Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

ISTEP Bills Move Quickly Through Legislature

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

As promised, bills to protect schools and teachers from the expected drop in ISTEP scores are moving swiftly through legislative chambers.

SB 200, which would allow schools to use the better of their 2014 or 2015 A-F grade passed almost unanimously through the Senate with only one vote against. HB 1003, which would eliminate low ISTEP+ scores from teacher evaluations, also passed through the House with only one nay vote.

Now that they have passed through their originating chambers, the two bills are on their way to the opposite side of the legislature for approval.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, authored the Senate bill and will be the sponsor for HB 1003 in Senate. He says he doesn’t have plans to make changes to that bill as of right now and all legislators are trying to get finalized versions of these bills to the governor’s desk by the end of January.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, are sponsoring SB 200 in the House.

These bills come after the 2015 ISTEP+ scores released this month dropped significantly compared to previous years. Many agree these scores are not an accurate measure of learning because the test was given in a new format and there were some technical and administrative challenges. The 2015 test was created to match new state standards written after Indiana left Common Core.

As SB 200 and HB 1003 were introduced this week, state superintendent Glenda Ritz called for the creation of a panel to form plans for a  different type of state assessment. This panel would discuss a new testing option for after the state’s current contract with Pearson ends in two years.


Ritz Gives Insight On Plan To Get Rid Of ISTEP

The legislature and state superintendent want to replace ISTEP with a new assessment, and are starting to formulate a plan for how that will work going forward.

The legislature and state superintendent want to replace ISTEP with a new assessment, and are starting to formulate a plan for how that will work going forward. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

Legislators on both sides of the the aisle are weighing the value of the ISTEP+ this session, and Monday state superintendent Glenda Ritz suggested a first step.

The state currently has a contract with testing vendor Pearson to administer the ISTEP+ for two more years. They can’t break this, but Ritz is proposing she co-chair a panel of educators and lawmakers to discuss a new version of the test once the contract expires.

The panel would be similar to one created last year that came up with the state’s new accountability system.

“I want to make sure that we have time to actually get our system correct, making sure we’re seeing growth of students over time,” Ritz said.

Many lawmakers previously suggested replacing ISTEP+ with NWEA, a test many Indiana schools use throughout the year to see how students are progressing. But this is no longer an option under the Every Student Succeeds Act (No Child Left Behind’s Replacement). States still have to administer a test that measures what a student learned over the course of the year. The law does allow for that test to be broken up throughout the year, it just has to be able to be calculated into one score to prove learning over time

Ritz says a re-write of Indiana’s assessment would have to find the balance to get to that score but not create the high stakes and stressful experience students currently face.

“How do you meld the formative assessment and the summative to be streamlined to have meaning,” she said.

Because of the Pearson contract and this being a short legislative session, the General Assembly is not likely to pass sweeping legislation that would overhaul the state assessment this session, but House Speaker Brian Bosma has said he would like the legislature to adjourn in March with a plan going forward to revamp the test.


Two Efforts Made This Week To Address Teacher Shortage

Sarah Laptiste's classroom at Clinton Young Elementary School. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The legislature and the Commission for Higher Education both made efforts this week to attract and retain more teachers to the classroom in Indiana. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana).

Fewer people are signing up to become teachers in Indiana, as we’ve been reporting since last summer. The number of new licenses dropped by over 10 thousand in three school years, and this week we saw two new actions taking aim at this problem.

The first attempt to increase the teaching force in Indiana comes from the legislature, which kicked off its 2016 session this week. House Speaker Brian Bosma says he will file a bill that creates a new program, called the Next Generation Hoosier Educator Scholarship.

This scholarship would give up to $7,500 a year to an Indiana high school student graduating in the top 20 percent of their class. To qualify, students must commit to earning a teaching degree at an Indiana university and teaching in an Indiana classroom for five years after graduation.

Details on funding the program aren’t established, and Bosma says it could come from outside sources or during next year’s budget session.

“We wanted the framework in place even if the funding was not this year,” Bosma says. “So that both students and our education schools can begin preparing.”

