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.
Next Tuesday, March 10, marks the deadline for college-bound students in Indiana and across the U.S. to submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form. Colleges use information from the FAFSA to determine their scholarship awards – Indiana has nearly $300 million in state aid available this year – which is why Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers and her counterparts around the country are encouraging potential students to complete the form on time.
As the due date approaches, our colleagues with NPR’s Education team take a closer look at the form and how some lawmakers hope to simplify the application process.
Look closely. Buried deep in President Obama’s 2016 budget (Page 41) is a proposal to cut up to 30 questions from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The Obama administration has already done a lot to make the FAFSA easier – if not shorter.
“We believe that implementing our long-term recommendations will improve the design and implementation of the ISTEP+ program in the future,” the report reads. “We remain willing to assist in and perhaps monitor efforts to implement these recommendations.”
As a refresher, the feds required Indiana to create a new test this year, after the state pulled out of the Common Core and PARCC last April. State leaders hope to better align the state test to state standards so they can create a more refined assessment for 2016 and beyond.
How can they do so? Let’s look at the short- and long-term fixes Roeber and Auty suggest…
Edward Roeber, a national testing consultant hired through Gov. Pence’s executive order, presents his plan to shorten this year’s ISTEP to the State Board of Education last month. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)
The governor tasked the group with figuring out how to shorten the state’s annual standardized test after the IDOE notified schools that students would sit for an average of 12 hours to complete the test – significantly longer than last year.
“I commend thesenationally-recognized assessment experts for their efforts to thoroughly and efficiently review and make recommendations to shorten the 2015 test,” Pence said in a statement. “Indiana’s students, teachers and families deserved no less.”
Pence also says the report provides insights to be considered regarding next year’s test.
“Based on the results of 2015 tests, IDOE should investigate the feasibility of shortening the ISTEP+ tests in 2016 and beyond,” the report reads.
Indiana is still in the planning stages of creating a test for spring 2016. Some of the fixes on this year’s assessment included pilot testing questions for next year, as well as saving others for use on fall practice materials.
House Republicans delayed a vote last week on the “Student Success Act,” legislation to rewrite No Child Left Behind, dimming hopes this could be the year the cornerstone education law gets a facelift, according to POLITICO. The bill does not appear on the House calendar for this week.
Complicating the issue? Disputes over funding the Department of Homeland Security.
House Republicans decided not to vote Friday on their proposed rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law, the Student Success Act, after House leadership struggled to lock down support for the bill and debate over Department of Homeland Security funding eclipsed education plans.
Beginning Wednesday, held hearings in Evansville, Marion and Indianapolis. Board Director of Accountability Cynthia Roach says the panel generally heard the same concerns at each meeting.
“We’ve been hearing a lot about the [ratio] of performance and growth,” Roach says. “We’ve also been hearing a lot about being equitable for your lowest-performing students, that they receive equitable points when they’re showing high growth.”
We’ve already told you a bit about how the system would change if this proposal gets approved – but let’s pick out the items Roach is talking about:
Credit: Indiana Department of Education
The equation used to calculate a school’s grade uses the following variables: performance, growth, and multiple measures (i.e. graduation rate, college- and career-readiness).
Each variable is assigned a letter grade (A, B, C, D or F) on a scale similar to what you would see on any test a student takes in school: 90-100 points is an A, 80-89 point is a B, and so on.
To determine a school’s total score, the scores for each of the three variables gets weighted (based on data about enrollment) and then added together.
As suggested by the name, growth is determined using data from both the current year and the previous year.
A school’s total growth number is the sum of students’ English/Language Arts scores and math scores.
The score for each subject is the sum of the average marks of two subgroups: the highest performing students and lowest performing students. In other words, one-half is the average ISTEP+ mark of all the kids performing in the top 75 percent of the school, and the other half is the average ISTEP+ mark of all the kids performing in the bottom 25 percent of the school.
