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.
The panel that is re-writing the ISTEP+ met for the fifth time Tuesday, and many members are frustrated at its progress. (photo credit: David Hartman /Flickr)
After Tuesday’s ISTEP+ panel meeting produced few concrete ideas for re-writing the new test, many committee members left feeling frustrated at the panel’s progress.
This is the fifth of seven opportunities the panel has to draft the plan for a new state assessment.
The 2016 General Assembly passed a law that gets ride of the ISTEP+ in its current format, after its 2017 administration. It also created a panel of educators, lawmakers and state agency employees to draft a more desirable test. The legislation, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, gave the panel a Dec. 1 deadline to make its recommendation to the legislature.
As that deadline approaches, members are reflecting on the progress made so far, and many are disappointed. After Tuesday’s meeting, morale on the panel dipped.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz, a member of the panel, sent out a statement earlier this week addressing that.
“I am frustrated by the lack of progress being made by the ISTEP Replacement Panel,” Ritz’s statement said. “Families and educators have made it clear that they want to get rid of the punitive, pass/fail ISTEP test.”
Her statement continued to say she will provide a plan for a new test for the panel to consider.
The Disappointment Of Educators
But the biggest disappointment in the group’s work has been expressed by its members who are educators. They constitute more than 50 percent of the panel. The 2016 General Assembly planned this composition to give them their long requested voice in the debate over standardized testing.
Many legislators applauded the panel as the opportunity for teachers, parents and school administrators to take seats at the table and decide the future of ISTEP+.
“We’re at the table but that’s about it,” says Callie Marksbary, a panel member and third grade teacher in the Lafayette School Corporation.
Marksbary says she was very excited when appointed to the panel because she felt the group of educators, alongside policy makers, would finally create a testing system teachers would like. Continue Reading →
Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, are legislative members on the ISTEP+ panel. Behning authored the bill creating the panel. (photo credit: Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana).
After one of the last meetings of the ISTEP+ panel, it seems unlikely the group of educators and policy makers will draft a plan for a new state assessment.
When the 2016 General Assembly created the panel through legislation, it charged the group with creating a recommendation for a new test by Dec. 1. The vision was to have educators and other stakeholders craft a plan with elected officials that would then be written into law.
Through the panel, the legislature appointed teachers into the conversation about the future of testing, something many educators have desired for a long time.
Tuesday’s meeting was the fifth of the seven meetings before the Dec. 1 deadline. The previous four focused on ‘creating a test.’ Panel members heard from national experts and engaged in general discussions about what they want to see.
Now, as the deadline looms, with only two planning meetings left, some of the panel members are disappointed there won’t be time to have as much influence over the new test as they originally thought.
“Perhaps what that means is we become more general in our recommendation to the state,” says superintendent of Blackford Schools and panel member Scot Croner. “We won’t be able to be as specific as some individuals, including myself, would have liked to have been in the proposal.”
Representative Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, authored the bill that eliminated the current ISTEP and created the panel. He says the lack of forward mobility comes from the fact that most of the panel don’t usually work in creating an assessment from scratch. He made this statement after the Tuesday meeting, where panel members asked questions about tests at different grade levels and how they work.
“There’s a lot of people who, even on this panel, that are assessment illiterate,” Behning says.
When asked if he would take the panel’s final recommendation seriously or build a plan with other legislators?
“Obviously these people are getting educated,” Behning says. “But I think it’s just reflective of the environment we’re in, you hear a lot of noise about assessment but when it comes down to it a lot of these people don’t have a clue about assessments, how they’re used and what it really means.”
So far, the group has not voted on or put forward any concrete set of parameters for the new test.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Department of Education announced to the panel that they independently contacted testing vendors (companies like Pearson, CTB, ACT, etc.) to ask for proposals on a new test.
This is known as a Request for Information (RFI), and it’s a document of questions sent to companies, asking how they would create a test meeting Indiana’s requirements. The DOE created this document in conjunction with the governor’s office, to bring something concrete back to the panel.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz says this move will ensure the panel has a solid recommendation before December, since the panel wasn’t sure what kind of things to ask of the legislature.
