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.
Glenda Ritz and Jennifer McCormick, the candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction, will debate in Ft. Wayne Oct. 17.
This election season finally has an end in sight. As you all are thinking about who will receive your vote on Nov. 8, we have an opportunity for you to learn more about the candidates for State Superintendent.
The state superintendent’s race is different from past years, as we have two educators running for the position. Want to know how they differ on issues or what they hope to bring to the role as head of the Indiana Department of Education? Monday, Oct. 17 we are co-hosting a debate between the two candidates.
The debate will be taped Monday but aired on public broadcasting stations at different times throughout the state in the following weeks.
Our own Claire McInerny will moderate the debate along with WFYI’s Education Reporter Eric Weddle.
In the Ft. Wayne area? Here are details if you want to join us and be in the audience.
When: 12 p.m. taping starts, 11:45 a.m. doors open for General Admission seating.
Where: Classic Ballroom in the Walb Student Union at IPFW (2101 East Coliseum Blvd., Fort Wayne, IN)
Here’s when the debate will air on various public broadcasting stations across the state:
Airing on WBOI (89.1 FM and streaming online): Oct. 19 at 7 p.m.
Airing on PBS 39: Oct 17 at 7 p.m.
Airing on WFYI (90.1 FM): Oct. 17 at 8 p.m.
Airing on WFYI 1 Television: Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.
Airing on WFIU (103.7 FM): Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.
Airing on WTIU Television (Channel 30-2): Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.
Airing on WTIU Television (Channel 30-1): Oct. 17 at 11:30 p.m.
Airing on WTIU Television (Channel 30-1): Oct. 23 at 1:00 p.m.
And we’ll post the full debate on our website after the fact so you can watch it as you have time before election day.
Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Department of Education released a proposal for the state’s new testing system. (Photo Credit: Robbie/Flickr)
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Department of Education issued a proposal for Indiana’s new testing system. The plan is just one design the ISTEP committee could consider sugesting to the 2017 General Assembly next legislative session.
The 2016 General Assembly passed a law getting rid of ISTEP last spring, and it also created the ISTEP committee to recommendation a new plan by Dec. 1. At this point, the panel doesn’t look likely to independently meet this goal.
Without a concrete plan forming in the committee, the DOE is suggesting this one and says it would reduce overall testing by eight hours and save the state around $12 million. Here are some details of their plan:
End of Course Assessments would come back at the high school level in grade nine English and Algebra and a Biology exam for ninth or 10th graders.
What would the bulk of testing in third through eighth grade look like?
Assessments would be computer adaptive – this is a type of test where every student gets a different set of test questions, depending on whether they are answering the questions correctly or not.
A test is administered three times a year in the fall, winter and spring. There are two approaches to how these three testing sessions can be used.
Approach 1: Each testing session would include a few questions that would add up to one overall score. Each session would therefore be important for a student’s score.
Approach 2: There are still three testing sessions throughout the year, but under this approach, the fall and winter testing sessions wouldn’t contribute to the overall score and instead be used as diagnostic tools. That means teachers would use the results of these tests to gauge how students are doing, and the DOE’s hope is that if this approach is used, schools will stop using other types of diagnostic tests like NWEA.
Science portions of the test would only be administered in the spring exam at grades four and six.
The writing portion would still be open ended, but most other tests would eliminate open ended questions like short answer or essays.
The DOE says this proposal took feedback from superintendents, principals and other educators that are part of key stakeholder groups. It may be considered by the ISTEP panel and the legislature as they decide the future of the state’s test.
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. ” credit=”Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting
Each of the experts addressed different part of the panel’s charge, and made some suggestions the panel hasn’t addressed yet.
Would Indiana Go Back To PARCC?
Michael Cohen is the President of Achieve, a company that consults with states on standards and testing, and who has worked many times with Indiana over the last few years. He consulted with the state after we left the Common Core consortium and decided to write our own standards, and thus our own test.
