Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

GOP Schools Leader To Challenge Ritz In State Supt. Race

Jennifer McCormick

Jennifer McCormick, the superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools. Courtesy: Yorktown Community Schools

A small town school official announced plans to challenge Democrat Glenda Ritz in her reelection bid for state superintendent in the 2016 general election.

Yorktown Community Schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has entered the superintendent’s race on the Republican side. If elected at the Republican party’s state convention in April, she would take on the incumbent Ritz, whose tenure thus far has been marked by political fights with Statehouse Republicans, including Governor Pence.

McCormick has been superintendent for six years in Yorktown — part of the Muncie Metropolitan area. Before that she was assistant superintendent and an elementary school principal in the district, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Speaking at the Statehouse, McCormick said she wouldn’t run a negative or politically motivated campaign, but says Ritz’s department has negatively impacted schools across the state.

“Indiana was once a leader in the nation — today we are not. Today we have a department of education that is disorganized and disconnected from schools,” McCormick says.

McCormick vowed to make the the state department of education a–quote–”great partner” and says she’d fix problems with the ISTEP while improving its credibility.

Indiana’s next superintendent will face a complex and ever-changing education policy landscape.
Lawmakers and educators are calling for the end to the annual standardized ISTEP exam; some would like to see a different type of student assessment used.

The recent reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act scales back the No Child Left Behind Act. The next state superintendent will oversee how Indiana adapts to a reduced federal role in its public schools.

It’s yet to be seen how McCormick will challenge Ritz.

Ritz, a former Indiana State Teachers Association board member, rode a grassroots campaign in 2012 to oust former state Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican, with 52 percent of the vote. The same year Republican Mike Pence was elected governor.

Bennett championed the adoption of the Common Core academic standards and other reforms such as teacher evaluations and state-takeover of chronically failing schools. Ritz said her win was a referendum on Bennett’s policies.

Political fighting and accusations between Ritz and Pence has become a hallmark of both their first terms.

In November 2013 Ritz accused Pence of “not seeking a power-grab, but rather a complete takeover” of state education policy. The reason? Pence formed a new education agency to support his appointees on the State Board of Education by executive order.

The two sparred over the length of the 2015 ISTEP. Pence criticized Ritz’s leadership during a press conference before the two found common ground on shortening a new version of the statewide math and English exam.

Then during last year’s legislative session, Republican lawmakers attempted to reduce Ritz’s education oversight through various bills.

Last June Ritz began a challenge against Pence in the 2016 gubernatorial election but bowed out two months later to focus on re-election as the state superintendent.

McCormick has an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and advance degrees from Ball State and Indiana State universities, according to Yorktown Schools. She is married to a teacher in the district and they have one child who attends school there.

About Yorktown Community Schools

McCormick’s Yorktown Community Schools corporation is made up of four schools with a total enrollment of 2,466 students this school year.

The district is rated A on the state’s A-F accountability scale. Last year 96.9 students graduated — the lowest rate in the district of the past four years.

Like most other schools across the state, Yorktown saw a major drop in the pass rate of the 2015 ISTEP — a decline of 22.4 percentage points to 62.3 percent.

District enrollment is majority white at 87.6 percent and 34 percent of student receive free or reduced price meals.

Teachers in the district were rated: effective, 64.4 percent; highly effective, 31.9 percent or not evaluated, 3.7 percent.. No teachers were rated ineffective or required improvement, according to the most recently available state data.

This report will be updated.

State Board Releases ‘Hold Harmless’ A-F Grades

The State Board of Education passed 2015 A-F grades at its meeting Monday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education passed 2015 A-F grades at its meeting Monday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education released A-F grades for the 2014-2015 school year. Nearly 57 percent of all Indiana schools were given an A and only about nine percent of schools earned a D or F.

This is a slight improvement.

[Search your school’s A-F grade or your school corporations grade in our sortable databases.]