“We need more information?” Ritz says. “Fine, that’s what the whole purpose of the RFI is – what’s out there that we actually can do.”
The proposals from testing companies are due Sept. 30 and will be presented to the panel at the October meeting, with company names redacted.
With only two meetings left, the panel has yet to discuss a state assessment for grades three through eight.
This year’s students and teachers are currently using the ISTEP+, but that will not be the case in spring 2018, according to law. The current version of the ISTEP+ was voted out by a bipartisan group of lawmakers last session.
Behning previously said the state might elect to prolong this test and the contract with testing company Pearson.
Donald Trump outlined a plan to fund more options for students to choose between traditional public, charter and private schools. If elected, he says he would allocate $20 billion toward school choice scholarships. (photo credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced Thursday a financial plan to expand school choice in all 50 states. In many ways, it is similar to what governor Mike Pence created in Indiana and funding formulas created by the Indiana legislature.
In a speech Thursday, Donald Trump said he would allocate $20 billion to states to support school choice opportunities. This money, along with state funding, would be used to create a “scholarship” that each student receives, and then the family decides whether to send the child to a traditional public school, a public charter school or a private school.
“Specifically, my plan will use $20 billion of existing federal dollars to establish a block grant for the 11 million school age kids living in poverty,” Trump said in his speech. “We will give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend. Distribution of this grant will favor states that have private school choice and charter laws, encouraging them to participate.”
One part of his plan mirrors Indiana’s school funding formula - that the money follows the student.
Indiana’s current funding formula does exactly that. A student receives the same amount of state funding whether he or she attends a traditional public or charter school. Rather than funding a school directly the state allocates the money per child.
But Trumps plan would extend this idea to include private schools as well – for all students – so state money could follow any student to any type of school. While, in Indiana, state money only follows students to private schools if they qualify for the state voucher program.
“If the states collectively contribute another $110 billion of their own education budgets toward school choice, on top of the $20 billion in federal dollars, that could provide $12,000 in school choice funds to every K-12 student who today lives in poverty,” Trump said.
In a statement released by the Trump campaign, Pence praised the plan:
“The school choice proposals unveiled today by Mr. Trump are a bold set of policies that will increase accountability and lead to better results for our nation’s children.”
Today, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled new rules, explaining to states and districts how they can prove they’re spreading resources fairly between poor and less-poor schools.
Today’s release is a re-write of rules that were first unveiled last spring and that caused quite a stir, creating a political unicorn: a fight in which Republicans and teachers unions found themselves on the same side.
That fight hinged on a simple fact of life in America’s schools: Districts often spend more money in more affluent schools. That’s because teachers in poorer schools that receive federal Title I aid tend to be less experienced and, as a result, less expensive.
The program has grown since the 2011 General Assembly created it and former governor Mitch Daniels signed it into law. It grew because the qualifications for a charter changed dramatically.
As the criteria by which students can qualify for vouchers expanded, enrollment in the program grew exponentially.
Enrollment in Indiana’s choice scholarship program. (photo credit: Indiana Department of Education, 2016 Choice Scholarship Report)
When looking at enrollment in the program, it is also important to understand its capacity - how many private schools have open spots and can welcome students using a voucher to pay tuition.
Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, authored the original voucher program in 2011 and supported its expansions through the years. He said, when they first created the program, they saw capacity for 30,000 students to enroll.
With last years numbers, it seems we are close to that. Enrollment slowed from early, dramatic growth to a few thousand between the 2014-2015 school year. The 2015-2016 school year also makes us think we might be capping out.
But Drew Catt, director for State Research and Policy Analysis at EdChoice, a school choice advocacy group based in Indianapolis, says there is still room to grow.
During the 2013-2014 school year, his group surveyed private schools to see what their capacity for new students was. The Indiana Non-Public Education Association contributed to the survey as well.
“We found, at the time, that there were enough empty seats to grow the program by [21,300],” Catt says.
He’s now recalculated this number to include new data and enrollment, and says there are around 8,500 open seats in private schools that could be used by a voucher. And he says this could even rise to 11,000, what he calls a “cautious estimate,” because of the addition of a few private schools around the state.
