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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On My Way Pre-K Progress Reports & Preparations

It’s been a few months since the “soft launch” of Indiana’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program, and already leaders are preparing for the next step.

Seventy-one providers in the four participating counties are currently serving a cohort of 415 children. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Seventy-one providers in the four participating counties are currently serving a cohort of 415 children. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Seventy-one providers are currently serving 415 children from 404 families in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties.

The state’s Family and Social Services Administration is currently accepting applications for the fall, when pilot efforts will be in full force in all five participating counties – including Jackson County, the token “rural” participant.

FSSA spokeswoman Marni Lemons says her department hopes to be able to support between 1,600 to 2,000 low-income preschoolers come September. She adds that the number of qualified high-quality pre-k providers (recognized as a Level 3 or 4 provider on the state’s Paths to QUALITY ranking system) is constantly increasing.

“This has really inspired a lot of the providers out there to become appropriately certified,” Lemons says. “That allows not only for improved quality for the families who qualify for On My Way Pre-K, but for all kids who participate in preschool programs. It spills over and creates opportunity for them as well.”

“We’re really pleased with the partnership of the counties and the work that’s being done out there,” Lemons adds.


Credit: Family & Social Services Administration

Let’s check in with area leaders and see what they’ve been doing to support existing efforts and get ready for the fall cohort…

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Here’s How The State Selects A New ISTEP+ Vendor

Indiana education leaders are looking to enter into a new contract for the ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: thinkpanama/Flickr)

Indiana education leaders are looking to enter into a new contract for the ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: thinkpanama/Flickr)

As you probably know by now, Indiana is looking for a new vendor to produce the ISTEP+ test through spring 2017 – and they have a lot to consider as they do so.

We reported earlier this week that the state released a set of recommended providers for a variety of statewide K-12 tests, including the ISTEP+ as well as the IREAD-3 and End of Course Assessments.

But here at StateImpact, we don’t just serve up the meal – we want to show you how it’s made. So let’s take a closer look at how the process to pick those vendors works.

What is an RFP?

Indiana’s purchasing procedures are primarily based on the estimated cost a state agency is willing to pay for a product or service. Contracts, or “awards,” are generally made to the lowest priced bidder meeting the agency’s requested specifications.

The Department of Administration – who assists in the selection process – uses different methods to seek vendors, usually based on the estimated cost. In the case of the statewide assessment, this process is called an “RFP,” or “request for proposal.” This method is used for projects with a projected cost over $75,000 in which factors other than the price tag also play a significant role. This is important in purchasing an assessment, because the state doesn’t just want the cheapest test, they want a quality test as well.

Using an RFP gives state agencies more control over the selection process, since they determine all specifications bidders must meet. It allows for more negotiation as well – rather than just the best rate, agencies are looking for the best value.

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How Much Will Next Year’s ISTEP+ Cost?

Thursday marks the end of the testing window for part one of Indiana’s statewide test – but the focus at the State Board of Education meeting that same day looked even further into the future of ISTEP+.

Quick reminder: the contract with current test vendor CTB-McGraw Hill expires at the end of this school year – and it’s been a relationship riddled with controversy.

In addition, the state is still in the process of transitioning the ISTEP+ test into an era of new academic standards. The assessment Hoosier students are currently taking is the first to test the Indiana Academic Standards, and education leaders hope to further refine that test in the 2015-16 school year and beyond.

Earlier this week, the Indiana Department of Administration selected vendors to administer parts of the ISTEP+ through spring 2017. They estimate the total cost for those contracts at $38 million.

This number concerns some state board members, including state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who expressed shock upon receiving the IDOA’s information Wednesday.

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Statewide Assessment Decisions To Test State Board Thursday

Indiana’s State Board of Education meets Thursday – the same day the testing window closes for Part One of this year’s ISTEP+ assessment.

Testing will likely be a major talking point throughout the day. The Department of Education plans to request the board extend the window for Part Two to give schools more flexibility in administering the test.

