Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


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.

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Is It Possible Schools Might Not Get A-F Grades This Year?

State officials are investigating whether or not A-F accountability rules still exist this year.

Indiana’s Department of Education is looking into the issue. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, tells StateImpact that he met with department officials this week and discussed a potential technicality in state law that will make whatever grades are assigned for the 2015-16 school year void.

This is pretty complicated, so stick with us….

The problem allegedly lies in whether or not the State Board of Education correctly followed the letter of the law in its rulemaking process for A-F between April 2013 and now. Some sources claim that if they did not, it means Indiana could potentially operate for a full school year without an A-F standard in place.

Even if this is true, it’s likely the grades assigned for the 2014-15 school year would hold true, and the state would still be able to pick up with a new, recently-approved A-F system in the 2016-17 school year.

This came about after Kenley met with IDOE staff this week to go over the timeline for administering performance pay for teachers, now that there is a delay in getting ISTEP+ scores. It was during that meeting, Kenley says, that the IDOE first brought up the concern that something might be off with the A-F law.

“[We're looking] to see whether the rule is valid or invalid and I don’t have any idea what the status of that is, it was just brought up as a discussion point,” Kenley says.

After this meeting Kenley took the issue to Legislative Services Agency and is waiting to hear back.

Department of Education spokesperson Daniel Altman did not acknowledge his department brought up the potential problem with the law, and says the IDOE is looking at the law in preparation for calculating the A-F grades for this year like any other year.

“Through those preparations we’re doing our due diligence making sure we have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed,” Altman says.

Altman says the Attorney General’s office has been contacted, although he would not specify for exactly what purpose.

It will likely fall to the Attorney General’s office to provide an opinion on whether a critical misstep was in fact made.

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Two Indiana Stops Planned For Department of Education Bus Tour

As kids all over the country head back to school, the U.S. Department of Education wants to come along for the ride.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted this picture of the USDOE's back-to-school tour bus last year, when he took over the official White House Instagram account. (Photo Credit: The White House/Instagram)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted this picture of the USDOE’s back-to-school tour bus last year. (Photo Credit: The White House/Instagram)

Federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior Department officials launch their sixth annual back-to-school bus tour the week of September 14. The team plans to make an eleven-stop, seven-state tour across the Midwest – and the route will include two stops in Indiana.

The bus will dock at Purdue University in West Lafayette, followed by a stop at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Exact dates and times will be announced through email updates and the department’s social media accounts.

The tour begins in Kansas City, Missouri.

This year’s theme is “Ready for Success,” which will bring attention to how states and local communities are working to increase access and opportunity from early learning through to the college level. Along the route, Duncan and his colleagues will host events “highlighting the progress and achievements of educators, students, families and leaders in expanding opportunity for students throughout the nation.”

The USDOE recently granted Indiana a three-year extension for the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, as well as more than $300,000 to help cover the cost of AP tests for the state’s low-income students.

Department Of Education Considers Legal Action Over ISTEP+ Delays

Updated 11:26 a.m.:

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman says he cannot confirm that the department is pursuing any type of legal action against testing company CTB, but says the department is “looking at and assessing what our options are under the contract” with CTB.

Altman adds that the IDOE’s legal team will likely take a look at (among other things) a part of the contract about liquidated damages.

Remember, the state is still waiting to receive scores from the 2014 test – so taking much further action would be speculative at this point.

A public information officer for the Indiana Attorney General’s office says it’s routine for state agencies to pursue legal action or suit against vendors who don’t hold up their end of a contract, although their office had not heard that the IDOE was planning to do anything.

Original story (from Network Indiana): 

Indiana students take a number of tests that are either summative or formative in nature. (Photo Credit: David Hartman/Flickr)

Indiana students take a number of tests that are either summative or formative in nature. (Photo Credit: David Hartman/Flickr)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s office might pursue a fine for the maker of the ISTEP+ over its latest problem in grading the exam, though it isn’t yet clear whether the state has any recourse.

Executives from CTB (the former CTB/McGraw-Hill) announced at last month’s State Board of Education meeting that they would re-grade some ISTEP+ tests administered last school year to correct what were initially marked as incorrect answers on some open-ended questions.

The delay means ISTEP scores will likely not be available until December according to the company, which could push the distribution of A-to-F grades for the 2014-15 school year as late as February 2016.

“Once you have ISTEP grades, there is a lot more process to go through,” said Daniel Altman, spokesman for the Department of Education. “It pushes the calendar back for ISTEP+ grades and other information schools are looking for.”

In 2013, when ISTEP was plagued with problems during the administration of the exam that mostly had to do with computer servers not being able to handle the online testing load, CTB had to repay $3 million to the state for the delays, only a small portion of its $95 million, four-year contract. This spring’s ISTEP was the last one to be given by CTB before the expiration of the contract, so it isn’t clear whether the state can assess another fine for the delayed scores.

