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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Schools In Limbo With ISTEP+ After Pence’s Executive Order

Brownsburg Community School received their testing material for this years ISTEP+, but can't administer practice tests without knowing how the final version of the test will change.

Brownsburg Community School received their testing materials for this year’s ISTEP+, but can’t administer practice tests without knowing how the final version of the test will change. (Photo Credit: Scott Smith/Brownsburg Community Schools)

Governor Mike Pence signed an executive order Monday requiring the Department of Education to work with a testing consultant to shorten this year’s ISTEP+ test, putting school districts across the state into a state of limbo.

The consultant, Edward Roeber, will receive up to $22,000 to analyze and make recommendations regarding this year’s ISTEP+ test by Feb. 20, as well as advise on the creation of the 2016 test.

With only ten school days left until the testing window opens, there isn’t much time for the State Board of Education and Department of Education to finalize changes and give schools enough time to familiarize students with the test.

Brownsburg Community Schools received their testing materials from CTB-McGraw Hill early, but Director of Assessments Scott Smith says the district isn’t going to do anything with them until they get further guidance from the IDOE.

Included in the materials are practice tests, which schools are allowed to use in an informal way in the weeks leading up to the test, to familiarize students with content and style. Smith says he will not give those out to students in Brownsburg, to avoid exposing them to material that might be removed from the final test in the next few weeks.

“The Governor specifically mentioned the social studies test as a portion that may be recommended for removal by the outside consultant,” Smith said. “If that’s going to happen we certainly don’t want to spend any time on the social studies practice test.  It’s not really clear what other content might be recommended for removal, and whether or not there are specific practice sections related to those specific live sections.”

The deadline for Roeber’s recommendations is five days before the testing window opens Feb. 25, so a finalized version of the test likely won’t be available well before most schools administer the test.

Pence Signs Executive Order Shortening 2015 ISTEP+

Pence signed an executive order shortening the length of this year's ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

Pence signed an executive order shortening the length of this year’s ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

Governor Mike Pence signed an executive order Monday to hire a nationally-recognized assessment expert to advise the state on how to shorten the 2015 ISTEP+ test.

The announcement comes after outcry from educators and parents when the Department of Education released timetables for this year’s ISTEP+ last week, showing the amount of time students will sit taking a test had doubled from last year. The consultant, yet to be chosen, will review the new test and make suggestions to the governor’s office, the IDOE and State Board of Education on how to make it shorter.

“Once we receive these recommendations to shorten the ISTEP+ test, we’ll be calling on the State Board of Education and the Indiana Department of Education to work with our vendor to implement these changes immediately in time for this spring’s test,” Pence says.

This year’s ISTEP+ length comes as a side effect of pulling out of Common Core and writing new state standards. Since it’s a brand new test, the state’s vendor, CTB McGraw-Hill, and the IDOE are including a significantly higher number of questions to assess the validity of the test.

Pence said it was the State Board of Education’s fault that this pilot is included in the actual test, instead of delivering it this fall as a practice. He blames the board’s inability to work together for the delay in putting pilot questions forward.

Daniel Altman, a spokesperson for State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, says Ritz is not in favor of the longer test but feels she had no choice but to move forward with this option.

“These are the requirements the federal government has put on us and these are the requirements that the House and the Senate have said that they want tested as well, so the Department has to comply with that,” Altman says.

The testing window for this year’s ISTEP+ begins Feb. 25, giving the consultant exactly two weeks and two days to come up with a plan to shorten the test.

Obama Praises Ivy Tech’s Efforts To Close Skills Gap

During an event at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis Friday, President Obama praised the efforts of Ivy Tech in trying to close the skills gap in Indiana.

During an event at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis Friday, President Obama praised the efforts of Ivy Tech in trying to close the skills gap in Indiana. photo credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News

President Obama says other states should follow Ivy Tech Community College’s lead when it comes to connecting students to high paying jobs. Obama traveled to Indianapolis Friday to tout his plans aimed at getting more people on the track to better wage.

