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.

Listen: Fresh Air Discusses School Segregation In The U.S.


(photo credit: LA Johnson/NPR)

Sixty-three years after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, many schools across the country either remain segregated or have re-segregated.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that when it comes to school segregation, separate is never truly equal.

“There’s never been a moment in the history of this country where black people who have been isolated from white people have gotten the same resources,” Hannah-Jones says. “They often don’t have the same level of instruction. They often don’t have strong principals. They often don’t have the same technology.”

Listen to the entire episode via NPR Ed. 

McCormick’s Department Of Education Lays Off 34 Employees

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, 2016. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on election night, after defeating Glenda Ritz for state superintendent. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

The Indiana Department of Education fired 34 employees this week, as the department transitioned to a new administration under state superintendent Jennifer McCormick. The IDOE employees 250 people, making the this a 14 percent reduction in staff. Those fired were low, mid and high-level employees in all departments within the IDOE.

Incoming Communications Director Molly Deuberry says some of the terminations were because of shifting priorities in the department. Some part of those priorities were influenced by surveys the new administration conducted with school districts across the state, asking about how their needs were met by the IDOE. Some of this feedback influenced the terminations.

In a statement, Chief of Staff Lee Ann Kwiatkowski said this is normal.

“As with any government transition, we have some staff turnover. Yesterday 34 people across a number of divisions were impacted,” Kwiatkowski said.

Deuberry says the money that funded the 34 positions may be reallocated to other positions.

McCormick officially became state superintendent Monday after her official swearing in ceremony.

Jennifer McCormick Sworn In As State Superintendent


Republican Jennifer McCormick is sworn in as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction at an inauguration ceremony at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. She defeated Democrat Glenda Ritz in the November election. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

Republican Jennifer McCormick became Indiana’s 44th Superintendent of Public Instruction Monday, after her inauguration.

McCormick replaces Democrat Glenda Ritz after defeating her in the November election.

During the campaign, McCormick criticized Ritz’s tumultuous relationship with other state agencies and policy makers, and said she would be a more collaborative leader.

She mentioned this during her speech after the inauguration.

“To all the other elected and appointed officials, I promise to be a good partner to the state of Indiana so we can move forward,” McCormick said. “To Indiana schools, I am proud to be one of you and I look forward to working with you.”

During her speech after the swearing in, McCormick didn’t go into too many details of her agenda as superintendent, but made one mention to the state’s teachers.

“I promise to lead this state as I always have, putting students first,” she said. “That means we must take care of Indiana’s great educators.”

Previously, McCormick served as superintendent for the Yorktown school district, and spent her career in public education.


How To Follow Along, And Get Involved In, Indiana’s Legislative Session

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: IPBS)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: IPBS)

The legislative session is underway, and that means the next few months will be filled with reporting on votes, language and debates over bills moving through the General Assembly.

Which we know can be … dense.

Of course, following journalists and reading their work is a great way to stay informed about the session, but if you don’t check in every day it can be hard to jump right in.

So how can you stay informed if a story about a bill comes across your Facebook feed or a friend brings up a piece of legislation they heard about?

Here’s our crash course in following legislation through the 2017 session.

How A Bill Becomes A Law In Indiana

First, it’s important to understand the steps every bill takes through the General Assembly, and a lot of that is on its website (here’s instructions on how to use the General Assembly website).

(A) PRE-INTRODUCTION: An idea is developed, and a senator or representative decides to sponsor it. He or she drafts a bill, with research and technical help from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA).

(B) INTRODUCTION: The representative enters the bill into his or her respective chamber. The only exception here is that bills raising revenue can only originate in the House.

(C) CONSIDERATION: This is where the sausage is made. Chamber leadership calls the bill for discussion.

  • First reading: The bill is read aloud to the entire chamber and assigned to an appropriate chamber committee for review.
  • Committee: The committee chairperson puts the bill up for public hearing, where the full committee hears testimony, discusses merits and pitfalls of the measure, and votes on advancing the bill.
  • Second reading: The bill returns to the chamber it came from for discussion before the entire body. Any legislator in that body can suggest amendments to the bill, which have to be approved by a majority vote. After all approved amendments have been added, the chamber votes on the bill as a whole. The chamber may also send the bill back to committee, if they need more information.
  • Third reading: The same chamber now schedules the same bill for a third discussion. This is the same process as the second reading, except that any proposed amendments must be approved by a simple majority. The chamber votes on advancing the bill as a whole.
  • Opposite chamber: The bill moves to the other legislative chamber (form the Senate to the House or the House to the Senate). It then repeats the same process of consideration (first reading, committee, second reading, third reading).
  • Finalizing: The bill returns to the chamber of origin, which must approve or deny any amendments their counterparts added. If approved, the bill moves on to the governor. If denied, the bill goes to a conference committee – a group made up of two members from each chamber, one from each political party. Once they reach agreement, the bill returns to both chambers for approval.