In 2013, the legislature adjusted the program so there is no cap on the number of vouchers awarded; meaning any student that qualifies for a scholarship and can enroll somewhere can receive a voucher.
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 are struggling to pay staff. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)
Some Indiana schools struggle to find enough teachers as the new school year begins.
Muncie Community Schools officials say the district lost 53 teachers, about 11 percent of its staff, between May and Aug. 9. The district will not rehire all of the positions, but it did hired back 13, and it is still looking for three guidance counselors.
In May, the district announced they would reduce 37 staff positions, which was a combination of retirements, resignations and layoffs.
At that time, superintendent Steven Baule told StateImpact the district lost around $29 million after property tax caps went into place in 2008 and the new school funding formula passed out of the legislature in 2015. Baule says both of these caused the district’s financial problems.
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.
But money is not the only challenge.
More teachers are moving districts over the summer, more teachers are resigning within days of the start of school, and there’s a smaller pool of applicants.
Teachers have less incentive to stay in a district. A state law in 2012 tied teacher pay to performance evaluations, meaning that teachers would no longer get a pay increase for staying at a district another year.
A student paints on an easel at Day Early Learning in Indianapolis. This preschool is run by Early Learning Indiana, which is advocating for state funded pre-k for low income families. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
In the landscape of Indiana education politics, it’s rare to find a topic people on opposite political and ideological sides agree on. But over the last few years, one such topic has come forward: affordable pre-k.
Most of the people working toward this goal agree the state should offer funding to make that possible. But opinions diverge there, over how much funding and who should qualify.
Some believe every child in the state should attend pre-k on the state’s dime, others think we should focus on low-income families.
And this discussion is in the public spotlight now, with the upcoming election and the 2017 General Assembly determining a new two year budget.
Why make pre-k more affordable?
The reason everyone agrees pre-k should be a priority is because research shows kids who attend a high quality preschool do dramatically better in school later on than kids who do not.
A report published this month by the Brookings Institution studied the Head Start program. It found kids who attended the federally funded pre-k program were more likely to graduate from high school, attend college or complete some sort of post-secondary program.
In response to the number of these studies endorsing the importance of pre-k, 42 states and the District of Columbia established state funded programs to get more kids into pre-k classrooms.
For many years, Indiana was one of eight states without a state funded preschool program, which changed in 2014.
Pre-K Pilot Program Put Indiana On The Map
The 2014 General Assembly changed Indiana’s status as one of a handful of states without a state funded program. Governor Mike Pence championed the pilot program, called On My Way Pre-k, which gave scholarships to low income families in five counties in Indiana.
The National Institute for Early Education Research maps out how many four-year-olds are served under state programs across the country. When their 2015 Yearbook was published, Indiana had just launched the pilot program, and isn’t reflected in this map (photo credit: National Institute for Early Education Research, 2015 Yearbook).
The counties included in the pilot program are Allen, Vanderburgh, Lake, Marion and Jackson. They were chosen to be representative of the state. Some are rural, some are urban, they are meant to represent a range and measure On My Way Pre-k’s ability to succeed in different communities across the state. Continue Reading →
State superintendent Glenda Ritz assembled a panel of educators and state education experts to create a plan for accountability under new federal guidelines. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
A panel of school leaders and state education experts met for the first time on Monday to map Indiana’s path to compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act. The federal government passed ESSA earlier this year, replacing No Child Left Behind.
ESSA requires states submit their plans to meet the new benchmarks. State superintendent Glenda Ritz assembled the 15-person panel to create recommendations for this plan.
It includes state goals for various education factors, including English language instruction, graduation rates, and student achievement on state tests.
Monday’s meeting focused on establishing goals for graduation rates and student achievement.
The group agreed on a 90 percent graduation rate. It used a federal calculation to establish a reasonable goal. In 2016, 87 percent of Indiana students graduated with a diploma.
“I consider this work to be honing in on how to have schools improve,” Ritz said. “So this helps us to really focus each school on where they are and where they need to go.”
The panel will decided its student achievement goal after the scores from the 2016 ISTEP+ are released.
It will meet three more times this year, and Ritz wants to submit the plan by March 2017.
