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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House Committee Begins Discussion On Re-scoring 2015 ISTEP

The legislature continues to discuss the 2015 ISTEP+ administration and scoring.

The legislature continues to discuss the 2015 ISTEP+ administration and scoring. (photo credit: Claire McInerny)

The Hou­se Education Committee took a first look at a bill that calls for a re-score of the 2015 ISTEP+ assessment Tuesday. HB 1395, among other things, calls for an outside group to rescore last year’s test.

In this past year, Indiana’s test vendor, CTB, came under scrutiny for their administration and scoring of the test. This summer, the company told the State Board of Education there were issues with grading the assessment and scores wouldn’t be released for a few months.

The 2015 ISTEP+ scores came out Jan. 5. The scores statewide dropped around 20 percent overall, which is something many expected. When many other states shifted to a new assessment they saw their scores dip as well, so legislative leaders say this decline is a result of a new test and tougher standards, not a reflection on student learning.

After initially suggesting a complete re-score, House Education  Committee Chair  Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, proposed a partial re-score of a sampling of tests. This would take less time and be much less expensive. Initial price estimates of a complete re-score process came in between $8 and $10 million.

Behning says it is important to double check at least a few thousand tests because, moving forward, Indiana’s A-F accountability system will weigh student growth more heavily. The new accountability system will use growth as a factor, so schools will be rewarded for their students who do better on the test, even if it’s not at the highest level.

Because of this, Behning says having a correct baseline to compare to next year’s scores would ensure we award the right amount of growth points.

Behning says it’s also important to take some sort of action because there is so much doubt around the test right now.

“I met with many superintendents over the last several days and every one of them says please re-score,” Behning said.

While Republican leaders are in favor of the bill and some sort of re-score process, the Department of Education is urging against re-scoring the test.

DOE spokesperson Daniel Altman says the DOE has done its due diligence in ensuring the test’s accuracy, through a number of assurance processes, and an expense rescore process isn’t needed.

“Right now the data that we have doesn’t indicate that that’s necessary,” Altman said.

Ed Roeber, a testing expert who has served as a consultant for the governor and State Board of Education, wrote a letter to the General Assembly dated Monday urging against the full rescore. He said if the state wants to rescore, a small sampling of tests would be valuable and more cost effective than doing them all.

“While this plan involves more steps than simply rescoring all responses to every prompt, it has the potential to answer the questions about accuracy of hand scoring without attendant expense of scoring all responses,” Roeber wrote. “Thus, I believe you will achieve your objective of checking on the accuracy of the scoring at lower cost.”

Right now, Behning’s bill does not include a plan for how Indiana would pay for the re-score, whether it would come from taxpayer dollars or CTB would pay for it.

Report: Purdue Should Solely Run IPFW, Split With IU

report released by the Legislative Services Agency Friday recommends Indiana University- Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) break into two separate regional campuses.

LSA conducted the report after Sen. David Long, R- Ft. Wayne, asked for a study to look at how the regional campus was serving the area.

The report criticized certain aspects of the campus’ success:

Over the past decade, the external and internal governance structures for IPFW have not produced substantial growth in the areas of teaching and research that are important for the well being of Northwest Indiana and its citizens. For example, a gap in offered bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral or professional degrees affecting at least 17 occupational fields and 15 degree and certificate programs.

The report suggests Purdue be the authority of the campus, removing IU as a governing entity.

For the campus to be successful, the report recommends the school should split from being a joint entity run by both Purdue and IU into two campuses, with each school focusing on its strongest programs.

In this case that would mean IU would run the medical and health science programs and Purdue would oversee everything else.

Right now, students at IPFW receive a diploma from either Purdue or IU, and last year IU awarded more certificates, associate degrees, bachelor and master’s degrees than Purdue at the campus.

In a statement released Friday, IPFW chancellor Vicky Carwein said this report is not a mandate.