State Board members Cari Whicker, left, and Brad Oliver listen during a meeting. (Photo Credit: Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

State Board members Cari Whicker, left, and Brad Oliver listen during a meeting. (Photo Credit: Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

You’ll remember there was quite a bit of hubbub in the weeks leading up to the test this winter. Concern from school leaders and parents over the length of the new exam led Governor Mike Pence to hire outside consultants to help the SBOE take steps to make cuts for time. The Indiana General Assembly approved those changes just days before students could start testing.

The board will also discuss the future of the ISTEP+. The IDOE announced Wednesday that the state’s Department of Administration had selected vendors to administer parts of the test through spring 2017.

Here’s a quick look at what else is on the docket:

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Unpacking What “College And Career Ready” Really Means

Think about what it might mean to “get ready.”

When you prepare to leave the house in the morning, you might take a shower or pour yourself a cup of coffee. If you’re gearing up for a job interview, you might dry clean your suit or update your resume.

What you do depends on which situation you’re preparing for – which is part of the issue with the phrase “college and career ready.”

It’s one of the most common expressions in modern-day education lexicon. Most states – including Indiana – boast “college and career ready” academic standards, and emphasize preparation for both pathways as the end goal of a student’s K-12 education.

But what does the term mean, exactly? How a student “gets ready” for college could be very different from how they prepare to go directly into the workforce – is it possible to be ready for both at the end of one’s K-12 experience, or are those objectives at odds with one another?

A Vocabulary Lesson

To better understand the phrase, let’s break it down – or rather, let’s see how state and national education leaders define it:

CCR Definition

Among the fifty states’ definitions, the College & Career Readiness & Success Center at the American Institutes for Research finds the following common components:

  • Academic knowledge
  • Critical thinking and/or problem solving
  • Social and emotional learning, collaboration, and/or communication
  • Grit/resilience/perseverance
  • Citizenship and/or community involvement

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President Obama Signs Student Aid Bill of Rights

President Obama Tuesday signed what he called the “Student Aid Bill of Rights,” to help college students manage the process of dealing with student loans. The executive action directs federal agencies to take steps to help borrowers pay back their loans quicker, protect themselves, and get assistance when needed.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst 1 of 5. U.S. President Barack Obama signs a presidential memorandum, a Student Aid Bill of Rights to Help Ensure Affordable Loan Repayment, in the Oval Office in Washington, March 10, 2015.

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Deadline Approaches To Apply For State, Federal Financial Aid

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.

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How Can Indiana Improve the ISTEP+ Next Year?

Students across Indiana are in the middle of taking the spring ISTEP+ – a shorter test than was expected, thanks to quick action from state officials, guided by two national consultants.

Two national consultants recommend a series of quick steps to improve next year's ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Kate Parker/Flickr)

Two national consultants recommend a series of quick steps to improve next year’s ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Kate Parker/Flickr)

Gov. Mike Pence released Edward Roeber and Bill Auty’s full review of the test Monday. The two men compiled their report within a matter of days after the governor hired them to aid in trimming the test last month. The document contains recommendations for immediate implementation in this spring’s test, as well as ideas for the state moving forward.

“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…

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Read The Report Lawmakers Used To Shrink The Spring ISTEP+

Following the scramble to shrink this year’s ISTEP+, Gov. Mike Pence Monday released the full report state leaders used to help them take action on the test.

National consultants Edward Roeber and Bill Auty assembled the brief last month, after Pence hired them to advise state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, the Indiana Department of Education, State Board of Education and members of the General Assembly.

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.

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 these nationally-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.

Remember, the current test marks step one in a transition for Indiana – after pulling out of Common Core State Standards and the associated national testing consortium, language in Indiana’s No Child Left Behind waiver required the state to provide a state test matching state standards.

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.

National: Congress Postpones Vote To Rework No Child Left Behind

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.

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