During the event at Ivy Tech, Obama once again explained his plan to make two years of community college free.

The program would offer free community college to students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and graduate on time. The president says this would help incentivize people to get more training for high paying, middle class jobs.

It’s what Obama calls a different way to reduce the skills gap in Indiana and the rest of the country.

“This is part of what we need to do to be more creative about how do young people get the skills they need without spending as much money or taking on as much debt,” Obama said.

Obama praised Ivy Tech for working with Hoosier businesses to help direct students into high need jobs, something he says the rest of the country should mimic.

“This is where community colleges can be an outstanding bridge, is making sure that we’re reaching out to businesses and finding out what do they need for the positions that they’re hiring and having those businesses help community colleges design training programs and departments to serve those needs.”

The president sent his budget, including his plan for free community college, to Congress this week.

Obama To Speak In Indy About Middle Class Jobs And Education

President Obama will speak at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis Friday. He will address how to prepare students for high paying jobs.

President Obama will speak at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis Friday to address how to prepare students for high paying jobs. (Photo Credit: Pete Souza/The White House)

President Obama will touch down in Indianapolis Friday to give a speech at Ivy Tech Community College, which will likely focus on training for middle class jobs.

A statement released by the White House outlines the basics of the president’s speech:

The President will travel to Indianapolis, Indiana to discuss the importance of middle class economics, including making the paychecks of working families go further, preparing hardworking Americans to earn higher wages, and keeping good, high-paying jobs in America. The President will deliver remarks at Ivy Tech Community College, which works to ensure Hoosiers are well-equipped for and connected to good-paying jobs by partnering with businesses that are creating pathways for career advancement, including leveraging apprenticeships and education benefits, and upskilling Americans.

So why did the president choose Indiana as a venue to make this speech?

Indiana has maintained its status as a manufacturing state, but as technology changed the nature of these jobs, so did the training. Updating that training and making it available to students is a priority for Governor Mike Pence this session. Pence is asking the legislature for $20 million a year to expand career and vocational training opportunities in the state, which he reiterated in testimony before a congressional committee in Washington D.C. this past Wednesday.

Obama has worked on providing more options for training, but Indiana serves as a good example of offering those opportunities to students when they are still in high school and not in the work force, searching for job opportunities.

Stream the president’s address below:

Senate Ed Committee Backs Bill That Allows Christmas In School

The Senate Education committee passed a bill that would all holiday celebrations in the classroom.

The Senate Education committee passed a bill that would all holiday celebrations in the classroom. (Photo Credit: Kirt Edblom/Flickr)

The Senate Education Committee unanimously backed a bill Wednesday that would allow holiday celebrations and lessons on religious holidays in public school classrooms.

The bill allows for teachers to instruct students on the history of winter holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah, use holiday greetings while in school, and display holiday symbols or decorations as long as more than one religion is represented.

Lauryn Schroeder of the Associated Press reports that the bill passed easily through the committee with only a little resistance:

The bill received little pushback in committee, though some lawmakers expressed doubts on whether it is necessary since celebrating Christmas is already a legal activity in Indiana.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jim Smith, R-Charlestown, said the proposal would help ease hesitation among teachers and schools, and encourage them to celebrate the holiday season with students.

“It will help them defend themselves when they are either threatened with lawsuits or if they indeed get involved in a lawsuit,” Smith said. “It will act as a guideline for them.”

This is the second consecutive year lawmakers have introduced this legislation, which Smith said was sparked by a similar law passed in Texas. In the 2014 legislative session the bill unanimously passed through the Senate, but stalled in the House.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

Outrage Over The ISTEP+: Why This Year’s Test Is Longer

The State Board of Education extended the testing windows for the 2015 ISTEP+

The State Board of Education extended the testing windows for the 2015 ISTEP+ test.

Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting was one of the longest in history because of public testimony on one issue: this year’s ISTEP+. After the Department of Education sent out testing times this weeks, educators and parents were outraged by the almost tripling of time students will sit to take a test.