“It’s important to remember that the recommendations from the LSA and the LSA working group are exactly that—recommendations for the future of our campus,” said Carwein. “While there is significant potential and exciting opportunities outlined in the recommendations, many questions, issues, and technicalities will need to be addressed. Right now there are many more questions than answers.”

IU President Michael McRobbie released a statement Friday saying despite the report IU wants to still serve Fort Wayne in terms of higher education.

“Indiana University is committed to higher education in Fort Wayne and the northeast region of Indiana. The Working Group’s recommendations offer a way forward for IU to focus on programs in Fort Wayne that we would manage and that leverage our core academic strengths in the health sciences area,” McRobbie said. “We find these recommendations to be a creative response to the recurring claims that something needs to be done to enhance the public higher education programs in Fort Wayne. We remain willing to do our part to implement the recommendations as they relate to Indiana University.”

The decision on whether to split is up to the universities and nobody at either university has set forth a timeline for making the decision.

Halftime Report: Reflections On The First Semester

A few of the Christmas presents Sara Draper received from her second grade students this year.

A few of the Christmas presents Sara Draper received from her second grade students this year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny)

This story is part of The First Year series, which follows three new teachers as they navigate the ups and downs of the first year in the classroom. See the full series and listen to and read more content here.

We continue to follow three new teachers through their first year in the classroom – as they figure out what tactics worked for their students, live through burnout in October and conduct first parent teacher conferences. After their first semester, we caught up with two of our teachers over winter break – and opportunity to relax and reflect.

Looking Forward To A Fresh Start

It’s been a productive winter break for second grade teacher, Sara Draper. With her time off from teaching at Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County, she’s worked on redecorating a room in her and her husband Benjamin’s house. She’s put together bags of things to donate. She’s also been able to rest more. Instead of waking at 5:30 for school, she’s been sleeping in until 9:30 a.m.

“I haven’t slept til 9:30 since, I don’t know, high school? Maybe beginning of college.”

Even though she’s enjoyed the time away from the classroom to focus on non school related matters, she finds that teaching still creeps into her brain.

“I’ve been having dreams about it, which is strange. Because during the year I don’t dream about teaching,” Draper says.

But they often turn out to be more nightmares than dreams.

“They added these students to my class and one of them was an average size man. I was like there’s no way he’s in second grade, they were like we checked his birth certificate he’s in second grade. He was bigger than I was and it was overwhelming.”

Draper laughs as she talks about the dreams, and she says she’s looking forward to seeing her students again.

“I miss someone telling me I’m pretty everyday,” she says while she and her husband laugh at his objection to this.

She says she’s also been thinking about what she wants to improve second semester.

Top of her list?

“I’m really excited to establish different routines [like lining up for lunch],” she says. “[Before break] they were kind of crazy and I felt like our routines were just horrible. We’d try lining up quietly and we’d have to do it eight times before it would actually happen. So I’m excited to just go over the routines again, go over the procedures, and have that fresh start.” Continue Reading

Pence Echoes Education Priorities For Legislative Session

Governor Pence delivered his State of the State speech Tuesday.

Governor Pence delivered his State of the State speech Tuesday. (photo credit: State of Indiana).

In his State of the State address Tuesday night, Gov. Mike Pence affirmed many of the legislative actions around education issues that the legislature laid out so far this session.

As HB 1003 and SB 200, two bills aimed to curb consequences of this year’s low ISTEP+ scores for teachers and schools, Pence echoed the sentiment behind these bills.

“Accountability is important, but testing must be reliable and the results fairly applied. Let’s take a step back from ISTEP and improve on the test we use to measure our kids and schools every year,” Pence said during his State of the State speech. “Let’s also take action to ensure that our teachers and schools are treated fairly with the results of the latest ISTEP test.”

Pence also praised efforts to recruit and retain more teachers in the classroom, including a scholarship program originating in the House.

“That is why I am so enthusiastic about speaker Bosma’s Next Generation Scholarship that would cover up to $7,500 per year in tuition for students who are in the top 20 percent of their class and commit to teaching in Indiana for at least five years.”