In terms of nationwide, Cohen explained there are 27 states administering a test written by themselves, 22 giving a Common Core aligned test (PARCC or Smarter Balanced) and two states have created a hybrid of PARCC questions mixed with their own.
When asked if Indiana should buy an assessment already created or continue creating their own?
“I would go for PARCC,” Cohen said. “It’s ready, it’s cheap.”
For context, Achieve did oversee writing of the Common Core Standards and the PARCC consortium.
This is a daring suggestion for Cohen to give Indiana, since it was the first state to pull out of using Common Core standards and the PARCC consortium in 2014, and took us all on the windy path of writing our own standards and test in a quick amount of time.
But Cohen says if Indiana chose the PARCC test, it’s a little different than it was in 2014.
“There are two meaningful differences,” Cohen says. “One is as I mentioned before, there are no federal funds involved. And second is it is a shorter test than it was. I think they have reduced testing time by 90 minutes.”
It also would cost the state about half as much to use the PARCC test than to develop our own.
Another “off the shelf” option Cohen presented to the group was to contact a state like Massachusetts, that is creating a hybrid of PARCC and its own test, and pay them for their assessment.
Cohen also says since Indiana’s new standards are very similar to the Common Core ones, it wouldn’t take too much effort to make sure all test questions match our standards.
But this would prove to be a tough sell to the Republican held legislature, many of which supported the pull out of PARCC in 2014. But Senate Education Committee Chair Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, says it’s not off the table yet.
“I think it’s something we should discuss and talk about, particularly with the Massachusetts combination that they’re doing,” Kruse says. “If we could take that and align it to Indiana standards I think that might be something we seriously consider doing.”
But House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, thinks the legislature won’t easily entertain this idea.
“Probably easiest will be to create our own,” Behning says.
ISTEP Replacement Likely Won’t Be Implemented By 2018
The issue of timing was a huge part of Ed Roeber’s presentation, a consultant with Assessment Solutions Group, who has also advised the state through many of its testing situations the last few years.
Most recently, he advised the State Board of Education in 2015 when the ISTEP was significantly longer than previous years. That was a result of pulling out of Common Core without a solid plan in place for field testing the replacement test.
So it’s not surprising that his biggest suggestion to the panel was take your time.
He says any state wanting to develop a new test should give itself at least two years, and under the current law replacing ISTEP, it must be functional and administered to students by spring 2018.
“When things get rushed then you take shortcuts,” Roeber says.
He says after this panel decides on recommendations, the legislature will have to put something new into law, by the time that concludes, the State Board of Education and Department of Education would only have a few months to find a vendor and begin the process of rolling out the test. It’s not enough time he says.
And both Kruse and Behning listened, saying they will ask the General Assembly to change the current law.
The Move To Online Only Assessments?
The last two testing experts at Tuesday’s meeting strongly encouraged the panel and the legislature to stop administering the test in two modes: online and paper/pencil. Right now, the ISTEP is divided into two parts, where students take one part online and one on paper.
Marianne Perie of the University of Kansas called this practice “bizarre” and said it’s time the state chooses one, likely online.
She says moving everything online would also give schools and parents quicker results, something everyone involved in the process wants.
But Derek Briggs, of the University of Colorado at Boulder Education System, says there’s a balance the state must maintain when focusing on quicker results.
“There’s something to be said for quality control,” Briggs said. So while teachers, parents and many policy makers would love for assessment results to arrive within the week of a student taking the test, he says it’s important to make sure these tests are scored correctly since they are used for so many measurements.
He also stresses that while many panel members, whether politicians or educators, want to be able to say this new test will fix all the old problems, there are choices to be made. A test can’t be two different forms that different schools prefer, or test every subject and standard deeply. He says everyone in the state has to look at the new test, whatever it looks like, as a compromise between all of the very complicated assessment systems.
“We can’t give you everything you were promised before and have a shorter test,” Briggs says.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce endorsed Jennifer McCormick Monday for state superintendent. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media).