(D) GOVERNOR’S ACTION: The bill is presented to the governor, who has seven days to act. He or she has three options: He can sign the bill, in which case it becomes law; He can do nothing, in which case the bill becomes law without his signature; or, he can veto the bill, in which case it goes back to the House and Senate, who have the opportunity to over-ride the veto with a two-thirds majority vote. If both chambers achieve that majority, the bill becomes law.

You Want To Follow Along?

If there is a particular bill you are interested in (view the entire list of bills filed), here’s how you can track its progress through the process.

We’ll use Senate Bill 30, a bill that would require the Indiana Department of Education to issue reports every semester on students using vouchers.

Head to the General Assembly website and either search the specific bill number (SB30) if you know it, or find it under the Legislation > Bills tab. Choose the bill from this list.

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This will take you to the bill’s individual page.

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The left hand side is where you can find all the information on the bill you’ll want. It’s full version, any amendment and who voted for it in the two chambers. But if you’re looking to see where it is in the process, click “Bill Details”. This is where the list from above will help guide you to where the bill currently sits.

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You Want To Make Your Voice Heard

So you’re following along at home, and decide you have an opinion on a bill. There’s a few things you can do to get involved.

1. Call your legislator. There is a House representative and a Senator that represent you, and you can figure out who those people are by typing your address into this form. Talk to their staff and figure out if you want to leave a message or set up a meeting with your legislator to talk about the issue. Legislators often cite conversations they have with constituents when testifying on a bill, so they do value your input.

2. Follow interest groups. Depending on what type of bills you’re interested in, there is likely some sort of group that is following along day by day. Follow them on Twitter or reach out to see what they are testifying for, and let them know your opinion. Also follow the hashtag on Twitter, #inlegis, to see what is being tweeted about during the session.

3. Testify at a committee. The committee is the group of legislators that decide early on how to amend the bill and if it will move forward. Many of the re-writes happen at this stage, making it the best time to make your voice heard, but getting in front of this group takes a little leg work. First, you must figure out which committee oversees the bill (under “Bill Actions” on the bill’s page). Then you have to closely monitor the committee calendars, which aren’t posted until the week of or before. That calendar is found on the home page.

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If you click on the committee name link, it will tell you what bills are being heard that day. If you want to testify, show up (meetings are always held during business hours), and sign up via a form right before the meeting starts. The chair will call your name during public testimony.

Correction: a previous version of this story said a bill needed a two-thirds majority vote to move forward. It needs a simple majority vote. 

Union Wants Program To Help Teachers Address Student Trauma

Indiana State Teacher's Association president Teresa Meredith lays out the union's legislative priorities. One of them includes a new program to help teachers deal with student trauma. (photo credit: Claire McInerny / IPBS)

Indiana State Teacher’s Association president Teresa Meredith lays out the union’s legislative priorities. One of them includes a new program to help teachers deal with student trauma. (photo credit: Claire McInerny / IPBS)

The state’s largest teachers’ union laid out their legislative priorities Wednesday, and one of the group’s goals is to train teachers to deal with student trauma.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith says one of its main legislative priorities is to train teachers to recognize and work with student trauma.

Meredith says one in four children in the United States deal with some sort of trauma at home, and ISTA wants to give teachers guidance.

“So what I say to a 5-year-old who’s from a different home or from a different set of circumstances might not mean the same thing to a child that has experiences such trauma,” Meredith says.

Meredith suggests the legislature create a grant program managed by the Department of Education to train teachers.

This idea is based on a program in Massachusetts that involves teacher training and increased counseling for students.

ISTA also wants the General Assembly to make school funding more equitable, expanded state-funded preschool and pull student test scores out of teacher evaluations.


Rural School Districts To Legislators: Support Our Internet Access

Milan High School senior Evan Smith has limited internet access at home, and often tries to complete his homework at school. Milan Community Schools is the rare rural school district that invested in high speed internet.