And while the legislature, governor and state superintendent Glenda Ritz are all in agreement with these issues, this bipartisan support is new.

After his speech, Ritz’s spokesperson for her re-election campaign sent out a statement criticizing the governor for his recent change of mind regarding changing accountability for one year.

“Governor Pence is only now changing his stance on testing because he’s facing an electoral test,” said Annie Mansfield, campaign spokesperson. “But Governor Pence isn’t fooling anyone with his sudden flip-flop on education. Schools haven’t forgotten that up until last month, he was hell bent on penalizing them for an unfair exam. Teachers haven’t forgotten that he told them not to take ISTEP scores personally.”

Up until a few months ago, Pence publicly said school and teacher accountability would remain intact, despite administering a new state assessment in a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in June 2014.

“We do not support a pause in accountability as it relates to delivering A to F grades to schools, determining intervention strategies in under-performing schools, or teacher evaluations that reflect classroom performance,” Pence wrote.

His letter was in response to an op-ed Ritz wrote asking for the pause in accountability.

But now everyone is on board with the hold harmless plan for schools and teachers, and legislative leaders are saying they expect it to be signed into law by the end of January. The State Board of Education rescheduled its monthly meeting for Jan. 26 in anticipation of the legislation being in place by then.

ISTEP Bills Move Quickly Through Legislature

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

As promised, bills to protect schools and teachers from the expected drop in ISTEP scores are moving swiftly through legislative chambers.

SB 200, which would allow schools to use the better of their 2014 or 2015 A-F grade passed almost unanimously through the Senate with only one vote against. HB 1003, which would eliminate low ISTEP+ scores from teacher evaluations, also passed through the House with only one nay vote.

Now that they have passed through their originating chambers, the two bills are on their way to the opposite side of the legislature for approval.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, authored the Senate bill and will be the sponsor for HB 1003 in Senate. He says he doesn’t have plans to make changes to that bill as of right now and all legislators are trying to get finalized versions of these bills to the governor’s desk by the end of January.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, are sponsoring SB 200 in the House.

These bills come after the 2015 ISTEP+ scores released this month dropped significantly compared to previous years. Many agree these scores are not an accurate measure of learning because the test was given in a new format and there were some technical and administrative challenges. The 2015 test was created to match new state standards written after Indiana left Common Core.

As SB 200 and HB 1003 were introduced this week, state superintendent Glenda Ritz called for the creation of a panel to form plans for a  different type of state assessment. This panel would discuss a new testing option for after the state’s current contract with Pearson ends in two years.


Ritz Gives Insight On Plan To Get Rid Of ISTEP

The legislature and state superintendent want to replace ISTEP with a new assessment, and are starting to formulate a plan for how that will work going forward.

The legislature and state superintendent want to replace ISTEP with a new assessment, and are starting to formulate a plan for how that will work going forward. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

Legislators on both sides of the the aisle are weighing the value of the ISTEP+ this session, and Monday state superintendent Glenda Ritz suggested a first step.

The state currently has a contract with testing vendor Pearson to administer the ISTEP+ for two more years. They can’t break this, but Ritz is proposing she co-chair a panel of educators and lawmakers to discuss a new version of the test once the contract expires.

The panel would be similar to one created last year that came up with the state’s new accountability system.

“I want to make sure that we have time to actually get our system correct, making sure we’re seeing growth of students over time,” Ritz said.

Many lawmakers previously suggested replacing ISTEP+ with NWEA, a test many Indiana schools use throughout the year to see how students are progressing. But this is no longer an option under the Every Student Succeeds Act (No Child Left Behind’s Replacement). States still have to administer a test that measures what a student learned over the course of the year. The law does allow for that test to be broken up throughout the year, it just has to be able to be calculated into one score to prove learning over time

Ritz says a re-write of Indiana’s assessment would have to find the balance to get to that score but not create the high stakes and stressful experience students currently face.

“How do you meld the formative assessment and the summative to be streamlined to have meaning,” she said.