The second action taken this week was by the Commission For Higher Education. The state agency awarded $9 million in grants to institutions committed to recruiting and training teachers in science, technology, engineering and math subjects.

These grants went to organizations including the Purdue Research Foundation, Teach For America, Notre Dame, University of Southern Indiana Foundation, Independent Colleges of Indiana and TNTP.

The grants fund various initiatives, including teacher training for STEM subjects, dual credit credentialing, mentoring programs and retention programs. Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers says the CHE follows up twice a year with grant recipients to make sure they are following through with what they outlined in their proposal.

Lubbers also says her agency is addressing the issue through data collection, to fully understand the issue.

“Our big promise to the legislature is we will provide the best data that we can to them so they can analyze where there might be a shortage and in what subject areas so they can really target their efforts to what we know are the shortage areas,” Lubbers says.

Bosma says the scholarship program will be outlined in House Bill 1002, which has not yet been filed.

Legislature Moves Forward With Bills To Give Schools ISTEP Relief

The legislature moved forward with two bills Wednesday that would curb negative consequences of this year's lower ISTEP+ scores for teachers and schools

The legislature moved forward with two bills Wednesday that would curb negative consequences of this year’s lower ISTEP+ scores for teachers and schools. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The two education bills legislators promised to fast track this session moved out of committee Wednesday, getting closer to ensuring teachers and schools will not be punished for lower ISTEP+ scores.

One bill, passed unanimously by the House Education Committee, would prohibit this year’s ISTEP+ scores from being calculated into a teacher’s evaluation if it makes the evaluation worse. The scores must be used though if the scores would boost a teacher’s evaluation.

This bill was drafted and amended by Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, along with the Department of Education. Behning says they also vetted it through the teacher’s unions to make sure it is in line with their goals.

“We know this is a short session and things need to be done quickly,” said John Barnes, Director of Legislative Affairs for the DOE. “We’re satisfied with this language.”


With the committee passing the bill it will now move to the full House floor and is expected to be passed by both chambers in the coming weeks.

The Senate took up the other bill addressing consequences from ISTEP+ scores, which would alter the A-F system for one year to avoid a large portions of schools and school districts from being considered ‘poor performing’.

The Senate passed the bill 10-1 it will now leave committee and go to the full Senate.

Under this bill, the state will still calculate A-F grades using this year’s lower ISTEP+ scores, but if the grade for the 2014-2015 school year is lower than its grade from 2013-2014 school year, the old grade will stay in place. If it’s higher, the higher score will be used.

Before the Senate committee voted on the bill, state superintendent Glenda Ritz spoke to the group about why passing this bill is necessary this year, because she said these scores don’t reflect student learning or teacher effectiveness.

“They reflect this change in standards and a new testing system,” said Ritz.

The lower test scores are the result of the first year the ISTEP+ matched new state standards.

Legislators have said they hope both bills will be signed into law by the governor before January.


Map: As Predicted, 2015 ISTEP+ Scores Drop Significantly

ISTEP+ scores from the 2014-15 school year have finally been released – but the picture they paint is not pretty for Indiana schools.

Many expected scores to be on the lower end, since 2015 marked the first year Indiana tested the new set of academic standards adopted following Gov. Mike Pence‘s decision to exit the Common Core.

And that was indeed the case.

Last year, scores went up for both English/Language Arts and Math portions of the statewide assessment overall: 80.7 percent of students passed the ELA test, and 83.5 percent passed math. The number of students who passed both tests had also increased from the year prior, with 74.7 percent passing in 2014.

This year, scores decreased sharply on all portions of the test. Statewide, only 67.3 percent of students in grades three through eight passed the ELA section, and the pass rate for Math sat at 61 percent. Just 53.5 percent of students passed both sections. 

Here is a map of results for the 2015 ISTEP+ exams, including data for private schools, traditional public schools and charter schools:

You can also click here to search our easily-sortable table. 

Indiana’s Department of Education says 2015 scores are not comparable to previous years’ pass rates because of all the changes to the state’s standards and related tests. Instead, the IDOE says these new scores show for the first time the percentage of students meeting the new college and career ready benchmarks at each grade level.