Milan High School senior Evan Smith has limited internet access at home, so he often tries to complete his homework at school. Milan Community Schools is the rare rural school district that invested in high speed internet. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/ Indiana Public Broadcasting)

It’s a special day for the high school students in Alyssa Parr’s advanced art history class at Milan High School.

They are taking a field trip to the National Gallery in London, looking at Neoclassical pieces they’ve been studying. But the class of 30 didn’t need to travel for this field trip. Instead, students are taking a virtual tour of the museum, navigating the marble hallways and viewing gold leaf, vaulted ceilings on their laptops.

“There’s that horse again,” Parr says to the class, as her mouse hovers on a painting of a horse.

Parr says this is a big opportunity for her students, who live in the small, Southeastern Indiana town.

“We live pretty far out in the middle of nowhere, so taking a field trip is an all day thing,” she says.

And before today’s virtual field trip to the museum, Parr asked the class of 30 how many had been to an art gallery in person. Eight students raised their hands.

Investing In Technology Is A Huge Expense

It takes a lot of money to ensure 30 kids can take virtual tours on 30 laptops, and Milan invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in high speed internet and technology over the last few years. This kind of investment isn’t always an easy choice for small districts, who have been struggling more in recent years.

The current school funding formula is more challenging for rural schools. The money follows the student, and as rural populations decline, these districts with smaller enrollments are disproportionately affected. The property tax caps passed in 2010 also restrict district budgets.

Students in an advanced art history class at Milan High School look at art at the National Gallery in London via a virtual tour. Virtual field trips and guest speakers are two tools classrooms in Milan value, since they are far away from these in person opportunities.

Students in an advanced art history class at Milan High School look at art in the National Gallery in London via a virtual tour. Virtual field trips and guest speakers are two tools classrooms in Milan access through high speed internet. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/ Indiana Public Broadcasting)

But reliable internet access is not just about fun experiences – like a virtual field trip. Online tools are necessary in today’s classrooms.

Educators agree on the importance of integrating technology into lessons, homework and daily activities, so students are prepared for the technology they’ll work with in the real world.

But many small, rural districts are struggling to upgrade to high speed internet. And, as the legislation session begins, many are hoping the General Assembly will allocate money to help them build their internet infrastructure.

Milan is the exception, but their high speed internet and laptops for every student came at a price.

“You push aside some things that you want to do in terms of repaving a parking lot, repairing some doors or windows,” says Milan Schools Superintendent Paul Ketchum. “You say the investment we make in this project is going to have an exponential effect on students.”

Ketchum says investing in high speed internet not only gives students opportunities in the classroom, it is often the only place they can access the internet and online tools.

“There is a digital divide in Ripley County, especially in our homes,” Ketchum says. “Many students don’t have access to high speed internet.”

Evan Smith is one of those students. He’s a senior at Milan High School, and Wi-Fi at his home is slow and limited. With so much of his homework online, he often works in the middle of the night when the internet is faster and available.

“The Wi-Fi is limited data from 5 a.m. to midnight, but midnight to 5 a.m. its unlimited data,” Smith says.

Some members of the General Assembly have talked about allocating money to help more rural districts do what Milan Schools did: Invest in internet infrastructure and devices so students like Smith can explore the world outside their small towns.

But this issue will compete for lawmakers’ attention in the new legislative session.

When Classroom Lessons Are Buffering

Two hundred miles away from Milan, in Morocco, Ind., North Newton Schools Superintendent Destin Haas walks into his office after a morning filled with problems. It’s cold and windy, and the boilers at one of his schools went offline. The boilers operate from a board connected to the internet, and the wind compromised one of the towers that provides the connection.

“With our towers, if we have inclement weather, whether it be ice, or snow or rain or strong winds, it’s going to affect our internet connections,” says Haas.

He’s one of the rural superintendents that hopes lawmakers will see internet infrastructure as a long-term payoff. Over the last few years, Haas spent a lot of money installing towers to increase bandwidth, but he’d rather install expensive, fiber internet to avoid the problem with weather.

He also purchased iPads for every student, but they can’t all use them at the same time because the bandwidth is just too slow.

“Streaming a video, or streaming music, and we’re in a digital age where we’re using those things, it’s almost impossible to do because of that factor right now,” Haas says.

They often stagger iPad use. And when they take the statewide standardized test, they ask teachers who are not administering a test to stay offline, so the internet doesn’t crash.

So, while legislators will have a lot of requests this budget session, Haas says this should be a priority.