Because of the Pearson contract and this being a short legislative session, the General Assembly is not likely to pass sweeping legislation that would overhaul the state assessment this session, but House Speaker Brian Bosma has said he would like the legislature to adjourn in March with a plan going forward to revamp the test.


Two Efforts Made This Week To Address Teacher Shortage

Sarah Laptiste's classroom at Clinton Young Elementary School. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The legislature and the Commission for Higher Education both made efforts this week to attract and retain more teachers to the classroom in Indiana. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana).

Fewer people are signing up to become teachers in Indiana, as we’ve been reporting since last summer. The number of new licenses dropped by over 10 thousand in three school years, and this week we saw two new actions taking aim at this problem.

The first attempt to increase the teaching force in Indiana comes from the legislature, which kicked off its 2016 session this week. House Speaker Brian Bosma says he will file a bill that creates a new program, called the Next Generation Hoosier Educator Scholarship.

This scholarship would give up to $7,500 a year to an Indiana high school student graduating in the top 20 percent of their class. To qualify, students must commit to earning a teaching degree at an Indiana university and teaching in an Indiana classroom for five years after graduation.

Details on funding the program aren’t established, and Bosma says it could come from outside sources or during next year’s budget session.

“We wanted the framework in place even if the funding was not this year,” Bosma says. “So that both students and our education schools can begin preparing.”

The second action taken this week was by the Commission For Higher Education. The state agency awarded $9 million in grants to institutions committed to recruiting and training teachers in science, technology, engineering and math subjects.

These grants went to organizations including the Purdue Research Foundation, Teach For America, Notre Dame, University of Southern Indiana Foundation, Independent Colleges of Indiana and TNTP.

The grants fund various initiatives, including teacher training for STEM subjects, dual credit credentialing, mentoring programs and retention programs. Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers says the CHE follows up twice a year with grant recipients to make sure they are following through with what they outlined in their proposal.

Lubbers also says her agency is addressing the issue through data collection, to fully understand the issue.

“Our big promise to the legislature is we will provide the best data that we can to them so they can analyze where there might be a shortage and in what subject areas so they can really target their efforts to what we know are the shortage areas,” Lubbers says.

Bosma says the scholarship program will be outlined in House Bill 1002, which has not yet been filed.

Legislature Moves Forward With Bills To Give Schools ISTEP Relief

The legislature moved forward with two bills Wednesday that would curb negative consequences of this year's lower ISTEP+ scores for teachers and schools

The legislature moved forward with two bills Wednesday that would curb negative consequences of this year’s lower ISTEP+ scores for teachers and schools. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The two education bills legislators promised to fast track this session moved out of committee Wednesday, getting closer to ensuring teachers and schools will not be punished for lower ISTEP+ scores.

One bill, passed unanimously by the House Education Committee, would prohibit this year’s ISTEP+ scores from being calculated into a teacher’s evaluation if it makes the evaluation worse. The scores must be used though if the scores would boost a teacher’s evaluation.

This bill was drafted and amended by Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, along with the Department of Education. Behning says they also vetted it through the teacher’s unions to make sure it is in line with their goals.

“We know this is a short session and things need to be done quickly,” said John Barnes, Director of Legislative Affairs for the DOE. “We’re satisfied with this language.”


With the committee passing the bill it will now move to the full House floor and is expected to be passed by both chambers in the coming weeks.

The Senate took up the other bill addressing consequences from ISTEP+ scores, which would alter the A-F system for one year to avoid a large portions of schools and school districts from being considered ‘poor performing’.

The Senate passed the bill 10-1 it will now leave committee and go to the full Senate.

Under this bill, the state will still calculate A-F grades using this year’s lower ISTEP+ scores, but if the grade for the 2014-2015 school year is lower than its grade from 2013-2014 school year, the old grade will stay in place. If it’s higher, the higher score will be used.