After 2015 ISTEP+ scores showed huge decreases in students passing the assessment, the 2016 General Assembly passed legislation that gave the Department of Education flexibility in assigning A-F grades for this school year.

A-F grades are largely based on ISTEP+ scores, the DOE and legislature worried many schools would be considered failing under the accountability system. The bill, which Governor Pence signed into law last week, allowed the DOE to assign a school the better A-F grade between the 2013-2014 school year and the 2014-2015 school year.

The grades approved by the SBOE reflect this ‘hold harmless’ approach and not the A-F grade calculated with scores if it is lower.

But Superintendent Glenda Ritz says to remember that the scores are based only on one year’s worth of data.

“We really are starting over,” she aid. “So we’ve started over with a new assessment. It’s not comparable with previous assessments. We have a brand new baseline. And in 15-16 we are also going to have a new accountability system. Which can’t really be compared to what it is we did before.”

So, is there an upside to the 2015 A-F grades?

Local superintendents across the state say yes. Their schools won’t be unfairly penalized because of the new and tougher ISTEP and academic standards.

Lingering ISTEP Score Issues Could Help Three Failing Schools

INSBOE members Byron Ernest (left), a charter school director, and Eddie Melton listen during a board meeting last year. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

INSBOE members Byron Ernest (left), a charter school director, and Eddie Melton listen during a board meeting last year. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education meets Tuesday for it’s monthly meeting, and the big agenda item this week is approving the 2015 A-F grades.

After the late release of the 2015 ISTEP+ scores earlier this month, which factor heavily in the calculation of A-F grades, we saw a huge drop in scores – almost 20 percent lower statewide. Many credit this drop to more rigorous standards and argue that students, teachers and schools should have more time to adjust.

Because of these low scores, the General Assembly rushed two bills through the legislative process that would temporarily shield schools and teachers from the negative consequences of these low scores. Governor Mike Pence signed both bills into law Thursday.

And this week, board member Steve Yager put forth a resolution to continue that sentiment for three schools that are on the brink of the dreaded sixth year of failing grades.

West Side Leadership Academy in the Gary Community School Corporation, and Caze Elementary and Washington Middle Schools in the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation received five straight Fs, which mean a sixth consecutive failing grade could lead to state takeover among other options.

Yager’s resolution asks that if these three schools receive an F based off last year’s ISTEP+ scores, they aren’t made eligible for the consequences that come with a sixth F. In his resolution, Yager writes the improvements these schools demonstrated to the board over the last year prove they don’t need state intervention because of low scores on a new test.

SBOE spokesperson Marc Lotter says all three of these schools held the mandatory public meetings this year, which showed strong improvement.

“They have really strong plans in place to help grow the students and improve overall academic performance,” he says. “There’s strong community support and support from local school corporations.”

The SBOE will vote on the resolution and release all A-F grades tomorrow.


Pence Signs Bills Helping Teachers, Schools In ISTEP Aftermath

Governor Pence Thursday signed two bills that curb negative consequences for teachers and schools from last year's low ISTEP+ scores.

Governor Pence Thursday signed two bills that curb negative consequences for teachers and schools from last year’s low ISTEP+ scores. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

Governor Pence Thursday signed two bills that shield teachers and schools from the 2015 ISTEP+ scores.

  • HB 1003 says that low ISTEP+ scores cannot be calculated into a teacher’s evaluation this year, but can only be used if the scores would help the evaluation.- OR can only be calculated into a teacher’s evaluation this year if it would improve that evaluation.
  •  SB 200 does a similar thing for schools, allowing them to choose the higher A-F grade between this year and last year. A-F grades are largely calculated with ISTEP+ scores, and this bill would avoid a large number of schools dipping into the ‘low performing’ category.


These bills were in planning stages before CTB released the ISTEP+ scores from the 2015 administration of the test. Those scores came out earlier this month and confirmed the expected dip – a 20 percent decrease across the state. It is generally accepted that this dip is not an accurate measure of student, teacher or school performance but a result of difficulties unrolling and administering the test.

