Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

State Legislature To Explore Heightened Background Checks For Teachers

Risa Regnier, assistant superintendent of school support services for Indiana Department of Education, presents at the legislative study committee on education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Risa Regnier, assistant superintendent of school support services for Indiana Department of Education, presents at the legislative study committee on education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)” credit=”

INDIANAPOLIS — State officials say heightened background checks could be a solution to reducing sexual misconduct in Indiana schools.

After a recent string of high-profile sexual misconduct cases involving school staff, state Rep. Robert Behning wants schools to investigate their workforce more often.

He’s asked the legislature to examine the costs of background checks every five years.

“Not just for teachers, but this would be for all school employees that would have any exposure with children,” Behning said.

Currently, Indiana law only requires background checks at time of employment and only for fully licensed educators. Local districts determine how to check the histories of non-licensed staff, including coaches, custodial workers and volunteers.

Education department officials said sexual misconduct could also be reduced if judges get the right to revoke teachers’ licenses when they’re involved in criminal matters.

Kelly Bauder, staff attorney with the Indiana Department of Education, said there’s another loophole to address.

She said prosecutors often neglect to let the department know when teachers are involved in sexual misconduct cases. That notification is required by law.

In a recent USA Today article that examined states’ teacher background check protocol, Indiana received an F.

That grade was largely due to the following reasons: the absence of a statewide protocol, Indiana does not use information from a national teacher database, and the state lacks online information about teacher disciplinary actions.

New Pre K Initiative Will Ask Legislators To Expand Scholarships

Outgoing CEO of Eli Lilly John Lechleiter outlines the need for the access to affordable pre-k in Indiana. Eli Lilly is partnering with several other groups statewide to lobby the 2017 legislature to create pre-k scholarships for low-income families.

Outgoing CEO of Eli Lilly John Lechleiter outlines the need for the access to affordable pre-k in Indiana. Eli Lilly is partnering with several other groups statewide to lobby the 2017 legislature to create pre-k scholarships for low-income families. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting.)

A coalition of business, philanthropy, government and education leaders say they are determined to push lawmakers to expand state-funded preschool in the upcoming legislative session.

“All IN 4 Pre-K” is a new advocacy group that includes Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, outgoing Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Early Learning Indiana

Lechleiter says the state’s pre-k pilot program is just not enough to meet demand. Only 2,300 families of low income three and four years old in five counties received scholarships in the past two years.

“We believe that families and their children in all of Indiana’s 92 counties should have access to high quality, early learning environments,” Lechleiter said.

The group says they will directly lobby lawmakers to pass new laws in 2017. While no specific legislation has been drafted, they want to see broader income-eligibility requirements for pre-k and elimination of matching funding for counties.

This group will lobby the legislature to provide pre-k scholarships for families that meet certain income guidelines, and not free preschool for all. Universal pre-k in Indiana is something state superintendent Glenda Ritz and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg are advocating for.

Currently, the state provides pre-k scholarships for low income families through its pilot program, On My Way Pre-k. The pilot granted scholarships to a few thousand kids in five counties.

Five Indiana Schools Give Majority Of Teachers Poor Performance Ratings

This week, the department of education released data on teacher evaluation rankings in the state for the 2014-2015 school year, the most up to date data. (ArmyStrongPA/Flickr)

This week, the department of education released data on teacher evaluation rankings in the state for the 2014-2015 school year, the most up to date data. (ArmyStrongPA/Flickr)” credit=”

Five Indiana schools rate a majority of their teachers as ineffective or needing improvement.

This week, the department of education released data on teacher evaluation rankings in the state for the 2014-2015 school year, the most up to date data. The data included all public and charter schools.

Five schools reported more than 50 percent of their teachers received ineffective or needs improvement rating, the lowest categories.

They are Tindley Renaissance Academy in Indianapolis, Charter School of the Dunes in Gary, IN Math & Science Academy South in Indianapolis, Joseph Block Middle School in East Chicago and Andrew J. Brown Academy in Indianapolis. Four of the five are charter schools.

Despite the low rankings in these five schools, the overall number of teachers receiving lower evaluations continued to decrease for the third year in a row since major changes to toughen up state’s teacher evaluation system in 2011.

