.”

Tomorrow We’ll Have An ISTEP Recommendation, What Can We Expect?

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 ISTEP panel will issue its final recommendation on how to re-write the state assessment. (photo credit: David Hartman /Flickr)

Tuesday is the last state ISTEP panel meeting, and members are expected to vote on a plan to overhaul the state’s assessment system. The group will submit this plan to the legislature as a recommendation.

During the 2016 General Assembly, lawmakers voted to get rid of the current ISTEP+ assessment. The legislation also created the 23-person panel – educators, parents, legislators and other stakeholders – to come up with a recommendation for its replacement.

That panel met every month, since May, to craft a recommendation before a Dec. 1 deadline. Though Nov. 29′s meeting is the last, it’s not quite clear what we can expect from the recommendation.

When the group convened earlier in the month, members brought different ideas and plans for what the test could look like. It reviewed them at the meeting but no decisions were made.  Chair and Indianapolis Public Schools principal Nicole Fama decided to have those conversations via email. Tomorrow we’ll have our first look at the products of those conversations.

What we have seen so far

One of the first plans came from state superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Department of Education, in October. Highlights include eliminating IREAD-3, enacting computer adaptive tests and the possibility for multiple administrations throughout the year.

A few weeks ago, a group of eight panel members created their own proposal and presented it for consideration. Some of their suggestions:

  • State will provide funds for a formative assessment of the school district’s choosing (a test, like NWEA, schools can use to gauge if students are on track).
  • Only one administration of the summative assessment (like ISTEP). Right now students take it in two sittings.
  • Eliminate IREAD-3.
  • Three end-of-course exams at the high school level.

Different perspectives

At the last meeting, the group also reviewed various pieces of feedback from panel members regarding the test. Suggestions included reducing testing time, cutting IREAD and reducing the social studies and science portions of any assessment.

But there were a few things the entire group wasn’t on board with. Experts suggest online testing is the best way to administer a test, but some on the panel still want to administer a test with paper and pencil. The group also differs on how often there should be testing. Some want to streamline it into one time a year, others want to spread it throughout the year, administering it in shorter chunks.

After the recommendation

The final recommendation will be given to the 2017 General Assembly. It does not mandate anything. The legislature will craft legislation that establishes the new assessment.

Legislative Leaders Agree On Expanding State-Funded Pre-K

The legislature will likely address expanding statewide pre-k during the 2017 legislative session.

The legislature will likely address expanding statewide pre-k during the 2017 legislative session. (photo credit: Sonia Hooda / Flickr)

Legislative leaders outlined their priorities for the 2017 General Assembly Monday, and all agreed they want to expand the state’s pre-K scholarship program. The question that will face the full General Assembly is how much it will be expanded.

Republican and Democratic legislative leaders from both chambers agree state funded pre-K should be a priority in the upcoming legislative session. It’s an sentiment that began earlier this year when business leaders announced an initiative encouraging the legislature to expand the current pre-K pilot program, On My Way Pre-K.

That program exists in five counties and currently serves around 2,500 kids from low-income families. There’s estimates on how many seats are currently open if the state decides to offer more money in scholarships for these students, some saying 5,000. 

Going from currently 2,500 students to almost tripling the program isn’t unreasonable according to House speaker Brian Bosma, but he says it just depends on financial forecasts.

“This may be a tighter session than normal,” Bosma says. “I think that will in part dictate how broadly we expand the program.”

Democrat leaders Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, and Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, expressed interest in expanding the program statewide.

The legislative session begins in early January.

ISTEP Scores Drop For The Second Year In A Row

The 2016 ISTEP+ scores show the number of students passing the ISTEP+ decreased for the second year in a row.

Fifty-two percent of students passed both the English Language Arts and Math sections of the test. This is compared to 53 percent in 2015.

Fewer students passed just the ELA test, 66 percent this year compared to 67 percent in 2015. Fifty-nine percent of students passed the math section of the test this year, a drop from 61 percent last year.

The Department of Education says the scores dropped these last two years because 2015 was the first year the state administered a new version of the ISTEP that matched new standards. It says students and schools continue to adjust.

The adjustments have not been smooth, and the General Assembly voted last year to get rid of this version of ISTEP and create a new test. The legislation that scrapped  this ISTEP also created a panel of educators, parents and other stakeholders to plan for its replacement. That panel is expected to finalize its recommendations at its final meeting, Nov. 29.

A new test will bring a new adjustment period, so students may continue to score low on the state assessment, whatever form it takes.

ISTEP Panel Finishes Broad Plan To Submit To Legislature

The ISTEP panel will finalize its recommendation for re-writing the state assessment at a Nov. 29 meeting. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

The ISTEP panel will finalize its recommendation for re-writing the state assessment at a Nov. 29 meeting. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

The state’s ISTEP panel concluded its meetings Tuesday with a broad set of recommendations. Chair Nicole Fama will compile what was said for a recommendation to the legislature. The panel will vote on that recommendation at its final meeting, Nov. 29.