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce announced Monday its endorsement of Republican state superintendent candidate Jennifer McCormick.
The Chamber often endorses candidates for state legislature, but this endorsement is only the third for a candidate in a statewide election. The Chamber endorses candidates from both major political parties. But Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar says there’s one major reason they endorsed McCormick over incumbent and Democrat Glenda Ritz.
“Jennifer McCormick would be more effective and have better more effective relationships with the key players as far as the legislature, the State Board of Education, the governor and the Commission for Higher Education and others,” Brinegar says.
Indiana will soon release its plan for complying with the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which means a new way we give schools an A-F grade. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/ Indiana Public Broadcasting)
For the last few years, Indiana has used an A-F system to hold our schools accountable. The way a school received a grade is mainly based on ISTEP+ scores, which was met with a lot of criticism. But now that Congress has passed the new version of the Every Student Succeeds Act (the re-write to No Child Left Behind), Indiana’s A-F system could see a huge overhaul.
The new law gives states more input on how they test their students and more importantly, how low-performing schools are held accountable to get on track to improve.
Now that the law was passed with bi-partisan support at the federal level, all 50 states are re-writing their accountability systems.
Indiana’s Department of Education has already been working on its plan, but before its made public, here’s a primer on what new provisions they are working with.
The main difference between the old accountability system and what states can do now, is that test scores won’t be the main factor in calculating a grade.
“You have to use student results in a more significant way than the other metrics,” says Chris Minnich, a member of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “But I don’t know any states that were going to go away from student results. I think this gives us an opportunity to balance.”
And that balance means more factors will create a school for a grade. Here is what the law lays out for elementary and middle schools:
Academic achievement (how a child performs on a test)
Academic growth (how a child improves year to year on a test)
Language proficiency for English Language Learners
Indicator of the state’s choice (more on this below)
Here is what will be used to calculate a score for a high school:
Academic achievement (how a student performs on a test)
Language proficiency for English Language Learners
Indicator of the state’s choice (more on this below)
The Department of Education will release 2016 ISTEP data in the coming weeks, according to district officials. (David Hartman /Flickr)
The Department of Education will release 2016 ISTEP data in the coming weeks before calculating A-F grades for schools, according to district officials.
Schools and parents received individual student ISTEP scores back in August, but they were embargoed. Now, the Department of Education is putting together the scores to show data at the school, district and state level.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz says statewide data will be made public in the next month.
Until recently, ISTEP grades would be released in the summer. Ritz says new changes to the test and who scores it is the reason for the current delay.
“So all the processes are still the same, but they get expanded because of quality checks that are put in place because of new test, and new vendors,” Ritz says.
Preliminary A-F grades for schools will be released at the end of October.
A preschool student in Columbus works in her classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
At a legislative study committee Wednesday, a group of preschool advocates asked members to propose an increase in state funded, high quality pre-K opportunities for low-income families. The group of advocates includes members from large Indiana businesses, including Eli Lilly, PNC Bank and the United Way.
Indiana is one of eight states without a publicly funded pre-K program. It is currently piloting a program, On My Way Pre-K, which gives scholarships to a few hundred students in five counties.
More pre-K opportunities for low-income families have been funded by Indiana-based corporations, which have donated millions of dollars over the last few years.
As we reported Wednesday, legislators are not embracing the requests for an additional state investment. And some lawmakers say the price is high, and they aren’t confident the expansion is sustainable.
But those advocating for pre-K scholarships for low-income children say, if you get a four-year-old into a good preschool program, the state won’t have to spend as much money on other educational needs down the road.
“The elected officials have to sometimes step outside the normal boundaries of the normal government financial decision making and say what are were going to spend money on, make a decision on, what are we going to invest in,” says Michael O’Connor, Director of State Government Affairs for Eli Lilly.
To underline this point for legislators, the group commissioned an economic impact report that outlines the longterm savings of preschool.