Before the Senate committee voted on the bill, state superintendent Glenda Ritz spoke to the group about why passing this bill is necessary this year, because she said these scores don’t reflect student learning or teacher effectiveness.

“They reflect this change in standards and a new testing system,” said Ritz.

The lower test scores are the result of the first year the ISTEP+ matched new state standards.

Legislators have said they hope both bills will be signed into law by the governor before January.


Legislature Will Expedite Two Education Bills

Members of the Senate Republican caucus announce their 2016 legislative agenda on the first day of the session.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long (right), along with other members of the Senate Republican caucus, announces the group’s 2016 legislative agenda on the first day of the session. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

As the General Assembly convened Tuesday for the 2016 legislative session, discussion of how to handle this year’s A-F grades was one of the first issues addressed.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, filed Senate Bill 200 Monday, which if passed would hold Indiana schools harmless from lower A-F grades this year. The legislation says a school may not receive a grade lower than the one it received in the 2013-2014 school year.

This would only be in effect for one year.

This legislation comes after preliminary ISTEP+ data showed a huge dip in scores, which in turn would plummet many schools into poor performing categories. The lower scores were expected by many, as this was the first year students took an assessment to match new standards, and the test itself was formatted differently.

Although state Superintendent Glenda Ritz suggested multiple times over the last year that this would be the case, and that the state should consider the hold harmless option, the filing of this bill is the first time others in the legislature and the governor agree on this plan.

After unveiling the Senate Republicans’ legislative agenda Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem David Long said all legislative caucuses as well as the governor’s office, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education had worked together to decide on this option.

“This has been an effort over months to look at all of our options,” Long said. “We finally rallied around the point that hold harmless for one year is the best approach.”

In terms of consequences for receiving an F, the current rule that six years of a failing grade constitutes state takeover would remain intact. Starting next school year, that would change to a four-year system.

In addition, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, plans to bring forth a bill that decouples ISTEP+ grades from teacher evaluations.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, says both the teacher evaluation bill and the A-F changes will be expedited through the legislation process, with the hopes of being signed into law before the end of January.

Our Most Engaging Education Stories Of The Year

As part of our year-end wrap up, we wanted to look at the stories that you, our readers and listeners, engaged with most. This could be a comment on our website, a share on social media, and in some situations, reaching out to each other in person.

Here’s a round up of stories that the stories that got you talking the most this year:

First Year Teachers

Gabe Hoffman

Gabe Hoffman, a first year teacher at Nora Elementary School in Indianapolis, is part of the ‘First Year’ series. (Photo Credit: Eoban Binder/ WFIU)

Our series following three new teachers through their first year was popular with you from the start. We aired the first radio pieces this summer, and since then many of you have expressed how much you enjoy following these individuals as they navigate their first year in the classroom.

Some of the more popular installments in the series: The story that focused on new teachers burning out by October was shared by many of you on Facebook, and the most recent installment that focused on supporting new teachers received more page views than any of the others.

School Funding Formula

During the 2015 budget session of Indiana’s General Assembly, a school funding formula update took center stage. When we first wrote about it, you shared and liked this story more than most funding stories.

Jorfer88 shared a common sentiment in our comments section, one we heard from many parents and teachers during the course of the legislative session:

“the money follows the student” really has nothing to do with the budget changes. All of that is reflected in the relatively small 7 year transition change (about $39 mil). The reason for it is not counting reduced meals (which I understand but on the other side they should have increased the amount per student for free lunch to compensate in complexity). It is highway robbery from poor districts that have always been at or below foundation (like FWCS) to wealthy districts (FWCS was below foundation amounts when the program was overhauled several years ago and was transitioning up which was the flip side of the IPS situation and has resulted in a lot of potential revenue that FWCS will never see). Yes, districts like IPS and Gary that were above foundation should be brought to foundation but overall funding needs to increase more than inflation. Current IPS and Gary students should not be punished for unfair funding to them in the past (Ferebee mentioned at the town hall with Tim Brown and Brian Bosma that current IPS funding is not like the past).

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