Here’s the issue at hand, and it’s important to understand how our education system got here.

When Indiana stopped using Common Core standards last year and wrote its own, we were still required under No Child Left Behind to test our students on whatever standards we used. So the ISTEP+ had to change to reflect the change in standards. Educators have known since last summer that the test would be different, but the shock this week came when schools saw the amount of time the ISTEP+ would take.

And the difference is significant. Last year, a third grader spent a total of five hours and nine minutes doing ISTEP+ testing. This year, that amount jumps to 12 hours and 30 minutes. These increases are for every grade that takes the ISTEP+, not counting stress tests if a school has their students sit to complete those.  Continue Reading

SBOE Will Look To Update Teacher Evaluations

Jessica Conlon of TNTP, presents the organization's recommendations to improve Indiana's teacher evaluation system.

Jessica Conlon of TNTP, presents the organization\’s recommendations to improve Indiana\’s teacher evaluation system. photo credit: Claire McInerny / StateImpact Indiana

In an effort to improve Indiana’s teacher evaluation system, the State Board of Education voted Wednesday to move forward with a set of recommendations from a third party education group.

National non-profit TNTP created the suggested improvements, after spending the last few months conducting focus groups and surveying educators around the state to evaluate how they perceive Indiana’s teacher evaluation system. Data showed 60 percent of the 2,400 educators surveyed are unsatisfied with some portion of their corporation’s evaluation system.

As a result of this research, TNTP recommended to the SBOE that a priority in improving the teacher evaluation system should be making sure everyone involved – including teachers, principals, district officials and state leaders – understand the goals of the evaluations and how the process works.

Other recommendations include mandatory instruction for educators on how the process works and what it is evaluating, engaging teachers in the process of designing a corporation’s evaluation process, and the use of objective measures – the most controversial portion of TNTP’s report.

School corporations design their own evaluation systems, adhering to certain guidelines provided by the state, which requires districts use both teacher observation and objective measures to evaluate a teacher.  Continue Reading

Wednesday’s SBOE Meeting Will Look At Testing, Turnaround Schools

State Board of Education members Brad Oliver (left), state superintendent Glenda Ritz, and Dr. David Freitas listen to presentations at the January board meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Board of Education members Brad Oliver (left), state superintendent Glenda Ritz, and Dr. David Freitas listen to presentations at the January board meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Amidst the passage of bills in both the House and Senate that would change the makeup of the State Board of Education – including removing the state superintendent as the chair – the governing body meets Wednesday for its monthly business meeting.

While drama regarding the group ensues at the Statehouse, the board itself will spend the day working through the following agenda items:

  • Preliminary cut scores for the CORE assessments for prospective teachers. Pearson ES and the IDOE conducted studies with teachers to update the passing rates for those seeking licensure through the CORE assessments. If passed, the scores will be open for public comment for 30 days.

Continue Reading

Senate Bill Echoes House Legislation To Change SBOE Makeup

Ritz was elected in 2012, and shortly after Pence created the Center for Education and Career Innovation.

A slew of bills in both the House and Senate would remove the state superintendent as chair of the State Board of Education. photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

After the House Education committee approved legislation last week that would remove State Superintendent Glenda Ritz as chair of the State Board of Education, the Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure committee heard testimony Monday and passed a set of similar bills, 7-4.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Ft. Wayne, authored Senate Bill 1, which looks to restructure the State Board of Education. During testimony, Holdman highlighted points of the bill that would reduce the number of board members from 11 to 9 and remove the requirement that the state superintendent automatically chair the board.

Holdman cited his experience on boards of various companies and non-profit organizations to illustrate why these changes could help solve the dysfunction among the SBOE and the board’s relationship with the IDOE. He says smaller boards function better and most boards do not let the CEO of the company serve as chair of the board, citing that as a conflict of interest. Using that analogy the state superintendent would be the CEO of the company (the IDOE) and the State Board of Education the company’s board. Continue Reading

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