“It would just be like them at the Statehouse and they’re not having internet capabilities, or only half of them can work at a certain time, they’re not going to like it,” Haas says.

Here’s What Education Bills Have Been Filed So Far

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: IPBS)

The 2017 General Assembly began Tuesday. Only the Senate has filed education bills so far. (Photo Credit: Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Tuesday is the beginning of the 2017 legislation session, and the Senate released the list of bills it will consider.

We’ve already previewed some of the major topics on the table this budget session, but we now have a look at some individual pieces of legislation senators are proposing.

Here’s are the first education bills this session:

Vouchers: SB 30 would require the Department of Education to give school districts a report of the number of students at their various schools that qualify for vouchers to attend private school. It would require these reports at the end of each semester.

Teacher Background Checks: SB 34 would require all schools, public and private, to conduct background checks on all employees every five years.

Teacher Evaluations: SB 35 says teacher evaluations wouldn’t be required to include objective measures, like standardized tests, when deciding if a teacher is effective. Districts would still be allowed to use scores, if they choose.

Child Abuse: SB 54 would require the Department of Child Services to inform a school corporation, charter school or private school if an employee is reported for child abuse or neglect.

School Resource Officers: SB 61 would require all school resource officers to report any instance of restraining a student or secluding them.

School Transportation: SB 85 would allow school districts to receive property tax money to be used exclusively for transportation.

The first meeting of the Senate Education and Career Development meeting is Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., where some of these bills will be discussed for the first time.

The Senate’s filing deadline is Jan. 12. House members haven’t released any bills yet, their filing deadline is Jan. 10.

What Big Education Issues Should We Watch In 2017?

The State Board of Education voted Nov. 16, 2016 to express support for legislation that would expand preschool in that specific manner, following a blueprint set by state’s current preschool pilot program. (Barnaby Wasson/Flickr)

Expanding state funded pre-k is one issue that will take center stage in 2017. (photo credit: Barnaby Wasson/Flickr)

This was the year to tee up changes in public education, including ISTEP+ panel meetings, a new state superintendent and calls to expand public pre-K. And when the legislative session begins in January, the actions taken in 2016 could evolve into real change.

Here’s what we’re already preparing to cover in 2017, and what you want to keep tabs on.

A New, Or Newly Named, ISTEP+

Much of 2016 was spent talking about changing the state’s assessment system. Legislators scrapped the current test with a bill in early 2016, and they created a panel of educators, legislators and state officials to craft a recommendation to replace the test.

The final recommendation was general and didn’t offer the sweeping changes to the testing system many wanted. Now the fate of the testing system lies with the General Assembly, and lawmakers must craft a new test – a test slated to be in use by the end of the 2017 session.

Recently, Sen. Dennis Kruse, the chair of the Senate education committee, said they may extend that deadline to ensure it’s what they want and done properly.

Jennifer McCormick Will Take Office

After four years of running the Department of Education, Democrat Glenda Ritz will leave the post in January when Republican Jennifer McCormick is sworn in.

As one of the only Democrats in a statewide, elected position, Ritz’s tenure as state superintendent was marked with friction between the State Board of Education, legislators, and often, Republican governor Mike Pence.

Pence publicly blamed Ritz and the DOE for the length of the ISTEP+ in 2015. Ritz and the previous State Board of Education clashed and fought publicly, which led to dramatic moments like Ritz walking out of a meeting and suing the board for communicating via email without her.

Added to this, Ritz and the Republican supermajority were operating from different political perspectives.

It will be interesting to see how a Republican superintendent could change these relationships, and this is something McCormick campaigned on.

McCormick does not currently appear to be remarkably different from Ritz on other issues. She wants to study that state’s voucher system and review its finances, reduce testing and give the school funding formula another look.

How Much Will State Funded Pre-K Expand?

All of 2016, politicians and early education advocates talked about expanding the state’s current pre-K pilot program. And there is some political will to do it – most lawmakers on both sides of the isle have said the state should offer this service to more children.

We’ve already dug into this issue a lot in our reporting on the current pilot program and the probable patch of expansion.

But what we know for sure, in 2017, the legislature will talk about expanding state funded pre-K. Now we will see how they do it.

Will The State Help Teachers Get More Education To Meet New Requirements?

Indiana high school dual-credit teachers are facing new requirements if they want to continue teaching their classes.

The idea behind dual-credit courses is simple – students can earn both high school and college credits at the same time. But changes announced last year would have required anyone teaching one of these course to have a master’s degree, in the same subject, within two years. So a high school teacher teaching advanced Biology must have a master’s in biology.