For a more detailed explanation of how each domain is calculated, see pages 3-7 of the proposed rule language. If you’re a visual learner, check out this calculation chart from the IDOE website.
Republican Governor Mike Pence (Photo Credit: The Heritage Foundation/Flickr)
Gov. Mike Pence was the first to dub this the “education session” back in December, when he announced his administration’s legislative priorities. He says he thinks things are moving along smoothly.
“I’m very encouraged at the level of collaboration that’s taking place in broad and bipartisan fashion on priorities of this administration, chief among them is in the area of education,” Pence says.
On the other side of the aisle, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, says his party has differences in approach with respect to education.
“When the right arguments are made, some of your hardcore conservatives will join forces with us in a pragmatic way to make sure that our classrooms are protected,” Pelath says. “We have reminded the House majority and the Senate majority and the governor that just because they might have 71 percent of the seats, doesn’t mean that 71 percent of the people agree with them.”
Let’s break down how these leading lawmakers think about what their parties have accomplished so far, and what they hope to do as the session continues.
Caswell Woodruff was a third grader at Bloomfield Elementary School last year when he began relaying ISTEP+ horror stories to his mother, Resa.
Bloomfield parent Resa Woodruff displays a picture of her son Caswell, 9. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)
“He would tell me some of the things the teachers would say about ‘you have to pass this,’” Woodruff says. “He would just tell me some of the kids were worried and concerned and just the stresses of the environment in the classroom because of the testing.”
Worried for her son, Woodruff began researching, finding any information she could about Indiana’s standardized tests – and what she found scared her, too.
“The more research we did on the subject, the more we wanted to opt our child out of the test,” Woodruff says. “They’re not a reliable and accurate assessment of our child’s developmental growth.”
Release only a portion of test questions this coming summer, for teachers and students to use as practice problems for next year’s test,
Cut the number of questions each student answers on this year’s test, and
Cancel this year’s social studies portion for fifth and seventh graders (subtracting one hour from the test).
By law, those changes have to be approved by the General Assembly. In order to fast-track that process, two things happened in the House today:
The House unanimously passed a resolution pledging to shorten the test. This serves as a promise that lawmakers will make the recommended changes, allowing the Department of Education to move forward with releasing appropriate guidance to schools. It alleviates the stress of waiting for the legislature to go through the prescribed legal process to approve those changes.
As the first step in that legal process, the House Committee on Education amended and approved a bill coming out of the Senate (SB62, a measure originally intended to allow schools to contract out for physical education), tacking on the three state board provisions described above.
The House is expected to pass SB 62 during its session on Monday. Then, all that’s left is for the Senate to concur and the governor to sign off on the bill. House Speaker Brian Bosma says he thinks all this could happen as soon as Monday afternoon.
The testing window opens for schools Wednesday, Feb, 25.
People packed three levels of the Indiana Statehouse Monday afternoon for what was dubbed the “Rally for Ritz,” a public event to show support for state superintendent Glenda Ritz.
Superintendent Glenda Ritz appears at a rally on her behalf at the statehouse. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)
The event, organized by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, featured speakers including Senate minority leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) and representatives from various education organizations, including two of the state’s largest teachers’ unions – the ISTA and AFT Indiana.
“Get the politicians out of the way, let you do what you know best, educate our children,” Sen. Lanane told attendees. “People decided who was going to be the superintendent of public instruction – let her do her job, right?”
Supporters of state superintendent Glenda Ritz pack the statehouse in Indianapolis Monday afternoon. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
Superintendent Ritz herself dropped in for an unannounced visit.
“Today’s rally is about students,” Ritz said to an audience of parents and teachers from various corners of the state. “I stand with you!”
Underscoring the event are months of tension between various state education policymakers – including Ritz, Governor Mike Pence, the Department of Education and State Board of Education. Icy relations came to a particularly controversial head last week, when lawmakers decided to shorten the spring ISTEP+ test. Schools may begin administering the first portion of that test next week.