Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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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New Budget Slashes School Safety Grants

The recently passed budget cuts school safety budget by more than half.

The recently passed budget cuts school safety budget by more than half. (photo credit: flakeparadigm/Flickr)

School safety was a priority during the 2013 legislature, which allocated $20 million over two years for schools to install safety equipment and hire school resource officers as a response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in late 2012.

Indiana school corporations received the grants over the last two school years, but when the legislature met again this session, that funding was slashed by more than half this year, down to $7 million over the biennium.

The grants have been used toward employing school resource officers, conducting threat assessments or purchasing security equipment that makes it tougher to enter a school or alert police of an emergency.

Niki Kelly of The Journal Gazette reports the decrease in grants won’t affect schools that used them to pay for one time equipment costs:

The 65 percent cut to $7 million likely means less money for equipment – from surveillance cameras and fortified doors to radios and fencing. And it could leave some schools looking for ways to continue paying police working as school resource officers.

“It certainly will be more competitive,” said John Erickson, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which implements the Indiana Secured School Safety Grant program. “The current plan is to review grants in exactly the same way as in the past – equal and fair. If there are more applications than funding, the board will have to make determinations at that time.”

State Budget Director Brian Bailey said the state launched the program to address a need, but no one knew what to expect. After two years of experience, he and his staff are comfortable that one-time equipment needs have been taken care of, and the focus going forward will be for the school resource officers.

But with less money in the overall pot, the concern is whether existing school resource officers will be able to stay in schools if the district was dependent on these funds to pay the position.

Kelly explains how the reduced grant amounts don’t perfectly align to SRO spending since the last budget cycle.

That breaks down to $3.5 million per year, the 2014 grants included more than $4 million for school resource officers, according to a news release.

“It is not our intention for anyone to lose their grant for school resource officers,” Brown said. But he also acknowledged that programs like this are decided one budget cycle at a time and in conjunction with other education funding.

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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Arlington High School Attendance Low, Faculty Strive For ‘Rebirth’

After three years under management of a private company, Arlington Community High School has returned to Indianapolis Public Schools. It’s the first school under state intervention to transition back to its home district and school leaders are under pressure from the community and state to make it work. WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle will spend a year reporting from inside the school on its successes and challenges. In this first part of the series, A New Day, he looks at just how difficult it can be to start over at a school.

Arlington Principal Stan Law prepares his senior leadership team on Aug. 3, 2015 right before students are let in the building for the first time. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

Arlington Principal Stan Law prepares his senior leadership team on Aug. 3, 2015 right before students are let in the building for the first time. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

Arlington Community High School teacher Kevin Sandorf quiets his fourth period English class and starts counting from 40.

Sandorf calls out a number for each student not sitting in one of the polished desks he purchased years ago at a suburban school sale.

His count is 49 — three students short of how many he expected.

“I realize the class is overloaded but yesterday it was a whole lot worse,” he tells the students. “So we look for the glass half full not the glass half empty.”

Sandorf’s classroom is immaculate and he’ll remind the students that he bought everything in it, including the flat screen TVs, a sound system and framed inspirational posters. He strives for each student who walks in the door to have a folder — emblazoned with their name and color-coded by class period — waiting for them.

But despite the prep, Sandorf and other teachers are fighting against daily fluctuations of class size and changes to student schedules.

That’s because more than two weeks after Indianapolis Public Schools began its 2015-16 school year, Arlington is still settling.

More than 200 students are missing from the school.

On the first day of class, Aug. 3,  388 students in grades 7-to-12 walked into the Northeastside school. Another 167 more arrived by Tuesday, the 12th day of school, for a total of 555 students enrolled.

But round 800 students are expected in all to be Arlington Golden Knights this year.

It’s still unclear if the remaining students are playing hooky or enrolled in another school.

“We are missing valuable, invaluable time,” says Principal Stan Law. “And the longer you are away from school, the longer that gap is since the last time you been in school — to me it is a no brainer why kids need to be in school on time, the first day.”