A state panel appealed to a federal body, arguing that 71 percent of dual-credit instructors teaching nearly 45,000 students don’t meet that requirement and that the timeline to meet it was too short.

Now, dual credit teachers will have until 2022 to get those masters degrees.

But the state does not cover the cost to the teacher. It didn’t allocate money or require universities to give discounts on classes. This is something we will be watching this session.

The 2017 Legislative Session starts Jan. 3.

Reporter’s Notebook: Covering English Learners Across Indiana In 2016

Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school’s few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school\’s new dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school’s few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school\\’s new dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

At the very beginning of 2016, I wanted to follow up on a school funding change that went into place the year before. A previous school funding formula gave schools more money to educate high-need students, like students in special education, students who are English learners and low-income students. But, in an attempt to distribute school funding more equally, the new formula took much of that money away.

I traveled to Goshen Community Schools to look at how these cuts were affecting a district where a third of the students need English learning services. I spent a lot of time with the district’s Chief Financial Officer, and I didn’t expect it to be an emotional interview. But it was. The district lost a lot of money through the new funding formula, and he worried they might have to scale back services.

This story drew me into a topic I hadn’t covered closely yet – English language learning.

When I looked at the data, school districts with the highest percentage of English learners were mostly concentrated in rural areas, and I saw that this was an issue that wasn’t being covered. I knew small, rural school districts were also facing disproportionately larger budget problems, and English learning programs are expensive. I was also interested in the social reactions to this population, as it is a growing percentage of residents in small towns.

I became so invested that I applied and got a fellowship with the Institute for Justice in Journalism, whose 2016 program was focused on stories around immigrant children. I pitched a series of stories on different school districts serving the growing English learner population in rural Indiana.

One of my first stops was Frankfort, where the schools serve the largest percentage of English Learners in the state. Eight teachers are trying to provide English learning services to 800 kids.

Many small districts face this challenge. It often means the dedicated EL teachers don’t get as much time with the kids as they’d like:

Other teachers say they get pulled away from working with English learning students to proctor ISTEP+ exams or do lunch duty. And they all say the schools need more dedicated, certified EL teachers. But Frankfort’s Director of English Learning, Lori North, says that’s a tough ask right now.

“We had teacher cuts this year so it’s really hard for me to go and say ‘I need more EL teachers when they’re cutting general education teachers,” North says.

Another place this reporting took me to was Columbus, Ind., a larger school district, but one where the English learner population was changing. The EL teachers in the district had typically served Spanish speaking students, but because of foreign businesses moving to Columbus, more and more Japanese students were enrolling in Columbus schools.

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. from Japan in August with her husband and two kids. They came for her husband’s job at Enkei, a Japanese wheel company with a branch in Columbus. Her children, Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services. When they started the year they didn’t speak any English. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. from Japan in August with her husband and two kids. They came for her husband’s job at Enkei, a Japanese wheel company with a branch in Columbus. Her children, Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services. When they started the year they didn’t speak any English. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

It is hard to appeal to every student’s language and cultural needs. And this frustrates some parents, who want the teachers to give their children more one-on-one attention.

While in Columbus, I met Hiroko Murabayashi, a mother of two elementary school students. They only lived in Columbus for a few months, and she was hoping her kids would spent more time learning the mechanics of English and not as much in their general studies.

This tug of war between what a school is capable of doing and what is best for a student learning English was a theme. And it’s what made this topic so interesting.

Relative to other states, Indiana’s immigrant population is small, but it’s growing quickly. This tension is not going away.

And this is something I heard so often from teachers in these schools – they don’t feel supported. They say most of the legislators who are able to allocate funds to these programs don’t understand how much work it takes to learn English.

Another thing that came up again and again – once the EL students became proficient in English, they academically outperformed native English speakers.

My last story of this series took place in Ligonier, at West Noble Primary School. This school received a grant from the Indiana Department of Education to start a dual language program. This type of program requires teachers who speak two languages, because they will teach half of their lessons in one languages and half in another.

West Noble’s population is about half Latino, and many of the students were already bilingual.

I loved rounding out the series with this story, because it showed a school that is able to embrace its diversity. When I spoke with the principal and a teacher for the dual language program, their goal is to break down social barriers and encourage all students to be bilingual.

“I want them to feel equipped with and have the mentality to have a diverse mentality,” first grade teacher Elias Rojas said. “To have them not see a minority and not say that’s a minority. That is a person.”