Former governor Mitch Daniels (left) oversaw the creation of the state\’s voucher program. Under the program passed in 2011, students from low income families could receive a voucher and only if they attended a public school for two semesters. Governor Mike Pence advocated for an expansion of the program in 2013, and the General Assembly listened; nowadays, there are seven ways a student can qualify for a voucher and it\’s available to middle and upper middle class families. (photo credit: Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
It’s been five years since Indiana launched its school voucher program, which gives state money to to qualified students to cover private education. It was controversial when passed, and five years later, enrollment has grown exponentially, continuing the criticism.
Since Gov. Mike Pence joined the presidential race as Donald Trump’s running mate, the voucher program in Indiana is now in the national spotlight.
The program has also reached an interesting political point. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the program into law, and it expanded under Pence. Hoosiers will elect a new governor in November, and we don’t know yet how either candidate will address the program.
We wanted to take a look at how the program has evolved and how its outcomes look different than when it started five years ago.
The Birth Of Indiana’s Voucher Program
Back in 2011, former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels saw the passage of the voucher program as a huge victory.
“Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Daniels said at the closing of the 2011 session.
It was the year of huge education reforms in Indiana: the legislature created the state’s A-F system, teacher evaluations were now required and based on student performance, and the voucher program was born.
The program passed in 2011 was based on the classic view of school choice supporters: all students should have access to all educational opportunities – money should not be a barrier.
And back then, a low-income student could get a voucher in two ways: one, if they were already receiving some sort of scholarship from an approved private organization. Two, if they attended a public school for one full school year and wanted to transfer.
In that first year, 7,500 vouchers were available.
“If they tried the public school and believe they are not serving their child well, they will not be forced to continue in those schools just because they don’t have a high enough income,” Daniels said.
And this was controversial from the start because of money. In Indiana public schools, the money follows the student. So if a lot of students use vouchers and go to private schools, the public schools lose money from that child.
Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.
“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”
The Program Expands Under Pence, Enrolling Tens of Thousands Of Students
Voucher Growth in Indiana Since 2011Areas highlighted in red show a higher concentration of school voucher use in Indiana. Blue shows lower use.
Five years later, the program enrolls around 3 percent of the student population. Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, wrote part of the founding school voucher legislation.
“I guess I look at 33,000 out of 1.1 million students, that’s still a very small percentage in terms of overall choice,” he said.
Once Gov. Mike Pence took office in 2013, the program experienced a dramatic change, putting enrollment in the tens of thousands. In his first State of the State address after being elected, Pence praised the program and encouraged the legislature to expand it.
“Indiana has given parents who previously had few choices the ability to choose the public or private school that best meets the needs of their family,” Pence said.
Three major changes came out of this expansion in 2013.
The first was the financial requirement to get a voucher changed. When the program was first past, a student could receive a voucher if their family income was at 100% of the free-reduced lunch eligibility, around $45,000 a year for a family of four. These students got 90 percent of their private school tuition paid with a voucher.
After the 2013 legislation, the state was now offering a 50 percent scholarship to students from more middle and upper middle class families. The new income requirements now allowed families at the 150 and 200 percent FRL level ($67,000 and $90,000 a year for a family of four, respectively) to get half of their private school tuition paid by the state.
The second major change in 2013 was to the ways a student qualified for a voucher. Previously, a student had to go to a public school for a year or received a scholarship from a specific organization.
Now, they could get a voucher if an older sibling received one, if their assigned public school received an “F” on the state’s accountability system, if they were a special education student or previously received a voucher.
And the third change was the legislature said there was no limit as to how many vouchers the state could give out. If a student qualified, they received the money.
Questions Around The Financial Impact Of Indiana’s Vouchers
Molly Stewart is a research associate at Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, and has spent more than a year preparing a report on voucher programs across the United States.
“Mainly we are looking at where is the source of voucher money and where is it going to?” Stewart said.
She questions the money middle class families receive under the 50 percent voucher. She says it’s possible that some of these families would have sent their kids to private schools regardless. But now they qualify for vouchers, so the state is paying for it.
