Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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Rachel Morello

Rachel Morello comes to StateImpact by way of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has worked for various news and education-related organizations across the country - but no matter the locale, you’re sure to find her sporting a Packers jersey and tuning into “Car Talk.” You can follow her on Twitter @morellomedia.

  • Email: rmorello@indiana.edu

Is Second Grade Too Early To Take A State Test?

A common complaint among parents today is that their kids take way too many tests.

There are multiple sittings for state assessments, along with college entrance exams in high school – not to mention the unit tests students already take in different classes.

And since the spring of 2011, kids in Indiana have also taken the IREAD 3, an evaluation given as part of a reading deficiency remediation plan. Right now, it’s students in third grade who take that assessment.

Now, one senator has proposed what she sees as a remedy for all the testing. Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, wrote Senate Bill 169, which would move the IREAD assessment to second grade.

Houchin says this will alleviate the stresses of testing for third graders, who take the ISTEP+ for the first time that year, too.

Senate Bill 169 would move the IREAD-3 test from third to second grade. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education/Flickr)

Senate Bill 169 would move the IREAD-3 test from third to second grade. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education/Flickr)

Houchin’s bill only adds to controversy surrounding IREAD-3.

Currently, every third grader has two chances to pass the high-stakes exam. Students who don’t pass on their first try in March are given the chance to pass a retake after a few months of remediation work. Students who don’t pass on second attempt have to retake third grade versions of the ISTEP+ and IREAD exams the following school year.

Some state officials argue this could lead to students being held back from entering fourth grade, despite language in the law establishing the test that calls for holding students back only “as a last resort.”

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Don’t Expect Many Surprises In Obama’s State of the Union

Unlike many of his predecessors before him, President Barack Obama has let his hand show in the weeks leading to his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night – so, we’re confident we can fill you in on some of what to expect.

President Barack Obama delivers his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night. (Photo Credit: Talk Radio News Service/Flickr)

President Barack Obama delivers his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night. (Photo Credit: Talk Radio News Service/Flickr)

Education issues certainly took center stage in Governor Mike Pence’s annual State of the State address last week. President Obama has said he will lay out details on a few major school-related initiatives, but the topic will be one of many receiving air-time.

This year, the commander in chief tried something new, laying out some of the policies he intends to introduce in his annual address ahead of time, during trips across the country.

That’s why, a few weeks ago, he traveled to Tennessee with Vice President Joe Biden to announce what he called one of the most important proposal he’ll make Tuesday night: a new initiative aimed at making community college tuition free. We’ve already explained this idea in-depth, but here’s a basic rundown:

  • To qualify, a student must maintain a 2.5 GPA and attend school at least halftime, and
  • The president intends to help pay for those through a tax plan that would raise about $200 million over the next ten years.

It’s expected the president will unveil further logistics for the plan in his speech.

Video courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov

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Dollars and Sense: What Will Obama’s Education Budget Look Like?

‘Tis the season: budget season.

As Hoosiers wait for the Indiana General Assembly to come out with a finalized state budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, America still awaits a budget proposal from President Barack Obama. Members of the Obama administration have hinted at details of his budget proposal for fiscal year 2016, due out sometime next month.

President Barack Obama unveils his 2016 budget request sometime in February. (Photo Credit: mirsasha/Flickr)

President Barack Obama unveils his 2016 budget request sometime in February. (Photo Credit: mirsasha/Flickr)

If history repeats itself, we might expect the president to increase his funding request for the federal Department of Education in 2016. Last year, he requested an appropriation of $68.6 billion – an increase of $1.3 billion from 2014, and almost $3 billion more than in 2013.

Education spending makes up about four percent of the annual national budget, according to the Federal Education Budget Project.

The USED’s elementary and secondary programs serve approximately 50 million students in close to 17,000 school districts annually. Department programs also provide assistance to more than 13 million postsecondary students.

Here in Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence named education as one of four main priorities in his recommended budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. K-12 and higher education spending combined would make up about 60 percent of that budget.

As we’ve reported, Pence’s initiatives for Hoosier schools would work toward two larger goals: getting 100,000 more students in B or better schools and achieving a five-fold increase in high schoolers graduating with an industry-recognized credential, both by the year 2020.

How do the governor’s plans for Indiana measure up against the president’s?

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Changing The Timing of School Referenda Could Change Outcomes

Paying for school is a big issue this legislative session. With proposed tweaks to the school funding formula, vouchers, and charter schools taking center stage in multiple budget proposals, among others, it is likely Hoosier schools could see different dollar amounts coming from the statehouse.

Districts could also see a shift in how they supplement that state funding.

A bill facing lawmakers this session could change the rules about when school corporations can propose referendum tax levies to support their general or capital projects funds.

The proposal, written by House Majority Whip David Frizzell, R-Indianapolis, suggests requiring school referenda only appear on the ballot during general elections. Right now, they can come up in May or November.

With the implementation of property tax caps in 2008, districts have increasingly turned to referenda to finance school projects. (Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr)

With the implementation of property tax caps in 2008, districts have increasingly turned to referenda to finance school projects. (Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr)

Over the last five years or so, Hoosiers may have heard the word “referendum” more than they ever had before. In particular, school districts have been asking voters to consider raising their own property taxes more often.

Ever since lawmakers implemented property tax caps in 2008, the portion of tax money that could be distributed to school corporations has shrunk, causing this change in the way Indiana funds its public schools. Now, when a district experiences a revenue shortfall, it has become more common to pursue financing through a referendum.

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Will Lawmakers Allow 13 More Counties Into the Pre-K Pilot?

The first phase of the On My Way Pre-K program has only just begun, and lawmakers are already tossing around the idea of expanding the initiative.