Currently, less than 2 percent of teachers statewide received these low rankings.

Douglas Harris, a professor at Tulane University, researches teacher evaluation systems around the country. He said this is a national trend for charter schools.

“Charter schools often but not always tend to be more outcome-driven and are more likely to be aggressive and rate teachers low and to dismiss low performing teachers,” Harris said.

He said traditional public teachers have comparatively higher ratings, nationwide.

Indiana does not have a standard statewide teacher evaluation, instead school districts determine evaluation standards and processes.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Joseph Block Middle School as a charter school. It is a public middle school in the School City of East Chicago.

Lead, Arsenic Fears Lead East Chicago School To Seek State Aid

In this file photo, state education board member Eddie Melton listens during a meeting last year. At Melton's request, the board approved Carrie Gosch Elementary to receive disaster relief from the state. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

In this file photo, state education board member Eddie Melton listens during a state board of education meeting last year. At Melton’s request, the board approved Carrie Gosch Elementary to apply for disaster relief from the state. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

About 430 students from Carrie Gosch Elementary School will be relocated to a new school across East Chicago after toxic chemicals were found in nearby soil.

The highest levels of lead and arsenic were found in the West Calumet Housing Complex located next to the school, but a small portion of lead was also found on a corner of school grounds.

Students will instead attend class in a closed, former middle school across the city.

“The most important thing was to make sure that these students right now have a safe place to be when school starts,” said Eddie Melton, a state board of education member.

Melton represents the congressional district where the school is located.

At Melton’s request, the state board approved the district to apply for a disaster loan to combat the situation at Wednesday’s state board of education meeting. The district has not announced how much money it will request.

As The Munster Times reports, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it’s not technically necessary to close the school down from a public safety standpoint, but school officials opted for a cautious approach.

A Carrie Gosch parent told the Times that she was relieved that students would be going to a different school, since she was concerned that students who walk to school might track lead and arsenic into school even if it’s now uncontaminated.

Education Department Seeks $4 Million In Damages After ISTEP Debacle

At Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, state superintendent Glenda Ritz said the state is seeking $4 million in damages from the state's former testing vendor. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

At Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, state superintendent Glenda Ritz said the state is seeking $4 million in damages from the state’s former testing vendor. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Department of Education is seeking $4 million in damages from the company that created last year’s problem-filled ISTEP+ test.

The state accuses CTB, now Data Recognition Corporation, of not living up to contractual duties after the company substantially delayed releasing 2015 ISTEP+ scores.

At Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, state superintendent Glenda Ritz said the state sent a letter to the Califonia-based testing company asking for damages. Indiana’s four-year, $95 million contract with CTB, entitles the department to damages, should the company fail to perform.

“We have been expecting a response regarding that demand letter,” Ritz said. “We have not yet received a response.”

A provision in the CTB testing contract caps damages at 10 percent, or about $2.3 million. Ritz said the a request of $4 million dollars is “appropriate” because of damages the state sustained during last school year.

Since ISTEP+ scores play heavily into formulas that calculate student grades, school ratings, teacher evaluation and teacher pay, the delays set off a chain reaction throughout the state, prompting the General Assembly to take action to minimize the damage.

Department spokesperson Daniel Altman said the department has been working with the attorney general, but no lawsuit has formally been filed.

“We’re obviously still reserving any rights that we may have, should things get to that point,” Altman said.

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ISTEP+ Panel Explores Options For New High School Standardized Test

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Karla Egan, a testing expert, speaks to the panel making recommendations for the update to the state’s new assessment system. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

INDIANAPOLIS — High school students in Indiana schools will soon face a new standardized test, but it’s exact characteristics are still undetermined.

This new version of the high school test was the focal point during Tuesday’s meeting by the panel that will recommend how to replace the state’s current assessment, known as ISTEP+.

Federal law says schools must test students at least once in high school. In Indiana that currently happens in 10th grade.

Until recently, 10th grade students were tested at the end of English 10 and Algebra I with tests developed specifically for those classes. During the 2015-16 school year, students instead took a 10th grade version of the ISTEP+.

A state law passed earlier this year, killed the ISTEP+ in its current form. Tuesday’s discussion surrounded what alternative options schools would have going forward.