Law, the former principal at Shortridge Magnet High School, is impatient with the progress. Setting a new tone and culture at Arlington is no easy task when students trickle in every day.

He hopes that by Labor Day those missing students will arrive. The State Department of Education determine how much funding a school receives per students based on the enrollment on Sept. 18.

But there are other problems too.

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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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Ritz And Gregg Partner To Promote Education In 2016

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced her gubernatorial campaign at an event at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis in June. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced her gubernatorial campaign at an event at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis in June. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz is teaming up with her former gubernatorial adversary John Gregg to encourage voters to address the teacher “crisis” that’s been a popular topic of discussion and encouraging voters to keep education in mind when voting for governor in 2016.

The pair sent out a petition asking Governor Mike Pence to support public schools:

Indiana schools are facing a crisis.

Our schools can’t hire the teachers they need because Governor Pence has been working to undermine public schools and educators almost since the moment he took office.

Over the last few years, Governor Pence diverted taxpayer money into private school vouchers, fought to expand unaccountable charter schools, attempted to oust the democratically elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction, worked to undermine the rights of teachers, and defamed the very profession of teaching.

Our teachers — and our kids — deserve better. They deserve a governor who is committed to their success — not an ideologue with his own agenda. And they deserve a governor who will work with the elected State Superintendent, teachers, parents, students and administrators — not against them.

As the new school year begins, there’s no better time to set a new agenda and demand Governor Pence strengthen public schools.

This collaboration comes just a little over a week after Ritz exited the gubernatorial race, saying instead she will focus on her re-election as superintendent.

Many said her dropping out of the governor’s race and putting her education experience behind Gregg would help the Democrats in the election. Here’s Andy Downs of the Mike Downs Center for Politics explaining this on last week’s Indiana Newsdesk:

The other Democratic challenger, Karen Tallian, dropped out of the race Monday, leaving Gregg currently as the only challenger to Pence.

IU, Purdue Promise Cooperation Amid New Engineering Program

University officials at IU and Purdue say they plan to continue working together despite IU’s plan to offer engineering degrees.

Historically, Purdue University has offered engineering programs while IU has focused on business and the liberal arts.

But the Indiana Commission for Higher Education unanimously approved Thursday an IU proposal to create a program called ‘intelligent systems engineering.’

IU’s Associate Vice President of Public Affairs, Mark Land says he thinks it will only benefit all parties, and, most important, the students.

“We don’t see this as a competitive situation. We see this as a complimentary situation and one where we’re actually hopeful for some collaboration between what we do here and some of the programs at Purdue,” he says. “We think it’s a win for everybody because there’s enough need to go around.”

Purdue Provost Deba Dutta says their goal is to cooperate and collaborate so the state’s resources are used in the best way possible.

IU plans to begin accepting engineering students into the program in the fall of 2016.

Federal Money Will Help Cover AP Tests For Low-Income Students

The U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday it had awarded $28.4 million in grants to 38 states, including Indiana, to help defray the costs of Advanced Placement (AP) tests, specifically those taken by low-income students.

The feds gave the Hoosier state $307,618, which should cover the cost of the anticipated amount of tests to be taken by historically underserved students.

Nationally, those figures are increasing. The number of tests covered by the program in 2015 was 831,913 – up from 768,772 the year prior, an improvement of more than seven percent.

More than (Photo Credit: Jessie/Flickr)

More than 72,000 Hoosier students took one or more AP tests in 2014. (Photo Credit: Jessie/Flickr)

John King, senior advisor of deputy U.S. secretary of education, says the goal of the subsidy program is to encourage low-income students to take AP tests, which often allows them to earn college credit while still in high school. He says this can also reduce the time and cost necessary to get a college degree.

“We all know how important Advanced Placement courses are in schools. We also know that for historically underserved students, the cost of the exams can be a significant obstacle,” King said on a phone call with reporters Wednesday. “This grant program are about ensuring access to opportunity for all students, regardless of their family’s income. We want to see a college-going culture in schools that includes all of our students.”