What Were The Top Five Education Stories Of 2016? Let’s Review

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, 2016. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on election night, after defeating Glenda Ritz for state superintendent. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

As 2016 winds down, there’s a lot to reflect on. A lot. While so much happened this year (seriously so much happened, I’m sure we blocked most of it out), we’re going to focus on the milestones of the Indiana education world: the most notable laws, conversations and changes in our classrooms.

The Ever-Evolving ISTEP+

When it comes to Indiana education, 2016 was the year of the ISTEP+. The year started with the 2016 legislative session, where lawmakers passed a bill to get rid of the ISTEP+ as it currently functions. They also created a 23-person panel to craft recommendations for its replacement.

The panel met once a month for six months, and its strategy had a broad frame. Members included teachers, principals, superintendents, legislators and state officials. This range of experience required a lot of discussion on both how standardized assessments function and how they are created.

Narrower conversations about specific changes to the test or testing administration did not take place until the the very end of the process, the second to last meeting before the Dec. 1 deadline.

The final recommendations to the legislature were broad and didn’t offer major changes to the testing system.

The fate of the new state assessment now rests with lawmakers, who will decide how much to reshape the old one. We recently heard from Sen. Dennis Kruse, the chair of the Senate education committee, that he will propose pushing back the deadline for a new test to make sure the revisions are well done.

What’s Next For State Funded Pre-K?

All year, we’ve heard many call for the state to expand its pre-K pilot program and serve more children.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal pre-K. A group of business leaders called on the legislature to expand the current program to just low-income families, and many candidates brought it up during the election.

Universal pre-K will not be on the table, now that both Ritz and Gregg lost their respective races. But all of the talk from different groups prompted the legislature to announce they will address the issues during the next session.

So… How About That Election, Huh?

Remember that?

It has some major implications for education.

In Indiana, we elected a brand new Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state’s highest ranking education official. The publicly elected office also heads the Department of Education and chairs the Indiana State Board of Education.

In a stunning upset, relatively-unknown-on-a-statewide-level Republican Jennifer McCormick handily defeated incumbent Glenda Ritz. McCormick, current Yorktown Community Schools’ superintendent, agrees with Ritz on key issues – reforming teacher evaluations, pre-K expansion, calling for less testing.

But with a Republican as state superintendent, the change could mean fewer squabbles between the Republican-controlled Legislature and the education department.

And we can’t forget that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is now also Vice President-elect. So, Indiana’s education policies may soon make it onto the national stage. Largely in the form of school choice. Indiana boasts the country’s most robust school choice program, with the state spending $40 million to send more than 300,000 students to private schools. President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of education, Betsy Devos, is well-known for pushing programs and laws that require public funds pay for private school tuition in the form of vouchers.

Indiana Prepares For New Federal Education Law

For those of you who have been following our blog closely, you may have noticed we’ve spent a lot of time on the country’s new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Fellow policy nerds (…I mean, you ARE reading an education policy blog right now…) will know ESSA was signed into law in Dec. 2015 and set to take full effect in 2017. So this year was largely – figuring out how to make sure the roll out goes smoothly.

The new education allows states more freedom to design administration and practices for rating schools and teachers, as long as they meet certain federal standards.

State leaders weighed in on it. Experts shared advice. A state panel worked to create goals for various education factors, including English language instruction, graduation rates, and student achievement on state tests.

Much of the debate surrounded a still undetermined, non-academic factor that the state will measure as a way to measure schools’ progress. That factor could include school climate, access to AP classes, chronic absenteeism or disciplinary action.

Although the federal law allows states much more flexibility in test administration, teacher evaluations and school ranking, many of these elements are already written into Indiana state law. So tweaking those things, even though ESSA allows it, would require legislators to change the law.

School Rankings Took A Dip

The 2016 school rankings showed far fewer A’s. It also showed fewer F’s. Schools from the high and low rankings moved to the middle – many more schools ranked as B’s and C’s.

A few factors led to this. A change in the way the state ranks schools now measures students’ growth in test scores from year to year, rather than whether a student passed the test or not. And last year the state held schools harmless for lower test scores. In other words, the school was awarded the higher grade between their 2014 and 2015 scores.

So 2015 scores were higher than they may have been otherwise, possibly leading to a more drastic dip in 2016.

We have a database of school test scores here.

What were your favorite stories of 2016? What should we look for in 2017? Leave your answer in the comments below.

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