“That’s something we are taking a look at. We are having our legal staff take a look at the contract to see what options are available to the state,” Altman said.

CTB would likely fight any attempt to recoup money they have already been paid for ISTEP+. At the State Board meeting last month, company president Ellen Haley essentially blamed the grading problems on the state’s new education standards and the creation of a new ISTEP to adhere to those standards. The quick change caused ISTEP+ to be longer in length since test questions could not be tried out in practice exams and weeded out before the actual ISTEP took place. Haley also says the company didn’t have a chance to test their new grading guidelines, which she says did not foresee the way some students answered technology-based questions.

What Do Indianapolis Mayoral Candidates Plan For Local Schools?

Joe Hogsett is the Democratic candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/WTIU News)

Joe Hogsett is the Democratic candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/WTIU News)

As Indiana’s capital city and home to the state’s largest public school district, Indianapolis is a hotbed for education policy.

That’s why we care about this year’s Indianapolis mayoral election, among others. Since current mayor Greg Ballard is not running for a third term, who is running and what he or she plans to do with the city’s schools matters on both the local and statewide levels.

Late last week, Democrat and former U.S. attorney Joe Hogsett made headlines when he announced a five-point plan for education, which he says is the key to solving violence and crime throughout the city.

Hogsett’s plan is anchored in the following ideas:

  • Expanding high quality pre-k
  • Offering discounted housing for teachers
  • An “Indianapolis Mayors’ Scholars Initiative” to eliminate barriers to high school graduation
  • Smarter school discipline
  • Excellence in charter schools

WFYI’s Ryan Delaney attended Hogsett’s press conference Friday – here’s how he explains the basics of Hogsett’s platform:

He wants to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities and address the high childhood poverty rate. He also would like give younger teachers the chance to buy city-owned homes at a discount, as a way to attract talented educators.

“I think it’s time that we start being creative in terms of incentivizing teachers,” he said.

The program has been tried before — mostly around police officers and firefighters — to limited success.

Hogsett’s ideas also include a high school completion and college scholarship program.

“The greatest barrier to educational progress in recent years can be found outside the classroom, in parts of our community where students don’t even see college, don’t even think of college as a possibility,” he said.

Hogsett would like to replicate a program in Columbus, Indiana that increases tutoring in high schools and offers scholarships to eligible students to state colleges, centered around public-private partnerships.

As far as how Hogsett plans to pay for these initiatives, Hogsett For Mayor spokesman Thomas Cook says the vast majority of this plan will require zero additional tax dollars.

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Is There Actually A “Teacher Shortage” Or Not?

The so-called “teacher shortage” is making daily headlines across the entire country. Educators, policymakers and journalists have been debating the merits of various data to find out where the most teachers are needed and arguing potential solutions – but few have examined the premise of whether or not an actual shortage exists. Our friend Shaina Cavazos of Chalkbeat Indiana digs into the data and really looks at what is making this such an issue for Indiana schools. She finds the picture may not be as dire as some are painting it, and that the problem isn’t the number of certified teachers but a mismatch between them and available jobs.

Superintendent Tom Hunter grew worried this summer when he realized that fewer people were applying to become teachers in his rural district, Greensburg. In one extreme instance, a high school teaching position that he said would have drawn 100 applications a few years ago yielded just three.

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Generally Positive Feedback For Big Changes At IPS

The Indianapolis Public Schools board meets last summer. The board has since added a new member – one of several big changes the group agreed to Thursday night. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

The Indianapolis Public Schools board meets last summer. The board has since added a new member – one of several big changes the group agreed to Thursday night. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Some would argue that Thursday was a historic day for the Indianapolis Public Schools district.

As was reported on our site, the IPS School Board approved a teacher pay increase of 12.1 percent – making base pay there one of the highest in Marion County. This is the first raise IPS teachers have seen in five years.

In addition, the board also voted in a new member among their ranks – Eli Lilly and Company executive and former Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Michael O’Connor – in addition to giving the go-ahead for a new strategic plan focusing on autonomy.

RTV6‘s Anne Kelly breaks it down:

It’s a three-year plan that will would alter the way IPS operates. It lays out 22 goals for the district, including giving schools more autonomy to decide where their money goes and hiring a more diverse staff (that better mirrors the student population).

The plan also calls for a major improvement in the district’s high school, with IPS aiming for a 20-percent increase in kids taking Advanced-Placement (AP) classes and a 25-percent increase in students who graduate with honors.

Reaction to all of the above was generally positive from the various stakeholders:

Scott Elliott at Chalkbeat Indiana described the mood of the meeting as “jubilant,” quoting participants who saw the moves as “a potential turning point for the city’s schools:”

“When we heard what we were going to be able to do, I got chills,” board member Mary Ann Sullivan said. “We are breaking through so we can really be competitive.”

