Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Counseling Conference Encourages College Alternatives

The Indiana Youth Institute is working with counselors on promoting all options after high school. 

The Indiana Youth Institute is working with counselors on promoting all options after high school. (photo credit: Claire McInerny / StateImpact Indiana)

The Indiana Youth Institute wants to help school counselors focus more on non-traditional postsecondary routes – essentially, options beyond a four-year college. That’s one of the goals of the Institute’s counseling conference being held this week.

Indiana Youth Institute Program Director Kate Coffman says universities don’t need much help pitching the traditional four-year route…and that’s why she says the Institute wants to help counselors promote alternatives, such as apprenticeships, the military, and industry certifications.

“So if you find a student who is kind of that hands on, enjoys building things, then getting them connected to classes that are taught at their career and technical education center, or classes that might be in their high school that involve STEM or robotics,” Coffman says.

A 2014 Indiana Chamber of Commerce study says 90 percent of counselors report spending less than half their time on college and career readiness activities. But Coffman says simply adding more counselors is expensive and, frankly, not realistic.

“We can help counselors work smarter,” she says, “and bring in teachers and things who are seeing every kid in the high school and maybe use staff in a way that they’re taking some of those administrative duties off the counselors.”

Indiana’s student to counselor ratio is 541 to one, the ninth-highest in the country.

The Indiana Youth Institute wants to help school counselors focus more on non-traditional postsecondary routes – essentially, options beyond a four-year college. That’s one of the goals of the Institute’s counseling conference being held this week.

Indiana Youth Institute Program Director Kate Coffman says universities don’t need much help pitching the traditional four-year route…and that’s why she says the Institute wants to help counselors promote alternatives, such as apprenticeships, the military, and industry certifications.

“So if you find a student who is kind of that hands on, enjoys building things, then getting them connected to classes that are taught at their career and technical education center, or classes that might be in their high school that involve STEM or robotics,” Coffman says.

A 2014 Indiana Chamber of Commerce study says 90 percent of counselors report spending less than half their time on college and career readiness activities. But Coffman says simply adding more counselors is expensive and, frankly, not realistic.

“We can help counselors work smarter,” she says, “and bring in teachers and things who are seeing every kid in the high school and maybe use staff in a way that they’re taking some of those administrative duties off the counselors.”

Indiana’s student to counselor ratio is 541 to one, the ninth-highest in the country.

Gary School District Outlines Plan To Improve Finances

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary (Photo Credit: Indiana Senate Democrats official website)

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary (Photo Credit: Indiana Senate Democrats official website)

Over the last few years the Gary Community School Corporation has faced a loss of state funds and declining enrollment, leading the district to make some tough financial choices when it comes to their schools.

One of the more dramatic instances of this over the last few months was when the State Board of Education voted to close Dunbar-Pulaski middle school, one of the district’s chronically failing schools. This was the first time the SBOE closed a failing school without attempting any turnaround efforts first.

The reasoning behind that decision was because the district couldn’t afford to keep the school open during a turnaround period.

In a guest column in the Northwest Indiana Times, state senator Earline Rogers outlines a new plan the district is taking to address the current financial situation in the district:

The amendment to the state budget I proposed creates a coalition of individuals and groups at both the state and local level. They include financial specialists, local leaders and the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board, the same entity that assisted with Gary’s finances in the past. They will be charged with crafting a plan of action where local officials, School Board members, a financial adviser and the DUAB work together to create the recovery plan for the district.

The first step is a public hearing where there will be a presentation on the district’s current financial status. From there, the DUAB will present the School Board with three suggested financial advisers from which they may choose. If the School Board chooses one of those financial advisers, that person will assist the board with financial and debt management over the course of the next year.

Delay or suspension of payments to the common school fund or interest free loans are recommendations the DUAB can make to the State Board of Finance on behalf of the school corporation. If the School Board does not make a choice from the individuals recommended by the DUAB, it may withdraw from the process altogether.

Rogers also writes that while this plan is specifically designed for the Gary Community Schools, the problem isn’t unique to their community and could be used in any area of the state facing a lack of funds for their schools.

Purdue Hopes To Open STEM-Focused Charter in Downtown Indy

Gov. Mitch Daniels, soon to be Purdue's 12th president.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, soon to be Purdue’s 12th president. (photo credit: Steven Yang/Purdue University)

Purdue University plans to open a charter high school in downtown Indianapolis that will focus on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields with the hope of opening in the fall of 2017.

