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.

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State Board Votes To Rework New Diploma Requirements

Board member Steve Yager proposed the resolution that requires a re-write of the new diploma requirements.

Board member Steve Yager proposed the resolution that requires a rewrite of the new diploma requirements. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana).

New high school diploma requirements that drew criticism for a variety of reasons will head back to the drawing board after the State Board of Education voted to postpone any action that would put the diplomas into effect.

Last week, the board held a special meeting to hear hours of public testimony regarding various changes to the diploma options. Those included a reduction in diploma choices, an increase in overall credits, an increase in math credits, limits on fine arts credit requirements, graduation capstones and a set of classes to make kids “college and career ready”.

Because of pushback on many of the new changes, board member Steve Yager proposed a resolution that sends the diplomas to a new committee for reevaluation of credit changes and requirements. The board voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz will now create a committee to come up with new proposals, and says she will create separate task forces that will focus on the specific areas of concern (special education, fine arts, etc.) that will report to the larger committee.

The Core 40 Committee, a group of educators, university officials and business executives, created the original diploma changes, and Ritz says many of the concerns brought forward by the public were raised in this group’s original discussions.

“The Core 40 committee actually addressed and wrestled with all of the items that have been brought forth to us, so they’re not new topics,” Ritz says. “We’ve heard from a lot of constituencies regarding the topics so I think we’re just going to do further refinement, make sure we have clarity, keep bringing it back to the board and I think that’s our goal.”

Ritz will immediately begin assembling the new committee to rewrite the diplomas, and says she expects to bring new proposals back to the board by April.

Legally, the board needed to take action on the new diplomas by Dec. 1, so the vote adopting the resolution meets the requirement.

The new diploma types go into effect for the 2018-2019 school year, and Ritz says this rewrite will not push back that implementation date.

State Board Discusses Changes To Indiana Diploma Requirements

State Board of Education member Cari Wicker at Wednesday's special meeting. The SBOE had its last discussion around new diplomas to be implemented in the 2018-2019 school year.

State Board of Education member Cari Whicker at Wednesday’s special meeting. The board had its last discussion around new diplomas to be implemented in the 2018-2019 school year. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education met Wednesday for a special meeting to discuss the proposed changes to Indiana’s high school diploma requirements.

The board did not take action during the meeting. Members must take a vote regarding the proposed changes by Dec. 1.

Representatives from the state’s Commission for Higher Education presented the new diplomas and reasoning behind the changes before the board heard public testimony. The proposed changes reduce the number of diplomas a student may receive from four to three and increases the overall number of credits it takes to graduate.

Below is a table the ICHE presented to the board that shows the current diplomas and how many credits a student must complete to earn it, compared to the proposed new diplomas:   Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 11.02.04 AM Another notable change is the requirement of more math credits. All diplomas require students to take eight credits of math, essentially making students take a math class every year of school. A new requirement included in “College and Career Ready” electives is a financial literacy class, which the ICHE said has been met with strong public support.

One of the more controversial changes that much of the public comment focused on had to do with the lack of fine arts requirements in the diplomas. The current Core 40 and Honors Core 40 diplomas require world languages and fine arts classes in some capacity, whereas the new diplomas suggest these classes only for students who want to go on to a four-year college.

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Pence To SBOE: Don’t Penalize Teachers And Schools With ISTEP+

Gov. Mike Pence sent a letter to Indiana’s State Board of Education Tuesday saying an expected dip in 2015 ISTEP+ scores many people expect this year should not affect teacher bonuses and evaluations.

Pence also writes that the state’s A-F accountability system – which is largely based on ISTEP+ scores – should “appropriately capture performance in a way that is fair to our schools and our communities.”

Gov. Mike Pence expressed his concern in a letter to state policymakers Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS)

Gov. Mike Pence expressed his concern in a letter to state policymakers Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS)

“When states transition to new academic standards and a new assessment, test scores usually decrease, which occurred in the test scores you will review this week,” Pence wrote. “Given the transition Indiana has undergone this year with our academic standards and assessment, our response should reflect fairness to our students, our teachers and our schools.”

(For the record, the SBOE is not receiving ISTEP+ scores this week – they are establishing cut scores. We still do not know when we will get the scores.)

This letter is a bit of a surprise, considering Pence previously promised to keep accountability intact as Indiana moved to its own set of academic standards and updated standardized test to match.

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education offered some states with waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind law the option to delay incorporating student test scores into teacher evaluations during times of transition. But in a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on June 13, 2014, Pence wrote that Indiana would not pursue that option:

“Our accountability system was created by statute and defined by regulations adopted by the State Board of Education. As such, we are obligated to maintain our accountability system even as we implement the state’s new standards and deliver a new assessment aligned with those standards…We do not support a pause in accountability as it relates to delivering A-F grades to schools, determining intervention strategies in under- performing schools, or teacher evaluations that reflect classroom performance…We are confident that our state can implement the more rigorous standards while also accounting for any temporary impact on testing scores in a way that does not unfairly affect students, teachers and schools.”