“That to me is money the state is now spending on private education that it was not previously spending on public education,” Stewart said.
But when the child goes to public school, the state covers instruction costs plus transportation, construction and infrastructure costs.
“There’s no way you can say it won’t cost more,” he said.
Which is true, less money is allocated to a voucher student than a public school student. But Stewart says it’s more complicated.
“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”
The one thing data does support – enrollment in the program is leveling off. Everyone says this is because available space from private schools is dwindling.
Campers at Latino Youth Summit draw life-sized self-portraits. The camp for Latino teenagers helps teenagers navigate their identities and mental health. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
As teenagers struggle to establish a sense of self, there’s an added factor for many Latino teens: straddling two cultural identities.
“They also experience prejudice and discrimination,” said Silvia Bigatti, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at IUPUI. “So that contributes to wondering ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where do I fit in this culture?’ and ‘Where do I fit in this family?’”
This summer, a group of researchers have been trying to help Latino teens battle depression and answer those questions at a one-of-a-kind summer camp.
The camp, known as Latino Youth Summit, wants to address this void.
Two Sets Of Cultural Expectations
Jennifer Santana came to the camp during its first session two years ago. Santana’s mom asked her to accompany her little sister, who was struggling with low self-esteem.
Santana didn’t think she’d get anything out of it, but some of the messages she heard stuck with her.
“It’s not what anybody else says about me, it’s not what anybody else thinks of me or what people think about Latinos in general,” Santana said. “As long as I know who I am, I think I’m good.”
This year, Santana graduated high school and returned to the camp to be a mentor to younger students.
Jennifer Santana, center, a counselor at Latino Youth Summit participates in a game with campers and fellow staff. Santana was once a camper who says she benefited from the camp. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Staff like Santana help teens establish that sense of self-identity. Researchers say that the strain of straddling two cultures can lead to more mental health issues.
At home, students ascribe to one set of cultural expectations. At school or with friends, there are separate cultural norms.
According to researcher Bigatti, approximately 35,000 to 39,000 Latino teens live in Marion County. She estimates about 12,000 or almost one in three teens are depressed, and 8,000 or one in five have had suicidal thoughts.
Although the camp aims to help address these mental health issues, there’s no therapy or traditional mental health interventions. Instead, Bigatti said, the camp focuses on creating a strong self-identify through creative outlets.
Channeling Identity Into Art
In the morning session of the camp, teens discuss issues like growing up in two cultures and it’s challenges. In the afternoon, teens participate in music, dance, yoga and art workshops. They’re activities to help the kids talk about self-identity in a creative way.
“What they do is they sit down around the table and talk about the theme of the day and then they do a collage, where they talk about who they want to be when they grow up,” Bigatti said.
A camper at Latino Youth Summit works on a self portrait. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
One project the teens work on is a life-size portrait where they depict a version of the person they want to be in the future.
“Some are dressed as soccer player, some are wearing a suit, some are an astronaut, whatever they want to be when they grow up,” Bigatti said. “As they’re doing it, they’re talking about it and problem solving and saying ‘Sure, I want to be an astronaut but it’s not just going to happen, what do I have to do to get there?’”
And these tactics are working.
In the three years since the camp started, surveys administered by researchers find teens who participate in the camp report having higher self-esteem and the ability to address negative aspects of life months after camp ends.
Helping teens improve their confidence and giving them tools to deal with challenges is important for all aspects of a teenager’s life, especially school.
Campers at Latino Youth Summit. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
‘Latinos Are Important, Hispanics Are Important’
For Santana, she knows she has to pay for college, but rather than looking at that as a barrier to pursuing a degree, she was able to make an attainable plan.
“I chose pharmacy technician as a stepping stone, so I’m going to get my certification,” Santana said. “While I’m working at a pharmacy technician, because it’s one year, I’m going to be studying to do double major for photography and business administration.”
She wants to open a coffee shop while practicing photography. And as she heads into this next phase of life, she feels the camp has prepared her for the challenges and tough challenges ahead.
“I learned here that Latinos are important, Hispanics are important,” Santana said. “So, as far as school comes and adulthood and everything after high school, I feel like I have a voice just like everyone else.”
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