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.
The test demonstrates what American fourth and eighth graders can do in math and reading. The current version of the federal No Child Left Behind law requires NAEP be administered every other year – the last time students took it was in 2013.
(Photo Credit: Alex McCall/WFIU News)
As a whole, the country wasn’t too happy about how U.S. students fared this time around. For the first time in more than 20 years, scores dropped in fourth-grade math, as well as math and reading for eighth graders.
But here in Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence applauded Hoosier students for their performance.
Indiana students scored the same or better than the national average in all four categories. The state maintained its fourth place national ranking for fourth-grade math, and jumped up from 19th place in 2013 to now 11th for eighth-grade math. In reading, the Hoosier state ranked 10th for fourth-grade reading and 16th for eighth-grade reading, up from 15th and 27th, respectively.
“Every Hoosier should be proud that Indiana’s kids and teachers have once again outperformed their peers in this year’s ‘national report card’,” Pence said in a statement. “It is clear that by raising education standards in Indiana, we are setting the bar high for Hoosier students.”
The rankings may look impressive, but Indiana’s actual scores have not changed all that much. NAEP data analysts say the state didn’t see any significant score gains in any of the four categories from the 2013 exam.
On top of that, only half of the state’s students sit at or above proficient in fourth-grade math, 40 percent in fourth-grade reading, 39 percent in eighth-grade math and 37 in eighth-grade reading.
Whether a student took the online or paper/pencil version of the 2015 ISTEP+ test, he or she will need to achieve the same score to “pass” the annual exam.
But students who took the online assessment could get a little extra boost that would help them reach that mark.
Indiana’s State Board of Education approved a recommended cut score for the statewide test during a special meeting Wednesday. The board had planned to vote on this pass/fail point during its meeting earlier this month, but decided instead to wait until test vendor CTB finished its comparison of the online and paper/pencil versions of the 2015 test.
State Board of Education members Gordon Hendry and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz listen during the group’s special meeting Wednesday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
Those experts say the data reviewed confirms that small, but significant differences in difficulty did in fact exist between the two versions.
Derek Briggs served as lead author of the study comparing Indiana’s two test types. In his final recommendations, he wrote that in most cases, the average effect of the differences worked in favor of students taking the paper/pencil test.
Briggs suggested test graders make up that difference by assigning a few bonus points for students who took the online assessment.
Briggs also proposed the board examine the potential consequences of altering those scores on school accountability decisions. He says there’s a case to be made for adjusting A-F grades based on which test format, or “mode,” students took.
“If any schools shift upwards [with additional online points], it would seem wise to give them the benefit of the doubt,” Briggs wrote.
State Board member and secretary Byron Ernest checks his notes during Wednesday’s special meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
He added that adjusting a school’s grade when it would be disadvantaged by taking the online version creates an incentive for more schools to move to the online format in the future.
The board voted to approve the recommended cut scores, but decided they’ll discuss Briggs’ other recommendations at their regular monthly meeting next week, on Nov. 4.
In other words, today’s vote allowed the board to establish the test’s pass/fail border line. Next week’s discussion will focus on this year’s scores, and how they relate to that line.
“That requires a little bit of study,” says state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. “We just got the report yesterday, so we want to give ourselves time to be able to see what the impact of that is.”
Ritz says the state also needs to contact the U.S. Department of Education, to see whether taking the kind of action Briggs recommended regarding accountability is within the realm of possibility under Indiana’s No Child Left Behind waiver.
Wednesday’s vote means test officials will need to wait before beginning work to finalize student scores. This further prolongs the process of releasing ISTEP+ scores to schools – which has already been delayed due to grading issues on CTB’s part.
Ritz says the board will have a better idea of what the timeline looks like for finalizing and releasing student scores after next week’s meeting.
Pence also writes that the state’s A-F accountability system – which is largely based on ISTEP+ scores – should “appropriately capture performance in a way that is fair to our schools and our communities.”
Gov. Mike Pence expressed his concern in a letter to state policymakers Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS)
“When states transition to new academic standards and a new assessment, test scores usually decrease, which occurred in the test scores you will review this week,” Pence wrote. “Given the transition Indiana has undergone this year with our academic standards and assessment, our response should reflect fairness to our students, our teachers and our schools.”