It’s a concept, Purdue President Mitch Daniels said, that could eventually spread across the state because public schools are not graduating enough black and other minority students who are qualified to even attend the Big 10 university.

“We are tied of waiting for the current system to produce enough low-income, first generation, minority students,” he said at Purdue’s Indianapolis office. “We are hardly alone. Every major university is facing this difficulty but we decided we wanted to take some direct action on that.”

The Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School will use project based learning and partner with local businesses to provide internships and experiential learning opportunities. The Purdue Polytechnic Institute, formerly the College of Technology, will oversee the high school. Areas of academic concentration are expected to include robotics, manufacturing and cybersecurity. In 11th grade students will select a specific pathway to master skills. Internships will be required during the senior year.

“The teaching is cohort based. It is very hands-on and integrated,” said Gary Bertoline, dean of the Polytechnic Institute. “So when students learn some of the core topics, like a math or English, it is actually put in with the technology course so they are learning in context.”

Graduates of the school can directly enroll in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute or can focus on a industry credentials for a career path. Continue Reading

Teachers Will Soon Get A Lesson On LGBTQ Issues From Students

Issac, 16, identifies as a transgender male and attends Owen Valley High School in Spencer. He is part of Prism Youth Community, which is creating a training program for teachers to better interact with LGBTQ students.

Issac, 16, identifies as a transgender male and attends Owen Valley High School in Spencer. He is part of Prism Youth Community, which is creating a training program for teachers to better interact with LGBTQ students. (photo credit: Casey Kuhn / WTIU News)

The emotions of a teenager are not simple to understand. As they move away from childhood and morph into an adult, the confusion invades many aspects of their lives, including their classrooms. For students recognizing their sexual orientation or gender identity, this confusion is intensified. As the students struggle to embrace this part of their life, teachers also struggle to understand the challenges LGBTQ students face.

The Prism Youth Community, a group for LGBTQ youth from seven counties in south-central Indiana, recently received a grant to close that gap by creating a training program for teachers throughout the state, with the hope it will improve the school life for LGBTQ students.

“You Don’t Look Like An Issac”

About a year ago, then-15-year-old Issac decided to join the track team at Owen Valley High School in Spencer. There was only one problem – he didn’t know whether he should join the boys’ or the girls’ team.

“I went to the doctor because you have to get a physical before you can join any sports team and at that physical I asked my nurse practitioner what gender dysphoria was and if she could send me any resources,” Issac says.

The information the nurse gave him catapulted Issac into the realization he identifies as a transgender male. Soon after, he began his transition from female to male.

“I was originally going to join the girls’ track team but after reading those I decided I’m going to come out,” he says. “After that I decided not to join the boys’ track team because it was too much.” 

We’re not using Issac’s last name because other transgender teenagers have been bullied on social media when they’ve spoken out.

In addition to figuring out the right sports team to join, Issac faces a lack of knowledge from teachers and other school staff that make it difficult for him to feel comfortable at school as he moves through his transition. For example, the school won’t change his name on the official roster.

“So I have to re-introduce myself to new teachers and be like, ‘No, my name’s Issac — not my birth name,’ and they say, ‘Well, you don’t look like an Issac,’” he says. Continue Reading

Indiana Voucher Program Cost State $40 Million Last Year

Indiana's voucher system that allows low-income kids to use state funds to attend private schools has put the state in a $40 million deficit.

Indiana’s voucher system that allows low-income kids to use state funds to attend private schools has put the state in a $40 million deficit. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana’s voucher program is costing the state $40 million for the 2014-2015 school year, according to an updated report released Tuesday by the Department of Education. That’s up from $15 million the year before.

The school choice program, started in 2011, left the state with a surplus of around $4 million each year for the first two years, because not as many families were enrolling in the program to use available money. In the years since, the state increased the number of available scholarships, resulting in more money being put into the scholarship program.

As you can see, the number of students using state funds to attend a private school, including religious institutions, has grown dramatically since the first year the money was available, making it the fastest growing voucher program in the country:

2011-12: 3,911 students
2012-13: 9,139 students
2013-14: 19,809 students
2014-15: 29,148 students

Under a state law regarding the scholarship program, if there is money leftover from program (meaning not as many students used the available funds), that money is given back to the public and charter schools, but schools haven’t received any of that excess money since the 2012-2013 school year.

Once Common, Graduation Waivers Now A Last Resort At IPS

Indianapolis Public Schools students at a commencement ceremony on June 9, 2015. (Photo Credit: Indianapolis Public Schools)

Indianapolis Public Schools students at a commencement ceremony on June 9, 2015. (Photo Credit: Indianapolis Public Schools)

Three years ago Nacala Koulou passed the required Algebra I end of course exam but since 10th grade, she struggled to pass the equivalent English exam to earn a high school diploma.

