Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

House GOP Budget Would Change How Schools Are Funded

Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, helped to author the House GOP budget. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS)

Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, helped to author the House GOP budget. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS)

Where does all the money that taxpayers invest in public education go?

That’s a question lawmakers must consider every two years when they build the state’s biennial budget. And during this “education session,” it’s more relevant than ever – the proposed budget released by House Republicans Monday spends more money on K-12 education than ever before in state history.

Under the House GOP budget, schools would get $469 million more dollars over the next two years than they did in the last state budget. Here’s what that looks like for each of the next two years:

  • Fiscal Year 2016: $6.83 billion
  • Fiscal Year 2017: $6.98 billion

In fact, K-12 and higher education spending combined account for 64 percent of total general fund appropriations over the next two years.

Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, who constructed the proposal, says this is a new track record.

“The budget centers on education,” Brown explains. “I’m very proud of what we can do with [that] focus.”

The budget is big and complicated (but then again, what’s not this session?) Let’s take a closer look at some of the numbers and what they mean for schools.

(Photo Credit: Indiana House Republican Caucus)

(Photo Credit: Indiana House Republican Caucus)

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General Assembly Moving Quickly To Shorten Spring ISTEP+

House Speaker Brian Bosma introduced a resolution in the House Tuesday to reassure schools that legislators will take prescribed steps to shorten the spring ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

House Speaker Brian Bosma introduced a resolution Tuesday to reassure schools that legislators will take prescribed steps to shorten the spring ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

With the window for students to sit for the first portion of the spring ISTEP+ test quickly approaching, the General Assembly is moving fast to move proposed changes through.

Following a flurry of outrage from parents and educators regarding the extended length of this spring’s test, Governor Mike Pence signed an executive order last week hiring two national consultants to help shorten the test. Those experts presented their proposed changes to the State Board of Education on Friday, which adopted the suggestions, including the following ideas:

  • Release only a portion of test questions this coming summer, for teachers and students to use as practice problems for next year’s test,
  • Cut the number of questions each student answers on this year’s test, and
  • Cancel this year’s social studies portion for fifth and seventh graders (subtracting one hour from the test).

By law, those changes have to be approved by the General Assembly. In order to fast-track that process, two things happened in the House today:

  1. The House unanimously passed a resolution pledging to shorten the test. This serves as a promise that lawmakers will make the recommended changes, allowing the Department of Education to move forward with releasing appropriate guidance to schools. It alleviates the stress of waiting for the legislature to go through the prescribed legal process to approve those changes.
  2. As the first step in that legal process, the House Committee on Education amended and approved a bill coming out of the Senate (SB62, a measure originally intended to allow schools to contract out for physical education), tacking on the three state board provisions described above.

The House is expected to pass SB 62 during its session on Monday. Then, all that’s left is for the Senate to concur and the governor to sign off on the bill. House Speaker Brian Bosma says he thinks all this could happen as soon as Monday afternoon.

The testing window opens for schools Wednesday, Feb, 25.

Ritz Supporters Rally Monday At Statehouse

UPDATED, 3:40 p.m.:

People packed three levels of the Indiana Statehouse Monday afternoon for what was dubbed the “Rally for Ritz,” a public event to show support for state superintendent Glenda Ritz.

Superintendent Glenda Ritz appears at a rally on her behalf at the statehouse. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

Superintendent Glenda Ritz appears at a rally on her behalf at the statehouse. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

The event, organized by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, featured speakers including Senate minority leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) and representatives from various education organizations, including two of the state’s largest teachers’ unions – the ISTA and AFT Indiana.

The same groups held a social media campaign last week using the hashtag “#IStandWithRitz.”

Speakers reiterated that sentiment.

“Get the politicians out of the way, let you do what you know best, educate our children,” Sen. Lanane told attendees. “People decided who was going to be the superintendent of public instruction – let her do her job, right?”

Supporters of state superintendent Glenda Ritz pack the statehouse in Indianapolis Monday afternoon. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Supporters of state superintendent Glenda Ritz pack the statehouse in Indianapolis Monday afternoon. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Superintendent Ritz herself dropped in for an unannounced visit.

“Today’s rally is about students,” Ritz said to an audience of parents and teachers from various corners of the state. “I stand with you!”

Underscoring the event are months of tension between various state education policymakers – including Ritz, Governor Mike Pence, the Department of Education and State Board of Education. Icy relations came to a particularly controversial head last week, when lawmakers decided to shorten the spring ISTEP+ test. Schools may begin administering the first portion of that test next week.

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What’s The Latest With ISTEP+?

Last week was a busy one for lawmakers, as they scrambled to try to fix the spring ISTEP+ test.