“Our accountability system was created by statute and defined by regulations adopted by the State Board of Education. As such, we are obligated to maintain our accountability system even as we implement the state’s new standards and deliver a new assessment aligned with those standards…We do not support a pause in accountability as it relates to delivering A-F grades to schools, determining intervention strategies in under- performing schools, or teacher evaluations that reflect classroom performance…We are confident that our state can implement the more rigorous standards while also accounting for any temporary impact on testing scores in a way that does not unfairly affect students, teachers and schools.”
It would appear he’s changed his tune, now saying Republicans in the legislature are working on legislation “to ensure that test results will not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses this year.”
Although Pence’s letter doesn’t call for a pause in accountability, he does ask the SBOE to suggest “solutions that preserve accountability and transparency for Indiana’s academic system.”
But this effort comes months after the Indiana Department of Education and SBOE had the same conversation, where it was decided the state would move forward as planned, per the governor’s request.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has repeatedly expressed concern about the state of Indiana’s accountability system for months. Earlier this year, she worked with IDOE staff to draft a list of possible options to ensure fairness in accountability measures and ease the blow to schools that might see a dip in their A-F grades after scores are released. But the rest of the SBOE did not support any of her suggestions.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has long advocated for a pause in accountability measures tied to the 2016 ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
“Superintendent Ritz supports strong accountability as long as it is fair, open and transparent,” IDOE spokeswoman Samantha Hart said in a statement Tuesday. “The Superintendent looks forward to working with Indiana’s leadership to take advantage of federal flexibility for both teacher evaluations and the assignment of A-F accountability grades for the 2014-15 school year.”
At the time this story was published, the governor’s office would not answer calls confirming legislation is being written. Spokespersons for Indianapolis Rep. Bob Behning, a leading Republican on various education committees, say he is not aware of any such measures being drafted.
President Barack Obama announced Saturday that his administration will work to limit the amount of standardized testing in schools – specifically, the president says no child should spend more than two percent of classroom instruction time taking those tests.
He also called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it works to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, the cornerstone federal statute governing all U.S. public elementary and secondary schools.
“I believe that in moderation, smart, strategic tests can help us measure our kids’ progress in school,” Obama said in a video posted to Facebook. “But I also hear from parents who rightly worry about too much testing, and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that.”
If our kids had more free time at school, what would you want them to do with it? A) Learn to play a musical instrument?B) Study a new language?C) Learn how to code HTML?D) Take more standardized tests?Take the quiz, then watch President Obama’s message about smarter ways to measure our kids’ progress in school.
The U.S. Department of Education plans to take action on both the federal and state levels to reduce over-testing. The feds will offer expertise and financial support for states to develop and use “less burdensome” assessments, as well as flexibility from federal mandates and greater support to innovate.
This is quite a shift in rhetoric from USED, which has pushed to increase accountability linked to student assessment over the past seven or eight years. But this week, current education Secretary Arne Duncan admitted to the New York Times‘ Kate Zernike that he thinks it’s time to tone things down:
“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has said he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”
“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”
A study released by the Council of the Great City Schools found that nationwide, students take an average of 8.4 assessments per year in grades 3-5. Researchers say eighth graders spend an average of 25.3 hours during the school year taking exams, and the average pre-K class gives 4.1 standardized tests per year.
Patrick McAlister, Director of Policy for Teach Plus Indianapolis, told Indiana lawmakers earlier this fall that during the 2013-14 school year, third graders in the state’s largest public school district, Indianapolis Public Schools, spend an average of 11.4 hours on state tests and nine hours on district exams.
Testing time has long been a contentious issue among policymakers, teachers, school leaders and parents in Indiana.
Nearly everyone involved in education has their opinion about why Indiana is seeing fewer people enter and remain in the teaching profession – whether that’s barriers to entry, opportunities for advancement, pay or other working conditions. And along with these countless identified issues come countless recommendations for ways to fix them.
With all these suggestions coming from so many angles, it could take more time than most people expect to see some results – and even longer to see sustained change.
The group has begun to identify existing strategies that Ritz says could be implemented in other areas of the state – like one currently in place in the Butler University community, called “tapping.”