Before signing the bills Pence acknowledged that Ritz anticipated the dip and was the first to come up with a solution for shielding schools and teachers.

“I also want to thank Superintendent Ritz, who first called this issue as a possibility to our attention in the middle of last year,” Pence said. “We appreciate her passion for our kids, her dedication, let me take this opportunity to thank you.”

Ritz warned the legislature that scores would drop, since many other states saw similar dips in scores when they adopted new assessments. Up until very recently, lawmakers and the State Board of Education dismissed her suggestions to enact a hold harmless plan for teachers in schools, which is what these two bills do.

Ritz was present at the signing and in an official statement thanked the legislature for passing both bills.

“The passage and enactment of this legislation is a welcome step and something that I have been fighting for over the last eighteen months,” Ritz said in a statement. “These common sense bills recognize the reality that when leadership in Indianapolis changes our standards, we need to give our schools time to adjust.”

These are the first bills to pass through the legislature this session. 

Seven Oaks Classical Charter School To Open In Monroe Co.

Seven Oaks Classical School in Monroe County could open by August.

Seven Oaks Classical School in Monroe County could open by August. (photo credit: Seven Oaks Classical School)

Seven Oaks Charter School could open in Monroe County this August.

Seven Oaks has been trying for four years to get approval for its school. The state charter boarddenied the school’s request in 2014 and last year the school withdrew its application after state board staff recommended denial. 

The board of trustees of Grace College and Theological Seminary voted to authorize the charter at its meeting Jan. 13.

Grace College currently authorizes two other charter schools in the state: Smith Academy for Excellence in Fort Wayne and Dugger Union Community School in Dugger.

The work begins now for Seven Oaks to find a building and staff.

In a press release announcing the charter’s approval, the board stressed that Seven Oaks will not teach with a religious slant event though it is authorized by a Christian college.

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House Committee Begins Discussion On Re-scoring 2015 ISTEP

The legislature continues to discuss the 2015 ISTEP+ administration and scoring.

The legislature continues to discuss the 2015 ISTEP+ administration and scoring. (photo credit: Claire McInerny)

The Hou­se Education Committee took a first look at a bill that calls for a re-score of the 2015 ISTEP+ assessment Tuesday. HB 1395, among other things, calls for an outside group to rescore last year’s test.

In this past year, Indiana’s test vendor, CTB, came under scrutiny for their administration and scoring of the test. This summer, the company told the State Board of Education there were issues with grading the assessment and scores wouldn’t be released for a few months.

The 2015 ISTEP+ scores came out Jan. 5. The scores statewide dropped around 20 percent overall, which is something many expected. When many other states shifted to a new assessment they saw their scores dip as well, so legislative leaders say this decline is a result of a new test and tougher standards, not a reflection on student learning.

After initially suggesting a complete re-score, House Education  Committee Chair  Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, proposed a partial re-score of a sampling of tests. This would take less time and be much less expensive. Initial price estimates of a complete re-score process came in between $8 and $10 million.

Behning says it is important to double check at least a few thousand tests because, moving forward, Indiana’s A-F accountability system will weigh student growth more heavily. The new accountability system will use growth as a factor, so schools will be rewarded for their students who do better on the test, even if it’s not at the highest level.

Because of this, Behning says having a correct baseline to compare to next year’s scores would ensure we award the right amount of growth points.

Behning says it’s also important to take some sort of action because there is so much doubt around the test right now.

“I met with many superintendents over the last several days and every one of them says please re-score,” Behning said.

While Republican leaders are in favor of the bill and some sort of re-score process, the Department of Education is urging against re-scoring the test.

DOE spokesperson Daniel Altman says the DOE has done its due diligence in ensuring the test’s accuracy, through a number of assurance processes, and an expense rescore process isn’t needed.

“Right now the data that we have doesn’t indicate that that’s necessary,” Altman said.