Blackford County Schools superintendent Scot Croner, proposed the idea of creating a personal system for each student to determine if they’re ready to graduate.

“What I would advocate is at the onset of a student’s high school career, they would sit down, meet with the guidance counselor and the parents with the educators in the room and they would develop a four year plan for that student,” Croner said. “And a part of that component is they would make a determination what graduation assessment best fits that student’s particular needs.”

Croner said he recognizes that not every district has the capacity provide such a service. Still, he said he wants to start with the perfect scenario and scale back from there.

Croner also advocated the panel recommend using the SAT or ACT as the high school test component, rather than creating a separate 10th grade version of ISTEP+.

But Karla Egan, who works at EdMetric LLC and is chairperson of the Indiana Technical Advisory Committee, advised against this. She’s a nationally recognized expert in state-level assessment and standard setting.

“For the purposes of a [graduation qualifying exam] and measuring your standards, I don’t know if it’s the best fit,” Egan said.

Egan explained the ACT and SAT were designed to help colleges determine whether a student is ready to enter a university, not to determine whether they are ready to leave high school.

The legislation that created the ISTEP+ panel requires the group to submit recommendations to the legislature by Dec. 1.

At September’s meeting the panel plans to begin discussions on how to change the test for students in grades three through eight, another state and federal requirement.

Indiana Lifeline Law Includes Text To 911

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Indiana’s Lifeline Law provides immunity from underage drinking charges to minors who seek help for themselves or others. (photo credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU News)

Educating young people about Indiana’s Lifeline Law this year has a new focus – Text to 911. It’s the latest edition of what’s become a back-to-school tradition.

The Lifeline Law provides immunity from underage drinking charges to minors who seek help for themselves or others. And it applies not just to those who call 911, but those who text it as well.

State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell – who chairs the Statewide 911 Board – says texting allows dispatchers to more easily follow up on 911 hang-ups, citing a recent example.

“The caller who hung up ended up being a student who thought they had alcohol poisoning and they were worried about getting in trouble if they called for help,” Mitchell says.

Text to 911 services have been offered in some areas since 2014 and reached all counties last month. Still, far less than one percent of 911 communications are via text – which Mitchell says should go up as awareness campaigns roll out.

“Especially to inform out of state students of the Text to 911 capabilities because while we have this in Indiana, as you heard most other states don’t,” she says.

Mitchell says calling 911 is still preferred, but if texting, students should include their location first, then as much detail about the incident as possible.

State Education Board To Hold Public Hearings For Gary, East Chicago Schools

The inside of Gary, IN's West Side Leadership Academy, one of the area's three public high schools.  As the district begins a new school year, the state education board will hold hearing on a turnaround school in the district. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The inside of Gary, IN\’s West Side Leadership Academy, one of the area\’s three public high schools. As the district begins a new school year, the state education board will hold hearing on a turnaround school in the district. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)” credit=”

The Indiana State Board of Education will hold meetings for public comment on two schools located in northwest Indiana that have been chronically designated as failing.

The board is expected to decide the future of two turnaround schools, Beveridge Elementary School in Gary and Joseph L. Block Junior High in East Chicago soon.

No decisions will be made at these hearings, which are required by state law. In the future, the board could release the school from turnaround status, continue with current operator, assign a new operator or return the school to their home district.

The meetings, which will both take place at 6 p.m. at the respective schools, will be on Aug. 10 for Beverdige and Aug. 11 for Joseph L. Block.

As previously reported, school staff and community members are working hard to revamp schools in Gary Community School Corporation. It’s a district that has long been plagued with funding woes, low test scores and transportation issues.

At the beginning of the summer, the school district grappled with a $75 million budget deficit. The school board laid off 13 employees and explored running their own transportation system.

As the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this summer, employee paychecks were delayed due to lack of funding.

School Board President Antuwan Clemons, who heads the board’s budget/finance committee, said the missed pay period was due to cash flow problems. “We didn’t want to bounce any checks,” he said. The checks should be distributed Monday, he said.

The letter told employees the administration and Martin were working hard to avoid a reduction in force this year. However, on Tuesday, the school board laid off 13 employees, including eight secretaries, three information technology department employees, a public relations administrator and a business department assistant.