A group of researchers from Indiana University compiled the report, and here are some of the findings:
For every dollar spent on pre-K, the state will receive up to four dollars in return.
If the state funded pre-K for low-income children, it would see an estimated 12 percent reduction in kids needing special education services.
If there was state funded pre-K for low-income children, the state would see an estimated 18 percent reduction in students who repeat grades and need remediation services.
The reduction in special education, remediation and grade repetition would save the state between $19 and $48 million dollars.
Research also shows that students who attend high quality pre-K are less likely to be involved in crime later in life. In Indiana, this could be a state savings of $63 to $162 million dollars.
A group of business and philanthropy leaders want the legislature to expand scholarships for low-income children to attend high quality pre-k. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
A pre-K advocacy group made up of Indiana businesses and philanthropic organizations asked a group of legislators on Wednesday to give more funding to pre-K scholarships for low-income families, and legislators pushed back.
The advocacy group, which includes representatives from United Way, Eli Lilly and PNC Bank, among others, testified before the interim study committee on fiscal policy. This is the committee that will have influence over what is included in the state budget when the General Assembly convenes in January.
Those who testified mentioned how Indiana businesses and philanthropic groups have invested millions of dollars into pre-K scholarships in Marion County, and want the legislature to step up and help fund this effort long term.
“We need a great education system to develop the workforce we need,” Connie Bond Stuart, PNC Regional President, told the committee.
Currently, Indiana is piloting a pre-K program, On My Way Pre-K, which serves a few hundred low-income kids in five counties. The speakers advocating for expansion asked the study committee on fiscal policy to consider expanding these scholarships to more places in the state.
Bond Stuart says local businesses like PNC Bank and other companies want to continue funding this effort, but feel they need more support from the state to make it sustainable.
Tim Brown, R- Crawfordsville and chair of the House Ways and Means committee, said that if philanthropic groups feel so strongly about the cause, they shouldn’t expect tax payers to foot most of the bill.
“That just rubs me the wrong way,” Brown says.
One reason Bond Stuart and others who testified say this is a worthwhile use of taxpayer money, is that the state would receive a return on this investment.
An economic impact report the group commissioned shows if Indiana helped fund more four-year-olds to attend high quality pre-K, they’d save many in other areas. For example, the report says special education needs would drop 12 percent and remediation and grade repetition would drop 18 percent. This would allow for that money to be reallocated to scholarships.
But Brown and other Republicans on the committee pushed the various speakers on the sustainability of such a program.
“It’s pretty easy to say to us ‘you need to do this,’” says Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown. “The hard part is to sustain. That’s a message we’re going to have to deliver this year.”
Michael O’Connor of Eli Lilly says his group didn’t put a specific price tag on the program because they want it to slowly grow and expand throughout the state. And legislators pushing back on his proposal is because they are used to viewing financial requests as single line items, rather than long term goals.
“The elected officials have to sometimes step outside the normal boundaries of the normal government financial decision making and say what are were going to spend money on make a decision on what are we going to invest in,” O’Connor says.
Both gubernatorial candidates John Gregg and Eric Holcomb are advocating for expanded pre-K, and the General Assembly will have the chance to address it when the session begins in January.
Latasha Marshall and her three daughters Deanna, Ashley and Janae are planning on moving from East Chicago after finding out their apartment is in the most lead-contaminated part of the city. The three girls will have to transfer schools mid school year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
Latasha Marshall waits for a cab. She sits in the lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn, which serves as her living room this week. The Environmental Protection Agency put her up for the week so the agency can deep clean her home; it tested for high levels of lead.
“The other night when we first got here, I went to sleep and I woke up and I was at ease,” Marshall says. “I haven’t been sleeping like that at home.”
Once it’s clean, she can return with her daughters, ages 11, 16 and 17, but not to stay. Her housing complex sits on a superfund site, where the soil contains lead levels over 100 times higher than what the EPA says is safe. This is especially hard for Marshall, because this home was the first she could afford in several years. She moved here after living with relatives in Chicago, Illinois.