It involves asking classroom teachers and other education professionals to identify students or other individuals they think would make good teaching candidates in the future by tapping them on the shoulder and engaging them in a conversation about the profession. Butler has developed a business card to distribute to those individuals, encouraging them to visit the university’s College of Education website to learn more information about potential degree options.
“I think there’s something very powerful about somebody saying to you, ‘I think you would be great at this’” says Angela Lupton, assistant dean of Butler’s College of Education. “Sometimes students don’t even potentially see themselves as teachers unless someone points that out to them.”
This type of strategy has been echoed by many people outside of the Blue Ribbon Commission, as well – along with a laundry list of other likable, doable, popular ideas people have begun to rally around:
Interim Study Committee on Education co-chairs Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn (left), and Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, conferred before their group met to discuss teacher shortage statistics on Monday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
One new suggestion came from the state of Georgia, and it’s what some would call “non-traditional.”
Back in 1999, Georgia was going through its own iteration of a teacher shortage, and then-governor Roy Barnes remedied the problem by introducing an alternative licensing program. The initiative created programs to provide testing and six-week training courses for students who proved themselves in their respective subject areas to learn pedagogy that they didn’t get because they weren’t teaching majors.
According to Ben Scafidi, one of Barnes’ advisors in this endeavor, that strategy has been effective. He says nowadays, almost 20 percent of new teachers in Georgia come through these routes.
“If you’re a smart undergraduate and you have good content knowledge, a high GPA, then you are welcome to teach in Georgia,” says Scafidi, now an economics professor at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University and senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “A lot of students who are smart go to college, [but] they haven’t thought about being a teacher.”
This is not a totally new idea in Indiana. Its something that’s been tossed around during meetings of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz‘s Blue Ribbon Commission. The state employs Teach for America graduates, and career professionals with bachelor degrees can teach in middle or high school classes through the state’s “Transition to Teaching” program.
Indiana also introduced a reconfigured set of teacher licensure standards last year known as REPA III that set standards for hiring content specialists.
But it’s not altogether out of the question, either.
Republican presidential hopefuls have already had two chances to present themselves to the nation via televised debate – and they haven’t yet said much of substance about the future of education.
Earlier this week, it was Democrats’ turn.
Five candidates took to the stage Tuesday night – Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb – a much smaller group than voters have seen from the crowded field of GOP contenders. And some thought that would mean the candidates could address a wider range of issues – including education.
But while Los Angeles Times reporter Joy Resmovits voiced confidence the candidates would likely touch on higher education and preschool efforts, she also predicted viewers wouldn’t hear much about the K-12 realm:
It’s much easier to talk about the need to expand pre-kindergarten – who doesn’t love stumping for adorable 4-year-olds? — than toughening rules around how teachers are hired, evaluated and fired. Clinton in particular has been vocal about the issue.
Another personal issue that speaks to voters without the weird politics of K-12 education is student loan debt and how to alleviate it. College tuition and student debt have increased significantly, posing a gigantic financial problem for many would-be students and their parents. Both Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) have called for a bigger role for federal government in making higher education less of a strain. Clinton released a plan to largely eliminate debt, and Sanders released a plan for the government to make college tuition free for everyone.
And that’s largely how things played out.
Host and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper did ask candidates a question about one of the education-related topics they’ve been talking up most on the campaign trail: college affordability. Here’s a quick summary of their responses, from Education Week‘s Alyson Klein:
[Sanders] talked up his plan to make public colleges free for all students. Sanders said a college degree these days is similar to what a high school degree used to be 50 years ago. That’s why it should be free, he said.
Clinton, the former secretary of state, has said Sanders’ plan would allow billionaire (and Republican presidential candidate) Donald Trump’s kids to get a free pass to college. Clinton touted her own college access prescription, which would call for lowering interest rates for graduates, enticing states to hold down college costs, and calling for more transparency when it comes to college graduation rates.
“The hardest thing about going to college should not be paying for it,” she said.
Clinton also talked about her plan to encourage states to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students known as “dreamers.” O’Malley pointed out that under his leadership as governor, Maryland had passed legislation to do just that.
Other than that, most of the other mentions of school came in passing, or eventually devolved into discussions about social security and immigration.
With help from the wider school community, Indiana education officials are making some headway in identifying potential solutions for the state’s so-called “teacher shortage.”