It would appear he’s changed his tune, now saying Republicans in the legislature are working on legislation “to ensure that test results will not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses this year.”

Although Pence’s letter doesn’t call for a pause in accountability, he does ask the SBOE to suggest “solutions that preserve accountability and transparency for Indiana’s academic system.”

But this effort comes months after the Indiana Department of Education and SBOE had the same conversation, where it was decided the state would move forward as planned, per the governor’s request.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has repeatedly expressed concern about the state of Indiana’s accountability system for months. Earlier this year, she worked with IDOE staff to draft a list of possible options to ensure fairness in accountability measures and ease the blow to schools that might see a dip in their A-F grades after scores are released. But the rest of the SBOE did not support any of her suggestions.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has long advocated for a pause in accountability measures tied to the 2016 ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has long advocated for a pause in accountability measures tied to the 2016 ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

“Superintendent Ritz supports strong accountability as long as it is fair, open and transparent,” IDOE spokeswoman Samantha Hart said in a statement Tuesday. “The Superintendent looks forward to working with Indiana’s leadership to take advantage of federal flexibility for both teacher evaluations and the assignment of A-F accountability grades for the 2014-15 school year.”

At the time this story was published, the governor’s office would not answer calls confirming legislation is being written. Spokespersons for Indianapolis Rep. Bob Behning, a leading Republican on various education committees, say he is not aware of any such measures being drafted.

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State Board Will Vote On ISTEP+ Cut Scores At Special Meeting

State Board of Education members convene for a special meeting Wednesday to discuss ISTEP+ cut scores and new diplomas.

State Board of Education members convene for a special meeting Wednesday to discuss ISTEP+ cut scores and new diplomas. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education convenes Wednesday for a special meeting to set ISTEP+ cut scores and discuss new high school diplomas proposed for the state.

The board postponed the cut score decision at its Oct. 14 meeting because members expressed concerns about the difference in difficulty between the paper/pencil and online versions of the ISTEP+ test. This comes from an annual study conducted by testing company CTB that look at the validity and comparability of the two types of testing methods.

The board decided to let CTB finish the study before approving ISTEP+ cut scores, the point that determines passing versus failing.

State Board of Education spokesperson Marc Lotter says the results of that study are complete, and the experts who reviewed the test found the online version of the test was more challenging than the paper/pencil version.

To understand the difference he gave this example: a math story problem on the paper/pencil version asked students to come up with the mathematical statement that best illustrated the story problem pictured above. There were multiple choices the students could choose from, meaning they could guess and have a chance of getting the right answer or use the choices to check their math work.

Alternatively, on the online version, there was just a blank space where the student had to write in the correct mathematical statement.

The use of online versus paper/pencil versions of the test is up to school districts, so not all students faced the same difficulties.  Continue Reading

Education Study Committee Passes Draft Legislative Proposal

This is one of several similar laws which passed in different state legislatures.

The Interim Study Committee on Education met for the last time Monday and passed a list of recommendations for education bills in the next session of the General Assembly. (Photo Credit: Bill Shaw/WFIU News)

The Interim Study Committee on Education met for the fifth and final time Monday to finalize the list of recommendations it will make to the 2016 General Assembly, passing the list with bipartisan support on most items.

Since the 2015 General Assembly ended, the group of senators and representatives serving on education committees within their own chamber met to discuss a variety of issues that came up during the session but did not make it into a bill or law.

Some of those topics included raising the age of a student can be classified as needing special education services, the state of the ISTEP+ and the current teacher shortage facing the state’s school districts.

All of those discussions were consolidated Monday into a list of 19 suggestions the committee will give the larger legislature as things to pursue in the next session. The committee passed 17 of the suggestions, creating a sort of rough draft of a legislative agenda for 2016 when it comes to education.

Most of the suggestions have to do with the ISTEP+ or ways to attract and retain teachers. The two suggestions that were voted down were proposed by Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, and had to do with pausing certain accountability measures that come with ISTEP+ scores, such as teacher pay and A-F letter grades for schools. It’s something state Superintendent Glenda Ritz has suggested for months now, but the State Board of Education also doesn’t back the idea.

Here are the suggestions in their final language as decided by the committee Monday:  Continue Reading

South Bend Schools Lost More Students To Charters Than Expected

South Bend schools saw a huge drop in enrollment this year, and the district says most of them went to area charter schools. (Photo Credit: Alex McCall/WFIU News)

South Bend schools saw a huge drop in enrollment this year, and the district says most of them went to area charter schools. (Photo Credit: Alex McCall/WFIU News)” credit=”

Enrollment in the South Bend Community School Corporation dropped 827 students this school year, as more area students left to attend local charter schools or traditional public schools in neighboring districts.