“It’s hurtful,” she says. “I wake up sometimes and am just like ‘man, what’s the next step, what are we going to do?’”
The cab arrives at the hotel to get Marshall, who doesn’t have a car. Her youngest daughter used to walk to Carrie Gosch Elementary School, which was right next to her apartment. The school the taxi takes her to is the new Carrie Gosh. It was an empty, former middle school a few months ago.
The old Carrie Gosch Elementary School building sits right next to the West Calumet housing complex, so it’s also on the Superfund site.
The Decision To Move Hundreds Of Students
One section of soil at the old building tested at dangerous lead levels. So superintendent Paige McNulty decided to move the hundreds of students to a former middle school located across town.
McNulty says she made this decision quickly, just nine days before school started, when she found out about the contamination.
“We made the decision on a Saturday and school started the following Monday,” McNulty says. “So we literally had about five days to move the school.”
And McNulty faced a bigger problem:
“It was a middle school, and the school we were moving was a pre-K through sixth grade so I had little, little-bittys moving to a middle school arena,” McNulty says.
In less than a week, contractors worked 18-hour days to lower water fountains and toilets, put the IT infrastructure back in the school and get the kitchen up to code. The district received a $3 million loan from the state this month to pay for these costs plus future construction to make the building an elementary school.
When Carrie Gosch Elementary decided to move into an old middle school, the district had to make adjustment to accommodate the younger students. Toilets, counters, and other structures within the school had to be lowered, but the district didn’t have enough time and money to get all of the work done before school started. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
McNulty is also trying to make the students feel safe at school. For example, Marshall’s sixth grade daughter, Ashley, had no idea what lead was until she heard it was under her home.
“I’m kind of like ‘what is that?’,” Ashley says. “Then they mentioned it was poison and of the ground and it’s been in there for over 40 years and they didn’t tell us.”
To help kids like Ashley, McNulty says they’re bringing the discussion into the classrooms.
“So the teachers got together and wrote lesson plans on water, air, lead, soil so that the kids feel like they’re getting some sort of education in their lives so it’s not a scary unknown thing,” McNulty says.
With Lead Contamination Comes A Logistical Nightmare
Now that students are settling in, and the district received the loan to address construction costs – McNulty is struggling with other logistical problems that come with moving the school to a new building.
“One of our biggest challenges is we were not anticipating busing all those students because those students had been walkers,” McNulty says. “Now we had to bus 450 kids to a school that we had not anticipated. We did not have enough bus drivers or buses, and we still don’t. We’re having to double and triple up routes.”
She’s also concerned about how fast her enrollment is dropping. So far this year, 200 students switched schools because of the lead, whether it was to attend another East Chicago school or because their family left the town because of the lead. This is harmful to the district as a whole, because the way school funding works in Indiana, the money follows the student. When students leave, the district loses money, and McNulty is watching her state funding dwindle.
“We get $7,200 person student so we’ve already lost about $1.5 million,” McNulty says.
Latasha Marshall and her daughter Janae get into a cab, paid for by the EPA, to pick up her other daughters from school. She doesn’t have a car, and her kids used to walk to school, so when the EPA put them up in a hotel, a cab was the only way to get the girls to and from school. ( photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting.)
To try and combat this, the district is offering to bus any kid who leaves East Chicago to attend school in neighboring towns back to their East Chicago school.
But leaving East Chicago and the school district – is exactly what Marshall is thinking about doing. She moved to East Chicago from inner city Chicago, Ill.
“I wanted to leave Chicago,” Marshall says. “I didn’t want to be there with all the violence and everything going on– kids are not safe. And that was my big issue so I wanted to bring them to a better environment, and apparently not.”
So now, Marshall is hoping her voucher from the The U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency to move covers the cost of moving back to Chicago, but to the suburbs this time.
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