Clemons said more layoffs are coming. “We have to make sure we live within the means of our income,” he said. “Mr. Martin is making some serious recommendations.”

As the 2016-17 school year begins, we’ll keep an eye on both turnaround schools and the district’s funding situation in Gary.

Education Dept. Tells Schools To Rethink Discipline For Students With Disabilities

New guidance from the U.S. Department of Education tells schools they are required to provide positive behavioral supports to students with disabilities.(Eric Castro/Flickr)

New guidance from the U.S. Department of Education tells schools they are required to provide positive behavioral supports to students with disabilities.(Eric Castro/Flickr)

Schools move too quickly to suspend or expel students with disabilities, rather than take measures to avoid such situations before they arise, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Now, new guidance from the department emphasizes the requirement that schools provide behavioral supports for students with disabilities.

It’s a measure officials hope can reduce suspension and expulsion.

During the 2013-14 school year, schools suspended or expelled one in 10 children with disabilities, with children of color with disabilities facing higher rates of removal. Schools removed almost one in five black children with disabilities during that time.

“All students, including those with disabilities, should have the supports and equitable educational opportunities they need to be successful in school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John King, in a statement. “It’s our duty as parents and educators to ensure that children who show up at school to learn get the maximum out of their educational experience.”

The education department sent guidance from director of the Office of Special Education Programs Ruth Ryder to all public schools this week. The letter said schools are required to provide positive behavioral supports to students with disabilities.

The idea behind positive behavioral support is simple.

Instead of using discipline, schools should have strategies in place that teach and reward positive student behavior. The purpose is to establish a climate in which appropriate behavior is the norm before the need for discipline arises.

For students with disabilities, positive behavioral support should take their disabilities and individual education plans into account.

“Incidents of child misbehavior and classroom disruptions, as well as violations of a code of student conduct, may indicate that the child’s IEP needs to include appropriate behavioral supports,” Ryder wrote. “This is especially true when a pattern of misbehavior is apparent or can be reasonably anticipated based on the child’s present levels of performance and needs.”

Current law allows educators to remove students with disabilities from their classrooms if the student violates a code of conduct.

The guidance from the department is a part of recent campaign that urges schools to rethink their use of discipline.

Report: Students At Recovery High Schools Less Likely To Relapse

According to a new report, students in recovery at a recovery school are less likely to relapse than teens in other substance abuse programs. Indiana is home to one of the 34 recovery schools in the U.S. (Recovery.org)

According to a new report, students in recovery at a recovery school are less likely to relapse than teens in other substance abuse programs. Indiana is home to one of the 34 recovery schools in the U.S. (Recovery.org)

Graduates from high schools designed for people in recovery from addiction are more than twice as likely to remain sober, compared to students in normal intervention programs.

Students who attend such recovery schools have a relapse rate of 30 percent within six months, according to a new report. After typical treatment, like 30-day rehabs and outpatient programs, attendees have a relapse rate of 70 percent.

Hope Academy in Indianapolis is one of 34 recovery high schools in the U.S. There are at least eight more being planned throughout the country.

“One ironclad requirement for entry into a recovery school is that students must express a strong desire to kick their habits,” the report authors write. “This no-nonsense approach is working; students who enter these schools are surrounded by like-minded individuals who wish to conquer their addictions and reap a better future.”

(Recovery.org)

(Recovery.org)

It’s hard to make an even comparison between recovery high schools and other programs, due to such key differences.

Students must already be sober, and committed to maintaining sobriety, before entering a recovery high school. Students typically continue to to live at home. Treatment and support are intertwined with a high school curriculum.

Like any high school, at its core a recovery school is focused on academics. Students must pass their class, in order to graduate. When they do, their diploma often comes from their home school district.

“The curricula fuse traditional classes with electives geared toward personal growth and development, which better prepare students for life after school,” report authors write.

Recovery schools have bumped up against challenges. Throughout the country, states vary in how easy it is to establish and maintain a recovery school.

A leading recovery school researcher tweeted last year that there are four reasons recovery high schools close: transportation, stigma, awareness and funding.

Recovery.org has compiled a list of how friendly each of the 50 states are for recovery schools. Indiana falls behind most states, coming in at number 24.

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