The loss is greater than expected, according to school board President Jay Caponigro, who says the district budgeted for the loss of just a few hundred.

The numbers come after the state’s first official attendance count in September. The second count takes place in February.

It’s a trend the district has seen ever since school choice legislation went into place, and the number of students utilizing this choice has grown more and more each year. This summer, South Bend schools along with other public school districts in the area launched marketing campaigns to attract more students to their schools, as well as retain current students.

At a school board meeting this week, Superintendent Carole Schmidt said she expects around half of those students to return to South Bend schools before the next count day in February.

Caponigro says this expectation comes from what they’ve seen in other years.

“Students…or families trying out charters and giving it a couple of months, and then we see a number of them come back to us,” Caponigro says.

Caponigro says the district believes this particular massive drop in enrollment comes from the opening of one new charter school in South Bend, Success Academy. The South Bend Tribune reported this week that Success Academy used a lot of resources in marketing their school:

Success Academy, meanwhile, located in the former St. Vincent de Paul Society and thrift shop building that underwent some $14 million in renovations, enrolled 456 students in its first year. Along with its sister school, South Bend Career Academy, which serves grades seven through 12, it spent some $98,000 on radio and television ads, as well as marketing and other related services, from January through July of this year, according to information earlier supplied to The Tribune in response to a records request.

Superintendent Paul Schlottman wrote in an email two weeks ago that school leaders there have been pleased with the results of their marketing efforts.

And, he wrote, “The response from the community has been fantastic and the school year is off to a great start.”

On the flip side, South Bend school leaders say their budget for marketing isn’t as robust as in the past, and Caponigro says some of this has to do with the school funding formula taking more money away from South Bend.

One way the district plans to combat this issue is creating more opportunities to inform the public about their district. Next week the district is hosting a “magnet fair,” where area families can learn about magnet programs in the district, and they hope to host similar events throughout the year.

Seven Oaks Classical School Seeks Charter Through New Authorizer


Photo Credit: Seven Oaks Classical School website

Seven Oaks Classical School in Bloomington continues in its pursuit to open in August 2016. School leaders are trying to gain a charter authorization, this time through Grace College & Seminary.

The Indiana Charter School Board denied Seven Oaks’ application last year. The school pulled its second application to the same board earlier this year.

If opened, Seven Oaks would teach students according to a “traditional, classical-liberal arts curriculum,” according to the proposed school’s website.

Terry English is a member of Seven Oaks’ board and says the group decided to pursue a charter with Grace College because they felt the college better understood the mission of Seven Oaks.

“There’s not as much of a political influence on the college, I think, as there is on the state board,” English says. “We believe that Grace College is more in line with the vision that we have for the school.”

Grace College currently authorizes two other charter schools in the state: Smith Academy for Excellence in Fort Wayne and Dugger Union Community School in Dugger.

Compared to previous applications, English says this go-around brings a few big changes to the makeup of Seven Oaks, if approved. First, the school will provide meal service to students during the day, something that wasn’t included in its application to the charter board. Leaders also want to serve students K-12; they had previously planned to only educate students through grade 8.

English says the school would initially only go up to eighth grade, but add consecutive grade levels each year after opening.

Tim Ziebarth oversees charter authorizations for Grace College and says he looks at the school’s leadership and academic programs when considering authorization. Ziebarth says the fact that the Indiana Charter School Board didn’t want to authorize the Seven Oaks isn’t a reason for Grace College to do the same.

“I think there can be things learned from it – potentially better plans, potentially better questions to think through. Not every charter application gets approved,” Ziebarth says. “Some folks take three, four, five years to get their charter approved.”

Grace College is hosting a public meeting in Bloomington in two weeks to get public input about the school and learn more from the Seven Oaks’ board about plans for the school. The meeting takes place Nov. 4 at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites at 117 S Franklin Rd.

Purdue Ensures Tenured Faculty Will Mentor Undergraduate Students

Provost of Academic Affairs at Purdue University, Deba Dutta, speaks in favor of the policy at the Board of Trustees meeting Oct. 8.

Deba Dutta, Purdue University’s Provost of Academic Affairs, speaks in favor of the new tenure policy at a Board of Trustees meeting Oct. 8. (Photo Credit: Drew Daudelin/WTIU News)

For instructors working in the world of higher education, tenure is the ultimate goal.

It’s a prestigious level of job security because to qualify, professors have to meet criteria that often take years to reach.

The Purdue University Board of Trustees Friday approved updates to its promotion and tenure policy that would require tenured professors to spend more time mentoring students. The Trustees view the updates as huge strides, even though most Purdue faculty think they’re unnecessary.