In response to the numbers, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz reiterated the call for reforms to Indiana’s testing system. In a statement, she thanked students, teachers and administrators for their work during what she called a “challenging” school year of testing delays and technological issues, and said she thinks it’s time for Indiana to move away from the ISTEP+ once and for all.

“The one-size-fits-all high stakes approach of the ISTEP+ needs to end,” Ritz said in a statement. “Instead, Indiana should move towards a streamlined, individualized, student-centered assessment that provides students, families and educators with quick feedback about how a student is performing and how they have grown during a school year.” 

The need to eliminate ISTEP+ is something other legislators have called for, too. At a legislative conference last month, House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said the legislature will reattempt conversations about using an ‘off the shelf’ test – a dialogue spearheaded last session by Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville).

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Legislature Will Expedite Two Education Bills

Members of the Senate Republican caucus announce their 2016 legislative agenda on the first day of the session.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long (right), along with other members of the Senate Republican caucus, announces the group’s 2016 legislative agenda on the first day of the session. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

As the General Assembly convened Tuesday for the 2016 legislative session, discussion of how to handle this year’s A-F grades was one of the first issues addressed.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, filed Senate Bill 200 Monday, which if passed would hold Indiana schools harmless from lower A-F grades this year. The legislation says a school may not receive a grade lower than the one it received in the 2013-2014 school year.

This would only be in effect for one year.

This legislation comes after preliminary ISTEP+ data showed a huge dip in scores, which in turn would plummet many schools into poor performing categories. The lower scores were expected by many, as this was the first year students took an assessment to match new standards, and the test itself was formatted differently.

Although state Superintendent Glenda Ritz suggested multiple times over the last year that this would be the case, and that the state should consider the hold harmless option, the filing of this bill is the first time others in the legislature and the governor agree on this plan.

After unveiling the Senate Republicans’ legislative agenda Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem David Long said all legislative caucuses as well as the governor’s office, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education had worked together to decide on this option.

“This has been an effort over months to look at all of our options,” Long said. “We finally rallied around the point that hold harmless for one year is the best approach.”

In terms of consequences for receiving an F, the current rule that six years of a failing grade constitutes state takeover would remain intact. Starting next school year, that would change to a four-year system.

In addition, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, plans to bring forth a bill that decouples ISTEP+ grades from teacher evaluations.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, says both the teacher evaluation bill and the A-F changes will be expedited through the legislation process, with the hopes of being signed into law before the end of January.

Gary Senator & School Advocate Will Not Seek Reelection

Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) announced Tuesday that she will not seek re-election, ending a 34-year legislative career.

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

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

Rogers has served in the Senate since 1990 representing Indiana’s third district, which includes portions of Gary, Merrillville, Hobart, Crown Point, Lake Station and New Chicago. Prior to that, she represented the district in the House for eight years.

Rogers is also a Gary native, and has been a longtime advocate for her district’s school system – a system she worked in as a teacher for 38 years. Many consider her a champion the Gary Community School Corporation has badly needed.

In an interview with StateImpact earlier this year, Rogers said she sees a bright future for a district that, in her opinion, many others write off.

“There is just a renewed hope that I’ve seen in the community, in terms of everybody wanting to pitch in to make things better,” Rogers said. “I think that change in attitude is what, more than anything else, is what’s going to lead to the rejuvenation that all of us are looking forward to.”

State Board of Education member Eddie Melton, who represents Gary on the board and resides in northwest Indiana, told the Northwest Indiana Times in November that he would consider a run for Rogers’ seat, should she decide to retire. He has already filed paperwork to form an exploratory campaign committee.

This story will be updated.

Legislative Tracker: Education in the 2016 Session

Following up on last year’s “education session,” 2016 looks to be another busy term for lawmakers in Indiana’s General Assembly.

Legislative meetings aside, there’s a lot going on in education right now – some proposed bills even overlap one another. So, to keep things neat and organized we’re compiling an up-to-date, easy-to-read list of the school-related bills we’re following at StateImpact. 