Ed Roeber, a testing expert who has served as a consultant for the governor and State Board of Education, wrote a letter to the General Assembly dated Monday urging against the full rescore. He said if the state wants to rescore, a small sampling of tests would be valuable and more cost effective than doing them all.

“While this plan involves more steps than simply rescoring all responses to every prompt, it has the potential to answer the questions about accuracy of hand scoring without attendant expense of scoring all responses,” Roeber wrote. “Thus, I believe you will achieve your objective of checking on the accuracy of the scoring at lower cost.”

Right now, Behning’s bill does not include a plan for how Indiana would pay for the re-score, whether it would come from taxpayer dollars or CTB would pay for it.

Indiana High School Graduation Rate Slips Statewide

Indiana’s four-year high school graduation rate slipped by less than one percentage point in two main categories, according to state data released today.

Indiana’s waiver rate, which includes a small portion of students who received a waiver from completing some requirements, is 88.9 percent.

The rate for students who did not get a waiver is 82.8 percent.

Friday the Indiana Department of Education released statewide, corporation and school level data
as part of its annual reporting.

Database: Lookup your school’s graduation rate

“I am pleased with the progress that Indiana’s schools have made in recent years to increase the number of high school graduates,” Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said in a prepared statement. “However, there is still work to be done to address the diverse needs of students across our state and to close the achievement gaps between student populations.”

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Report: Purdue Should Solely Run IPFW, Split With IU

report released by the Legislative Services Agency Friday recommends Indiana University- Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) break into two separate regional campuses.

LSA conducted the report after Sen. David Long, R- Ft. Wayne, asked for a study to look at how the regional campus was serving the area.

The report criticized certain aspects of the campus’ success:

Over the past decade, the external and internal governance structures for IPFW have not produced substantial growth in the areas of teaching and research that are important for the well being of Northwest Indiana and its citizens. For example, a gap in offered bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral or professional degrees affecting at least 17 occupational fields and 15 degree and certificate programs.

The report suggests Purdue be the authority of the campus, removing IU as a governing entity.

For the campus to be successful, the report recommends the school should split from being a joint entity run by both Purdue and IU into two campuses, with each school focusing on its strongest programs.

In this case that would mean IU would run the medical and health science programs and Purdue would oversee everything else.

Right now, students at IPFW receive a diploma from either Purdue or IU, and last year IU awarded more certificates, associate degrees, bachelor and master’s degrees than Purdue at the campus.

In a statement released Friday, IPFW chancellor Vicky Carwein said this report is not a mandate.

“It’s important to remember that the recommendations from the LSA and the LSA working group are exactly that—recommendations for the future of our campus,” said Carwein. “While there is significant potential and exciting opportunities outlined in the recommendations, many questions, issues, and technicalities will need to be addressed. Right now there are many more questions than answers.”

IU President Michael McRobbie released a statement Friday saying despite the report IU wants to still serve Fort Wayne in terms of higher education.

“Indiana University is committed to higher education in Fort Wayne and the northeast region of Indiana. The Working Group’s recommendations offer a way forward for IU to focus on programs in Fort Wayne that we would manage and that leverage our core academic strengths in the health sciences area,” McRobbie said. “We find these recommendations to be a creative response to the recurring claims that something needs to be done to enhance the public higher education programs in Fort Wayne. We remain willing to do our part to implement the recommendations as they relate to Indiana University.”

The decision on whether to split is up to the universities and nobody at either university has set forth a timeline for making the decision.

Halftime Report: Reflections On The First Semester

A few of the Christmas presents Sara Draper received from her second grade students this year.

A few of the Christmas presents Sara Draper received from her second grade students this year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny)

This story is part of The First Year series, which follows three new teachers as they navigate the ups and downs of the first year in the classroom. See the full series and listen to and read more content here.

We continue to follow three new teachers through their first year in the classroom – as they figure out what tactics worked for their students, live through burnout in October and conduct first parent teacher conferences. After their first semester, we caught up with two of our teachers over winter break – and opportunity to relax and reflect.