Members of Indiana’s Blue Ribbon Commission will meet twice more before the 2016 legislative session begins. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz reconvened with members of her 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission Thursday to reflect on discussions from previous meetings and begin the process of turning those ideas into actions.
During a series of gatherings at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, educators, key stakeholders and legislators from around Indiana have studied local and national data with the ultimate goal of developing strategies to recruit and retain excellent teachers throughout the state.
By Thursday, the group identified 10 top possible strategies for responding to the state’s issues for teacher recruitment and retention:
Career options/ladder and leadership opportunities/support for teachers
Streamline, pare down and clarify role of standardized tests
Revise teacher evaluations
Recognize and support teachers’ ongoing learning
Offset costs of preparation programs
Clinical experiences for teacher candidates
Revise professional development
Commission members broke up into groups Thursday to workshop actionable plans around each of these approaches.
Vickie Thomas, master teacher in the School City of Hammond district, participated in a small group that specifically discussed ideas for improving professional development statewide. She says she felt this meeting had more meat than in the past.
“I felt like we got to flesh it out,” Thomas says. “In the past, the meetings have been, ‘Let’s think about it.’ Today, I felt like we kind of bridged that gap. Now we’re going to be able to say it in a way that maybe others will understand that are outside of education.”
“Today felt kind of empowering to me, like I really may be making a difference,” she adds.
Thomas and her colleagues suggested looking into what professional development activities might look like in different districts. Other ideas included expanding on an existing recruitment strategy at Butler University called “tapping,” which identifies students from various subject areas who might also make great teaching candidates.
Superintendent Ritz says she was pleased with the “awesome conversation” and “unique ideas” the group brought forth.
“I think what I loved the most is that people were thinking in a systematic way,” Ritz says. “They really were starting to say, ‘Hey, if we want to keep our teachers and we want to recruit our teachers, what does this system look like?’” Continue Reading →
This could mean a delay in the process of releasing 2015 ISTEP+ scores, and in turn the process of determining 2014-15 school accountability grades.
The issue at hand involves differences in the level of difficulty between the online and paper/pencil versions of the annual test.
IDOE staff says because of the nature of their makeup, there are always differences between the two assessment types, and that’s why they complete a regular, annual study to compare them. That study is ongoing.
Sarah O’Brien currently serves as the State Board’s vice chair, a position created through legislation passed this session to restructure the board. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
Board members, including Superintendent Ritz and Avon elementary teacher Sarah O’Brien, questioned whether that study needed to be completed before the board could go ahead with setting cut scores – the point that determines passing versus failing.
And they decided it should. Based on advice from board staff, IDOE Testing Director Michele Walker and Technical Advisory Committee member Karla Egan, the board decided to table discussion of cut scores until they can see more information.
That could happen as soon as Oct. 28. The board has a special meeting on the books for that day to discuss new high school diploma recommendations. INSBOE spokesman Marc Lotter says if Advisory Committee reviews are completed by that time, board members could vote to establish cut scores during that meeting.
The big question is whether the delay in setting cut scores – even if it’s a delay of only two weeks – will mean schools have to wait even longer to see their students’ ISTEP+ scores.
Board members had previously hoped to get scores to schools by December – a deadline that had already been pushed back from its original date. That happened when test vendor CTB alerted the board in August that they had encountered problems grading technology-enhanced items on this year’s new version of the test.
O’Brien says she’s pleased with the board’s decision to work to get things right the first time around, but she adds that schools are waiting.
“We’ve got to recognize also that we are on a tight timeline,” O’Brien says. “At this point, we’re getting them so delayed that we have students that are not getting fine-tuned adjustments to their education that might be afforded based on the results that we might see. We don’t have room for these kinds of errors along the way.”
Read more specifics about the grant and loan programs here.
On Wednesday the board will decide whether to approve specific recommendations for schools that have applied for grants. They will also decide how much money to set aside for new charters applying for loans during the 2016-17 school year – board staff recommend that amount be set at $10 million.
The ever-evolving statewide ISTEP+ test will also demand much of the board’s attention this month.
The process of releasing 2015 ISTEP+ scores has been delayed following an announcement from outgoing test vendor CTB that graders had encountered technological problems. CTB President Ellen Haley relayed this news in August, informing the board that meant they would not receive individual student scores until October.