Check out where those measures are in the process – followed by links to the bills themselves and some of our continuing coverage:

Show rows.
Next Step
SB 4Sen. Mark StoopsAllows state to assign schools the greater of its 2013-14 or 2014-15 A-F grade for the 2014-15 school year. Mandates ISTEP+ results be used in teacher evaluations for the 2015-16 school year.First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 9Sen. Jeff RaatzRemoves requirement that charter schools report certain data to the IDOE. First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 10Sen. Jeff RaatzTweaks factors used to determine increases or increments in teacher salary ranges.First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 34Sen. Timothy LananeAllows school districts control over its property tax reductions & credits. First readingCommittee on Appropriations hearing
SB 73Sen. Jean LeisingRequires school districts to include reading & cursive writing in its curriculum. First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 93Sen. Dennis KruseVarious education matters, including requiring ISTEP+ results are delivered in a timely manner and amending disability categories.First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 147Sen. Phillip BootsRequires establishment of minimum standards and approval of best practices for a school emergency response system First readingCommittee on Homeland Security & Transporation hearing
SB 175Sen. Jean LeisingRequires state to establish appropriate academic standards and curricula concerning health education.First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 200Sen. Dennis KruseRequires state to assign 2013-14 A-F grade for 2014-2015 school year, if 2014-15 grade is lower. First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing

Source: Indiana General Assembly


Keep up with our tracker throughout the legislative session here

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What’s Next? Stories To Watch In 2016

2015 was a busy year for education in Indiana – if you don’t believe us, just look back at our list of everything that happened over the past 12 months.

And we’re sure 2016 won’t be much different. Already, state policymakers and education leaders are gearing up for the year ahead – and so are we. Check out what’s on deck for the new year…

(Photo Credit: Alexander McCall/WFIU News)

(Photo Credit: Alexander McCall/WFIU News)

Some ISTEP+ Housekeeping…

One of this year’s most noteworthy (and controversial) education stories will undoubtedly remain in the headlines into 2016: results and ramifications from the statewide ISTEP+. Following a series of delays due to technical and grading errors this fall, the scores from last spring’s test have yet to be officially released to the public.

Remember, ISTEP+ scores typically factor into other things like school A-F accountability grades (we showed you the preliminary data for those earlier this month), teacher evaluations and, in turn, teacher pay – so it’s safe to say Indiana schools look forward to seeing their students’ results in any given year.

House speaker Brian Bosma is one of several lawmakers working to untie teacher evaluations from 2015 ISTEP+ results. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU News)

House speaker Brian Bosma is one of several lawmakers working to untie teacher evaluations from 2015 ISTEP+ results. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU News)

What makes this particular round so interesting? Many don’t expect scores to be so good – students took a brand-new test this year, one that matched Indiana’s latest set of academic standards, and history shows that typically leads to a drop in scores. And that has led a growing group of state lawmakers to suggest Indiana “hold schools harmless” for this year’s performance. Look for legislation in the early part of the 2016 session to decouple ISTEP+ results from teacher evaluations.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has said we can expect to see finalized A-F calculations by January 15.

…And Starting Anew

Come February, it’s out with the old and in with the new: CTB, the vendor that has experienced so many complications administering Indiana’s ISTEP+ test, will no longer be tasked with that job. The state will instead deal with Pearson, a British testing company. Many are curious to see how the new relationship works out – Pearson has a history of test security issues in other states, although the company has said they’re confident they can avoid problems in the Hoosier state.

Meanwhile, the future of the state’s testing system appears to be up for discussion during the legislative session, as well. Just last week, legislators said they’d be open to talking about replacing ISTEP+ with a different, “off-the-shelf” test.

Teacher Recruitment Efforts

Department of Education data exposed in 2015 revealed that Indiana is seeing lower numbers entering its teaching force than in years past. Superintendent Ritz’s Blue Ribbon Commission worked to comb through the data and present legislators with some potential solutions, and lawmakers plan to examine the issue during session this year. House Speaker Brian Bosma has said teacher recruitment in particular will be the General Assembly‘s second priority this year.

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