A preschool student in Columbus works in her classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A preschool student in Columbus works in her classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Legislators in the state senate and house will each consider a bill this session that proposes widening the field of participating counties.

You may remember that after Gov. Mike Pence signed the program into law, interested communities submitted applications to the Family and Social Services Administration. The agency chose 18 finalists in June, later whittling the field down to the five current participants – Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties.

Among those not selected: Bartholomew, Delaware, Elkhart, Grant, Howard, Kosciusko, Lawrence, Madison, Noble, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Vigo and Wayne counties.

Both Senate Bill 344 and House Bill 1129 recommend extending the pilot to include those 13 counties.

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, represents a district that is already part of the program, but says she wants to share the enthusiasm she sees in her district statewide.

“With some additional dollars and some additional counties involved, we might be able to spread that excitement for early childhood education,” Rogers says.

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Nothing Hoosiers Haven’t Already Heard In State of The State

Most, if not all of the education recommendations Governor Mike Pence made in his annual State of the State address Tuesday night were items Hoosiers have heard before from the lawmaker.

Gov. Mike Pence's third State of the State address focused heavily on education – something many Hoosiers expected. (Photo Credit: The Heritage Foundation/Flickr)

The third State of the State address from Gov. Mike Pence – pictured here at an event in Washington D.C. – focused heavily on education – something many Hoosiers expected. (Photo Credit: The Heritage Foundation/Flickr)

The governor’s speech reiterated many policy points he has revealed little by little since announcing his legislative agenda in December – including his nickname for the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly: the education session.

“The key to unlocking the full potential of our state is not in her factories and her fields. It is in her classrooms,” Pence said. “Let’s agree here and now that this will be an education session dedicated to improving all our schools for all our kids.”

Here are some of the highlights:

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Preliminary ISTEP+ Tests Experience Interruptions…Again

Updated, 4:03 p.m.: Technology directors at a number of Indiana schools report experiencing interruptions Tuesday as students take the preliminary test for this spring’s ISTEP+.

The "spinning globe" returned Tuesday, as schools across the state experienced interruptions during stress tests for the upcoming ISTEP+.

The “spinning globe” returned Tuesday, as schools across the state experienced interruptions during stress tests for the upcoming ISTEP+.

It’s an unwelcome déjá vu: districts already dealt with this headache back in the spring of 2013, when schools were forced to suspend testing two days in a row, after students encountered problems with the testing website. In the days that followed, testing company CTB/McGraw Hill – the same company administering this year’s test – blamed the issue on server problems.

The Indiana Department of Education settled with CTB/McGraw Hill to the tune of $3 million this past summer.

This time around, schools across the state were scheduled to administer the online “stress test” between 10 and 11 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Sam Klawitter, director of technology for Mitchell Community Schools, says by 10:07 a.m., a majority of the 270 students taking the test had experienced timeouts – and it only got worse from there. By about 10:15 a.m., it had become essentially impossible to continue administering the test.

And Klawitter is understandably frustrated.

“My reaction is kind of one of contained outrage – it’s rather disappointing when it fails every year,” Klawitter says. “The standard testing models that are in place for both Indiana and at a federal level are already fundamentally flawed in the expectations that they create for our students, but they’re further complicated by the fact that they’re technically impossible to execute.”

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Expect Education As A Primary Focus In Pence’s State of the State

As Governor Mike Pence delivers his annual State of the State address Tuesday night, one buzzword this year is sure to be “education.”

2014 was a big year for education policy in the Hoosier state, and it sounds like the trend will continue into 2015, especially as the General Assembly’s new budget session gets underway.

Gov. Mike Pence delivers his annual State of the State address Tuesday night.

Gov. Mike Pence delivers his annual State of the State address Tuesday night.

Pence has been promising a focus on schools since previewing his legislative agenda in early December, along with touting his “education budget.” It’s also a priority shared by both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature, who have also set forth heavy agendas for education policy and funding.

The governor gave a sneak-preview of how Indiana has been doing – and the moves he wants the state to make – during a legislative conference late last year. He cited a tuition support increase of $193 million in the last budget cycle, as well as $41 million for universities, and said Indiana is fully funding its teacher pensions, unlike other states.

He has promised to push to increase K-12 and charter school funding, eliminate the cap on school vouchers, and address financial needs for career and technical education – all promises he will likely reiterate tonight.

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U.S. Department of Education Calls For NCLB Rewrite

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is calling on Congress to repeal and replace No Child Left Behind, the cornerstone federal education law, while still maintaining what he considers to be key elements – including annual testing.

The law, signed by former President George W. Bush in 2002, has been due for reauthorization since 2007. It is the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), an extensive federal statute that has funded primary and secondary education since 1965.

In a speech delivered Monday, Duncan laid out his vision for rewriting what he calls a “tired” and “prescriptive” law.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visits with preschoolers in Virginia last year. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visits with preschoolers in Virginia last year. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

“I believe we can replace it with a law that recognizes that schools need more support – more money – than they receive today,” Duncan says. “A law that recognizes the hard work educators across America are doing to support and raise expectations for students, and lifts up the profession of teaching by recognizing that teachers need better preparation, better support, and more resources.”

Duncan says a rewrite needs to emphasize the following components: 

  • Improved access to high-quality preschool,
  • An equal distribution of funds among schools to guarantee all students can access good teachers and resources like technology and safe facilities,
  • Fair teacher evaluation systems that include measures of student learning,
  • Improved preparation, support, resources and pay for teachers, and
  • More financial support for districts that “pursue bold innovations” in terms of testing.

“If we make our national education responsibilities optional, we would turn back the clock on educational progress,” Duncan said. “When so many states and districts have put in place the building blocks to sustain educational progress…reversing course would be a terrible mistake.”

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