Without passing that test Koulou, who has a two-month-old daughter, had few options: be denied a high school diploma or hit the books.

Unlike the 1,000 or so Indianapolis Public School students in past years who got waivers from passing the tests – that option wasn’t likely.

In 2011 more than a quarter of Indianapolis Public School graduates were granted a waiver – a credential that likely blocks a student from attending most four-year colleges, such as Purdue and Indiana universities, and limits the amount of student aid available for higher education.

But area school districts are now focusing more-than-ever to ensure most students pass these basic exams. So far, for IPS, the efforts are working.

In 2014 only 6.9 percent of IPS students graduated with waivers – a rate slightly better than the state’s average of 7.4 percent. District leaders hope to chop that amount in half for Koulou’s Class of 2015

“I passed my ECA math but my English I didn’t because I fall asleep when I do computer tests,” said Koulou, an Arsenal Tech senior, last week. “I have to focus on the main points of the story. You read and you forget. You have to remember what you read.”

Continue Reading

Career Council Meets To Discuss Core 40 Requirements

The amount of classes Indiana high schoolers must take to graduate could be changing as the state explores more rigorous requirements to earn a diploma.

The Indiana Career Council met Monday to discuss proposed changes to the default diploma option, known as Core 40.

As we reported last week, there are four types of diplomas for Hoosier high schoolers:

  • the general diploma (the most basic)
  • the Core 40
  • Academic Honors
  • Technical Honors

The proposed changes would offer three, combining the two honors diplomas.

The new default, referred to as the College and Career Ready Diploma, would require at least 44 credits, up from 40.  Students would be required to take more math, science, and social studies classes and two new classes will become mandatory – a career prep class and a financial literacy course.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz says a major focus will be new college and career readiness sequences – pathways students can follow in a variety of areas, including career and technical education and fine arts.

“Making sure that we really have good, robust plans going forward for students and they really can map out where it is that they think they’re going to be headed,” Ritz explains,

Ritz says the proposed changes should be finalized by December and presented to the General Assembly, which would have to adopt them into law.

The changes wouldn’t take effect until the 2018-2019 school year.

Monroe County Students Will Not Take Acuity Test Next Year

The number of standardized tests a student takes each year has grown larger across the country – and so has distaste for the practice.

But one southern Indiana school district is ready to whittle down their testing schedule.

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)

Among the various tests Hoosier students take each year, some are “summative” – to capture how much a student learned over the course of a year, like the statewide ISTEP+ test – and others are “formative,” which give a snapshot of what students know at a certain point in time. The focus of the latter is giving performance feedback, so teachers can modify learning activities to better student achievement.

Most of the schools in the state use tests like mCLASS, Acuity or NWEA assessments for that purpose.

As we’ve reported, this month the State Board of Education decided schools may choose their own formative assessment. This came out of a condition in the state’s new two-year budget.

Rather than require schools to test using mCLASS (grades K-2) or Acuity (grades 3-8), both of which the state pays for, schools will now be able to apply for state grant money to buy a test of their own choosing. Districts previously had to pay for the test out of their own budgets.

The board will likely decide how much grant money schools can receive for tests at their July meeting.

Mary Keck of the Herald-Times reports that the Monroe County Community School Corporation has chosen not to pursue any outside formative test for the upcoming school year, instead focusing on classroom tests:

“We are not going to self-impose a test that we don’t feel is aligned with the (state education) standards,” [MCCSC Superintendent Judy] DeMuth said.

Monroe County Community School Corp. opted to take the Acuity test in the 2014-15 school year because it was offered free through the Indiana Department of Education as a diagnostic tool for schools to find out if student learning was in line with state standards. [...]

DeMuth decided that because the state education department was in the process of developing the ISTEP test for the next school year, she wanted to be sure the exams students were given were aligned with state standards.

“We’re going to pause (Acuity) and allow teachers to continue instruction rather than administration of a test,” DeMuth said.

While students will not take Acuity, faculty will continue to follow state standards, skills the education department has determined are necessary for students to learn at each grade level. MCCSC elementary and middle school students will also continue taking common formative assessments that are created by their teachers for the purpose of gauging whether student learning aligns with state standards.

MCCSC students will take the ISTEP+ test during the 2015-16 school year. That assessment is required since scores count in the state’s formula for calculating A-F school accountability grades.

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