Looking Forward To A Fresh Start

It’s been a productive winter break for second grade teacher, Sara Draper. With her time off from teaching at Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County, she’s worked on redecorating a room in her and her husband Benjamin’s house. She’s put together bags of things to donate. She’s also been able to rest more. Instead of waking at 5:30 for school, she’s been sleeping in until 9:30 a.m.

“I haven’t slept til 9:30 since, I don’t know, high school? Maybe beginning of college.”

Even though she’s enjoyed the time away from the classroom to focus on non school related matters, she finds that teaching still creeps into her brain.

“I’ve been having dreams about it, which is strange. Because during the year I don’t dream about teaching,” Draper says.

But they often turn out to be more nightmares than dreams.

“They added these students to my class and one of them was an average size man. I was like there’s no way he’s in second grade, they were like we checked his birth certificate he’s in second grade. He was bigger than I was and it was overwhelming.”

Draper laughs as she talks about the dreams, and she says she’s looking forward to seeing her students again.

“I miss someone telling me I’m pretty everyday,” she says while she and her husband laugh at his objection to this.

She says she’s also been thinking about what she wants to improve second semester.

Top of her list?

“I’m really excited to establish different routines [like lining up for lunch],” she says. “[Before break] they were kind of crazy and I felt like our routines were just horrible. We’d try lining up quietly and we’d have to do it eight times before it would actually happen. So I’m excited to just go over the routines again, go over the procedures, and have that fresh start.” Continue Reading

Pence Echoes Education Priorities For Legislative Session

Governor Pence delivered his State of the State speech Tuesday.

Governor Pence delivered his State of the State speech Tuesday. (photo credit: State of Indiana).

In his State of the State address Tuesday night, Gov. Mike Pence affirmed many of the legislative actions around education issues that the legislature laid out so far this session.

As HB 1003 and SB 200, two bills aimed to curb consequences of this year’s low ISTEP+ scores for teachers and schools, Pence echoed the sentiment behind these bills.

“Accountability is important, but testing must be reliable and the results fairly applied. Let’s take a step back from ISTEP and improve on the test we use to measure our kids and schools every year,” Pence said during his State of the State speech. “Let’s also take action to ensure that our teachers and schools are treated fairly with the results of the latest ISTEP test.”

Pence also praised efforts to recruit and retain more teachers in the classroom, including a scholarship program originating in the House.

“That is why I am so enthusiastic about speaker Bosma’s Next Generation Scholarship that would cover up to $7,500 per year in tuition for students who are in the top 20 percent of their class and commit to teaching in Indiana for at least five years.”

And while the legislature, governor and state superintendent Glenda Ritz are all in agreement with these issues, this bipartisan support is new.

After his speech, Ritz’s spokesperson for her re-election campaign sent out a statement criticizing the governor for his recent change of mind regarding changing accountability for one year.

“Governor Pence is only now changing his stance on testing because he’s facing an electoral test,” said Annie Mansfield, campaign spokesperson. “But Governor Pence isn’t fooling anyone with his sudden flip-flop on education. Schools haven’t forgotten that up until last month, he was hell bent on penalizing them for an unfair exam. Teachers haven’t forgotten that he told them not to take ISTEP scores personally.”

Up until a few months ago, Pence publicly said school and teacher accountability would remain intact, despite administering a new state assessment in a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in June 2014.

“We do not support a pause in accountability as it relates to delivering A to F grades to schools, determining intervention strategies in under-performing schools, or teacher evaluations that reflect classroom performance,” Pence wrote.

His letter was in response to an op-ed Ritz wrote asking for the pause in accountability.

But now everyone is on board with the hold harmless plan for schools and teachers, and legislative leaders are saying they expect it to be signed into law by the end of January. The State Board of Education rescheduled its monthly meeting for Jan. 26 in anticipation of the legislation being in place by then.

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