The Road To a New Policy

The process of updating Purdue’s tenure policy started a few years ago when a number of graduates expressed through a survey that they wanted more of a connection with their teachers.

That sentiment was so overwhelming that it compelled the Board of Trustees to bring it to the Provost of Academic Affairs, Deba Dutta.

“One of the things that they wanted is to make sure faculty understand mentoring of students is very important that they must do so,” Dutta says. “They wanted me to look at the faculty involvement and encouragement of undergraduate research to give them opportunities to do research guided by faculty.”

The board also wanted to encourage tenured professors to find innovative ways to teach and create new practices for instruction.

They were able to address all of these concerns in an updated policy that they passed Friday – but not without some faculty pushback first.

How Do You Enforce Mentorship?

Biological Sciences professor David Sanders says he felt insulted by the language requiring professors to mentor students, because it implies faculty are currently not doing so.

“I fully believe in mentorship,” Sanders says. “I mentor undergraduate researchers all the time. It’s very competitive in fact to get into my lab to become mentored by me, and I’m very proud about what I’m able to achieve with them.”

But Dutta says the language wasn’t intended to necessarily fix a problem. He believes most Purdue faculty already prioritize mentoring their undergraduate students – he just wanted the words put to paper. Continue Reading

Parents: How To Prepare For & Excel In A Parent-Teacher Conference

In some ways, educating a child is like working on a puzzle – and it’s up to policymakers at the federal and state level, along with principals, teachers and parents, to piece it all together. This month, two of those stakeholders will talk strategy during parent-teacher conferences.

Continuing our dive into how to make the most out of these meetings, today StateImpact shares some tips on how parents can get the most out of their time meeting with teachers.

Why Are Parents Nervous About These Conferences?

Amber Kent's twin sons are in third grade in the Monroe County Community School Corporation. Kent gets nervous every year for parent teacher conferences because of past experiences where she was surprised by what the teacher brought up.

Amber Kent’s twin sons are in third grade in the Monroe County Community School Corporation. Kent gets nervous every year for parent teacher conferences because of past experiences where she was surprised by what the teacher brought up. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The stress around parent-teacher conferences started for Amber Kent when her now third grade twin sons were in kindergarten.

“One of my son’s teachers told us that she thought that maybe he was too immature for school and he’d probably have to repeat kindergarten, at the end of the first nine weeks,” Kent says.

Kent and her husband felt blindsided by the conversation. They wished they’d known sooner.

“We just kind of looked at each other and were thinking to ourselves, that seems kind of premature,” she recalls.

Fast forward to the next school year and the same thing happened again. So now, whenever parent-teacher conferences approach, she feels dread.

“We have our parent-teacher conferences next week, and I’m like, ‘ugh what’s going to come up this time? What’s going to happen?’” Kent says. “I get kind of upset in my stomach.”

Of all people, Kent would be one of the last you’d expect to be nervous. She’s a former educator and her husband teaches in the Monroe County Community School Corporation, where their sons attend school – but still, the idea of sitting down with the boys’ teachers makes her anxious.

We talked with Kathy Nimmer, the 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year, to share some tips for parents that will lead to less anxiety and more productive conferences. Nimmer taught high school English in West Lafayette for 23 before taking this year off to travel the state.

Tip #1: Expect The Good

“Parents need to be expecting the good when they are entering a conference with a teacher,” Nimmer says.

She assures parents like Kent that whatever the teacher says comes from a place of wanting to help, which she says might make an unexpected conversation seem less like an ambush.

“The teacher is not an enemy, the teacher is part of a team,” Nimmer says. “This is all about celebrating the child and helping the child the conference will always go better.”

Tip #2: Take Some Notes

Nimmer says whether you’re talking about your child’s strengths or areas for improvement, the conference can go by so fast you might forget what you talked about, so write it down. Also, you might feel defensive about things the teacher said in the moment, but if you can review it later, you might see it differently.

“It’s important because the teacher has things to share but it’s also important for future interactions,” Nimmer says. “If there have to be more individual meetings or any other actions taken in the future, the framework has already been established in the conference. So knowing the specifics, tuning into them and taking notes is very helpful for that future interaction.”

Tip #3: Be Honest

“Not that the teacher needs to know every in and out of the home life, and the complications of family situations,” Nimmer says. “But if there are things going on at home that may be influencing things that are happening at school, then [be] honest that there is some trouble.”

Nimmer recalls a time she had a student who seemed disengaged and uninterested. During conferences that year, her parents disclosed that she’d been struggling with the upcoming anniversary of a family member’s death. Having that information helped Nimmer, who gave the student leeway with deadlines as the anniversary approached.

In the case of Kent and the teacher who thought her son was too immature for kindergarten, an honest conversation about how her son stayed home with her husband up until kindergarten might have helped the teacher understand why he was struggling to adjust to the routines and expectations of school. Continue Reading

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