The 2016 General Assembly voted to stop using the current ISTEP+ format at the end of this school year. It also created this panel of educators, lawmakers and state agency employees to draft a more desirable test. The legislation gave the panel a Dec. 1 deadline to make its recommendation.

So what ideas is Fama working with as she compiles the final recommendation?

Tuesday’s meeting was one of the first where the 23 members laid out specific ideas for overhauling the assessment. Superintendent Glenda Ritz recapped a plan she released a few weeks ago. A group of eight panel members submitted their own assessment plan, which they drafted outside of meetings. Other members submitted individual comments.

Discussion covered a full range of ideas including: whether the test should be given multiple times a year, to if it should be administered online, to different ideas about reading and writing  assessments.

With so much variety, the only things everyone agreed on was they want a shorter test, quicker results, and no IREAD. Those sentiments were present the first day the panel met.

Most other meetings were filled with testing experts from around the country speaking to the panel on best practices – which many panel members say was necessary – but it didn’t allow much time for them to discuss the specifics of what they wanted to see in the plan.

But Nov. 15 was different.

“I think today’s discussion was one of the most meaningful we’ve had throughout the process,” says Callie Marksbary, an elementary school teacher in Lafayette. “As educators sitting in the room we felt like that was the sort of conversation we should have every time.”

Because it took this long to get to meaningful discussion, Indianapolis elementary school teacher Ayana Wilson-Coles says the short timeline prevented them from both getting adequate background knowledge and having meaningful discussions on what to present the legislature.

“So you have all this background knowledge on testing and then we only have one or two meetings where we’re really getting to the meat and talking about plans that people proposed,” Wilson-Coles says. “If that’s what you needed to do to make sure everyone was on the same page, that’s fine, but maybe the timeline should have been expanded so we don’t feel rushed to make a determination in our last meeting.”

One thing the group decided was to give the legislature a two-fold recommendation: one part would include broad ideas for writing a new assessment system, and the second part would have more details on how to achieve those ideas.

This suggestions came after Senate Education Committee Chair Dennis Kruse told the panel that legislators deal with hundreds of bills each session and they shouldn’t get “too in the weeds” with their recommendation.

When the panel convened, they group had not collectively decided which elements of all the proposed plans they wanted to include in the final recommendation. Instead, Fama will do that work outside of the meetings and is expected to bring it to the Nov. 29 meeting for the panel to approve.

Going forward, Steve Baker, principal at Bluffton High School, says he hopes the work of the panel serves as a first step and that the legislature turns to the members as resources.

“I don’t think our work should be done on Nov. 29,” Baker says. “Keep a part of this panel together for consultants and let’s keep going forward.”

Gary Schools Turn To Legislature Amid Financial Trouble


Gary Community Schools have struggled financially the last few years as enrollment dropped. They are now working with a state hired financial consultant and legislators to help the district financially succeed. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Gary Community Schools is asking the state legislature for help as it struggles with ongoing financial problems. This comes after a school referendum failed last week.

The school referendum was posed after years of financial struggle and failed by only 300 votes. The NWI Times reports the district sent a letter to staff Friday, saying it wouldn’t make payroll on time:

Gary schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said payroll is delayed until Tuesday when the district gets its monthly allocation from the state. The school’s biweekly payroll is about $1.6 million.

Gary’s state-hired financial consultant Jack Martin said the district is nearly $100 million in debt. However, he said the most critical is $25 million in the operating budget. The district is current with debt-service payments, including utility payments to NIPSCO and to the IRS.

This is the district’s second failed referenda to counter decreasing enrollment in recent years. When students leave a district, state money goes with them, and Gary schools struggle to maintain staff and buildings.

The district is now talking with legislators about how to keep itself financially stable. Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Luke Kenley said he’s been talking with Gary representatives and the superintendent. He doesn’t want to give them more money. He says he wants to help them solve a bigger problem.

“I don’t think that’s the source of their problem, just to throw more money at them,” Kenley says. “I think they need to have a whole different management structure there.”

Kenley says he wants to involve the mayor of Gary, who has worked to financially stabilize other parts of the city, such as the airport. The state hired a financial consultant whose been working in the district for months, and participates in these discussions.

Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt says the district is considering closing buildings, laying off staff and contracting out services like custodial and grounds maintenance to save money. She says this is scary for many in the community as they worry about the future of their school district.

“Many people are pretty sad that they don’t know what to expect now. They don’t want to see a close in the school district,” Pruitt says. “It’s a little bit of uneasiness and uncertainty.”

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