State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, who represents the Seventh Congressional District in Indianapolis, said he was particularly excited about the pay increase.

“I want to commend Dr. Ferebee, the IPS Board of Commissioners and the Indianapolis Education Association for negotiating the first raise for our teachers in five years, increasing the starting salary for new teachers and adjusting the scale to help retain mid-career teachers who are likeliest to leave,” Hendry said in a statement. “I’m encouraged that agreements like this one send the message that we must value teachers to keep them in our classrooms.”

Hendry is currently working on a proposal he’s put forth to address concerns about pay in attracting the state’s top students into the teaching profession. He is one of many who have argued that the financial return on a teaching degree is one of the biggest contributing factors to the current teacher shortage in Indiana, as well as nationwide.

This was atop the minds of many, including one concerned and cautiously optimistic parent who spoke with Kris Turner from the Indianapolis Star:

Eugenia Murry, a parent at George H. Fisher Elementary School, said the district made some strides in helping attract quality teachers, but more needs to be done.

“The most important factor in improving our children’s education in the classroom is quality teaching,” said Murry, a member of Stand for Children Indiana, an education advocacy group.

“There were some attempts to help make that happen in the IPS plan, but we think this area needs more work. The district is in the midst of a teacher shortage and needs to take big steps to address that.”

IPS will host a launch event for its new strategic plan Saturday at the Brightwood Community Connector.

Time To Weigh In: Are Backpack Policies Safe Or Silly?

More and more schools statewide are instituting “no backpack” policies in schools, asking students to instead rely on lockers to store their books and supplies, and reactions are mixed.

Richmond Community Schools Superintendent Todd Terrill announced a new plan on Friday that would still allow students at Richmond High School to bring backpacks to school, but would bar them from carrying them in the halls and into classrooms. He explained to FOX59 that it’s a security step meant to help students, not hurt them:

Terrill said the move will help prevent students from carrying weapons into the classroom and enhance overall safety procedures in case of evacuations or other emergencies.

“It’s not going to keep everything out of our buildings,” he said. “And we don’t expect it to. But it’s just one more thing we can do to be more proactive.”

Richmond Community Schools is the latest district to implement a "no backpack" policy at its high school. (Photo Credit: KPBS Online/Flickr)

Richmond Community Schools is the latest district to implement a “no backpack” policy at its high school. (Photo Credit: KPBS Online/Flickr)

Terrill has a background as a school safety specialist. He has said he’s implemented similar guidelines in other districts he’s worked, including Muncie. Similar policies have also been in place at other schools in the Richmond district, as well as in the nearby Indianapolis Public Schools district.

Earlier this week, a group of Richmond High students made headlines when they spent part of the school day protesting the new rule.

Other students and some community members on both sides of the issue took to social media to express their opinions:

Richmond High School parent Lori Henderson told RTV6 she doesn’t take issue with the idea:

“I do like it. I think it’s a positive thing. I like that they caer about the safety of my kids. I don’t think it’s a problem [...] it eliminates them being able to carry some contraband it. I do think it’s a great safety.”

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New College Admissions Trends? Indiana Says Not So Fast

As time and technology progress, admissions policies and practices at both public and private universities are evolving to keep up with the trends.

But in general, it seems like Indiana shies away – or at least takes its time – before entering that kind of new territory.

Fewer schools rely as heavily as they did in the past on standardized test scores, namely the SAT and ACT, and some schools aren’t requiring it at all. The news that George Washington University in D.C. joined that growing group earlier this summer made national headlines.

More than 800 accredited colleges and universities nationwide do not require students to submit standardized test scores to be considered for admission. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

More than 800 accredited colleges and universities nationwide do not require students to submit standardized test scores to be considered for admission. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

The same is true at more than 800 accredited, bachelor-degree granting schools out of nearly 3,000 total in the United States.

“The test-optional surge recognizes that no test…is needed for high-quality admissions,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, following the GWU announcement in July. The mission of FairTest, as its called, is to “end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing.” The group has spoken out against testing practices in Indiana and around the country.

“Many independent studies and practical experiences have shown that test-optional admission enhances both academic excellence and diversity,” Schaeffer added in his statement.

It seems this trend is not really taking hold in Indiana. All but five Hoosier colleges and universities require either a student’s ACT or SAT test score to be considered for admission as a freshman right out of high school, according to data compiled by the state.

Only Ancilla College, Vincennes University and WGU Indiana do not ask for scores as part of the application package. Submitting scores is optional at Earlham College in Richmond, as well as at Ivy Tech Community College campuses, which accept SAT or ACT scores in lieu of high school GPA, Accuplacer scores or previous college credits to determine students’ placement in appropriate classes.

Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers says she’s not surprised to see only a few schools opting out of SAT and ACT score requirements. In fact, she says if anything she’s seen a slight uptick in the number of students taking the tests.

“We’ve seen more students taking both the SAT and ACT, because some students think they do better with one test or the other,” Lubbers explains.

In response to the argument that using scores from a one-day test is not the best indicator of student success in college, Lubbers says people need not worry.

“With very rare exceptions, schools don’t use just the one-day test [to make admissions decisions],” Lubbers says. “They use GPA, they use courses in high school, they use a full range of factors, of which a test like SAT or ACT would be one of those.”

At the same time, many schools are increasingly looking at less traditional indicators of personality and ability – like student profiles on social media networks – to help make admissions decisions.

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Five Schools To Focus On Language Immersion With State Grants

Students in five Indiana school districts will have an increased focus on languages thanks to a new pilot program soon to be underway.

Along with the 25 other school-related laws approved during this year’s “education session,”  the Indiana General Assembly approved a Dual Language Immersion Pilot Program. The state Department of Education announced Thursday the five schools that will take part this school year, the program’s first:

  • Eisenhower Elementary (Warsaw Community Schools): $100,000 for a new Spanish program
  • Pleasant Run Elementary (MSD Warren Township): $99,988 for its Spanish program
  • Batesville Primary School (Batesville Community School Corporation): $87,017 for its Mandarin program
  • Parkview Elementary (Valparaiso Community Schools): $82,817 for its Spanish program
  • Poston Road Elementary (MSD Martinsville Schools): $52,710 for its Spanish program

The pilot provides schools grant money to either establish or expand existing dual language immersion programs, beginning in Kindergarten or first grade, in Mandarin, Spanish, French or any other approved language. The legislature set aside $500,000 to cover each year over the two-year span of the project.

Five Indiana schools will receive state grant money to begin or expand their own dual language immersion programs beginning in the 2015-16 school year. (Photo Credit: Nathan Moorby/Flickr)

Five Indiana schools will receive state grant money to begin or expand their own dual language immersion programs beginning in the 2015-16 school year. (Photo Credit: Nathan Moorby/Flickr)

Funds are to be used for salaries, stipends, training, professional development, teacher recruitment costs, and acquisition of instructional materials.

In order to participate, schools must provide 50 percent of program instruction in English and the other 50 percent in a second language.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz says she’s eager to get the venture up and running.

“Programs like this offer students the opportunity to learn in an environment few Hoosiers get to experience,” Ritz said in a statement. “[These] grant recipients have created innovative and sustainable plans to broaden the horizons of their students and I look forward to working with them on these important programs moving forward.”

Warsaw Community Schools received the maximum amount available to a single school to begin the district’s first immersion program. Superintendent David Hoffert shared his excitement with the Ink Free News:

“The immersion program will fit very well into our local community due to our strong global industry. This academic offering will provide parents and students another choice in the robust curriculum offered in the WCS curriculum.”

This pilot is the first of two initiatives that will increase focus on dual language learning across the state. Senate Enrolled Act 267 also called for the IDOE and State Board of Education to establish a state certificate of biliteracy. Staff for both groups began work on that project following the board’s June meeting.

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Searching for Solutions to Indiana’s Teacher Shortage Problem

By now, you’ve likely heard this headline: Indiana – like many other states all over the country – is facing a teacher shortage.

As we’ve reported, the number of first-year educators granted a Hoosier State license dropped pretty dramatically last year. Across the nation, fewer people are becoming teachers than in past years, too. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the U.S. fell by about 30 percent between 2010 and 2014.

For the most part, people agree this drop could represent a troubling trend. Where they tend to disagree is in what’s causing it, and what the appropriate response should be.

Everyone, even the national media, has an opinion. Long story short: officials mulling over what to do about Indiana’s situation usually lie in one of two camps.

Camp No. 1: Provide Incentive

On one side, there are those who see the shortage as a problem that can be addressed most effectively on the front end, when teachers first enter school as students. They see it as a matter of what teaching trainees pay for their education versus the return on that investment once they get a job.

Gordon Hendry listens during a State Board of Education meeting earlier this spring. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Gordon Hendry listens during a State Board of Education meeting earlier this spring. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry sits on this side of the issue. He says he thinks he has a solution that will get more of the state’s best and brightest into Hoosier classrooms: do something about their low salaries.

“There’s been a substantial rise in the cost of getting a higher education in our state. When you weigh that against the teacher salaries, I think the formula is a little out of whack,” Hendry says.

Hendry’s Next Generation Hoosier Educator Scholarship program would afford top Indiana high school students the opportunity to earn a full ride to any accredited in-state school of education.

The catch? Afterward, they’d have to spend at least four years teaching in an Indiana classroom. Hendry calls it “four years for four years,” and says he thinks it’s a fair tradeoff.

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