In total, about 2.3 million students took an AP test in spring 2014; Indiana accounted for 72,958 of those kids. State and national score data for 2015 exams will be available this fall.

King says a significant share of the students covered by the grants identify as African American and Latino. Gaps exist in participation rates between students from these ethnic groups and their white counterparts: in 2014, for example, 25 percent of Hispanic male students took part in an AP program, as opposed to 35 percent of white males.

Data provided that same year by students taking AP exams in Indiana paints a similar portrait of disparity:

  • 3,851 African-American
  • 4,093 Latino (Mexican American, Puerto Rican, or Other Hispanic)
  • 57,252 White

“One of the things we worry about is inequitable access to AP courses for low-income students as well as students of color,” King says. “Our hope is that this program, supplemented by state efforts, will help to close this gap.”

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The Next Push In School Choice: Clarifying The Options

As students go back to school this month, more of them are expected to be enrolled in private schools thanks to the state’s rapidly expanding voucher system.

There’s also been a new push to make it easier for parents to find alternative schools.

The Institute for Quality Education—a school choice group based in Indianapolis—launched a website earlier this year that allows parents to shop around for schools.

“Parents in Indiana are really fortunate that they have so many options. Now that we have those options in place, the challenge is getting the information out to the parents,” says Tosha Salyers, a spokeswoman for the Institute for Quality Education. “The goal of the site is just that to teach parents what options are available.”

website demonstration

Institute for Quality Education spokeswoman Tosha Salyers demonstrates the myschooloptions.org website. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee)

Myschooloptions.org is much like a website you would use to find an apartment or home.

You pick what kind of school you want: a traditional public school, charter school or private school. Then you can filter it down to the schools near you, find out if you qualify for a voucher, and, if so, how to apply for one.

The site got more than 20,000 page views this summer as parents decided where to enroll their students.

“We’re getting a really great response from parents and I think that they are thankful that there is sort of a one-stop shop where they can go and get all the information they need,” Salyers says.

Public education advocates are criticizing the website, saying it gives too much weight to student test scores and is helping drive students away from traditional public schools.

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How Student Debt For Millennials Is Changing The Economy

Mallory Rickbeil and her boyfriend Chris Stearly want to buy a home, but Rickbeil's student debt si preventing them from moving forward with that decision.

Mallory Rickbeil and her boyfriend Chris Stearly want to buy a home, but Rickbeil’s student debt is preventing them from moving forward with that decision. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The path to a college education has gotten pretty complicated.

The American job force is increasingly demanding a college degree, and at the same time it’s becoming more and more unaffordable to get one. Tuition is increasing and grants and financial assistance aren’t keeping pace. Young people are taking out thousands of dollars to get just a bachelor’s degree, and as we’ve reported, Indiana has one of the highest rates of college graduates defaulting on their student loans.

With the millennial generation carrying more student loan debt than any other, what does this do to the overall economy, as millennials move toward marriage and home buying? How will their habits change the landscape of higher education?

First Comes Love, Then Comes…Debt Payments?

Mallory Rickbeil and Chris Stearly just moved into a new house in Bloomington. This is the second place they’re renting together, and it’s an upgrade from their previous home.

“There’s so much space,” Rickbeil says. “Chris and I were looking around being like, ‘we have too much space.’” 

Roominess aside, the new house has one huge flaw: it’s not theirs.

“Chris and I have the same objective of wanting to have a house that we own, and at this point Chris is much more capable of doing that than I am – in a large part because of my student loans,” Rickbeil says.

Rickbeil owes thousands of dollars in student loan debt for a master’s degree she finished three years ago. She pays around $500 a month, which makes it tricky to make ends meet, let alone save for a house, something she and Chris are ready to do.

“If Chris and I were to buy a house, it would put more of the burden on him for making the down payment,” she says.  Continue Reading

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