Following outcry over the longer length of the test, Governor Mike Pence, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, the Department of Education and State Board of Education got to work with a pair of national consultants to whittle down test times. And as is generally the case with state education matters, state board relations came into play, as well.

The issue now goes to the General Assembly, who will race against the clock to approve test changes before students sit for the first portion next week.

Get caught up on the latest ISTEP+ news with clips from Friday’s episodes of Noon Edition and Indiana Newsdesk:

Pence Consultants Present Plan To Reduce ISTEP+ Length

Edward Roeber, a national testing consultant hired through Gov. Pence's executive order, presents his plan to shorten this year's ISTEP to the State Board of Education Friday.

Edward Roeber, a national testing consultant hired through Gov. Pence’s executive order, presents his plan to shorten this year’s ISTEP to the State Board of Education Friday. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

Two national testing consultants – hired through an executive order Gov. Mike Pence issued this week – presented five recommendations to the State Board of Education Friday of ways to reduce the length of this year’s ISTEP+ test.

Edward Roeber and William Auty presented their recommendations during an emergency SBOE meeting that State Superintendent Glenda Ritz called after parents and educators expressed outrage at the length of this year’s test.

After reviewing this year’s ISTEP+, Roeber said the increased times came from one section.

“[English Language Arts] is the real culprit,” Roeber said.

Ritz and the board agreed to move forward with Roeber and Auty’s recommendations, which they say will shorten the test by three hours and five minutes:

1) Release only a small portion of the open-ended test items: When students take the ISTEP+ test, some of the questions are posted online after scores are posted to be used as practice or classroom preparation for the test. Those items have to go through an “operational test” (the actual, graded test students take) so the Department of Education knows they are effective. Since this year’s test is new, every question must be tested by students – whether it’s used in the part of the ISTEP+ that counts toward a student’s score or the “field test” (the part that’s goes back to the IDOE for data purposes). By not releasing every question after the fact, we get to save some of them for next year’s test. This is crucial, because questions for spring 2016 must be piloted this year. Continue Reading

Simplifying Legislation In This “Education Session”

The Indiana General Assembly is in the process of hearing a number of proposals for new education legislation. (Photo Credit: Brian Turner/Flickr)

Lawmakers are in the process of hearing a number of new education proposals. (Photo Credit: Brian Turner/Flickr)

Countless lawmakers have dubbed 2015 the year of the “education session” in the General Assembly.

It’s an apt nickname – there’s a ton of school-related issues to keep track of right now. So much so that even experts get confused about which bill is which, and where it is in the process of potentially becoming law.

So, let’s break it down.

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Amendment To Expand Size Of State Board Of Education Fails

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as chair of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as chair of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Senate Democrats Thursday made an unsuccessful attempt to change the makeup of the State Board of Education.

In addition to removing Ritz as automatic chair, the Senate bill changes how members of the State Board are appointed.

Rather than the governor appointing all members, four would be appointed by the governor, two by the Speaker of the House, and two by the Senate President Pro Tem.  Continue Reading

State Board Meets Friday To Discuss ISTEP+ Possibilities

Following a week of confusion and anger over the spring ISTEP+, the State Board of Education meets Friday morning to discuss how they can shorten the test students will take in two weeks.

The Indiana State Board of Education meets Friday to discuss spring ISTEP+ testing. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The Indiana State Board of Education meets Friday to discuss spring ISTEP+ testing. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

After the Indiana Department of Education released test timetables to schools in early February, school leaders and parents expressed concern about the extended length of time students would need to sit for the exam – in some cases, double or triple the amount of time they’ve tested in previous years.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz called this special meeting of the board in response to that outcry. The IDOE also released a resolution she sent to board members suggesting possibilities for improvement. Among the highlights, Ritz recommends:

In his own response to concerns, Governor Mike Pence issued an executive order Monday hiring two outside consultants to recommendations for shrinking the test. Despite seemingly placing the blame for test issues on state board relations with Ritz and the IDOE during his press conference Monday, Pence said Wednesday that he had every confidence the groups could work together to fix the ISTEP+ before students sit for the first testing window Feb. 25.

The board will meet beginning at 9 a.m. Friday.

For updates during Friday’s special board meeting, follow @StateImpactIN & reporter @ClaireMcInerny on Twitter.

More Issues During Second Round of ISTEP+ Stress Tests

If this week’s back-and-forth over the length of the spring test wasn’t enough, more drama regarding ISTEP+ emerged Thursday morning.

A number of schools encountered technical troubles during the second round of statewide readiness tests, or “stress tests” around 10:20 a.m. Thursday – just like they did during the first round in January. This time, the majority of computers froze up about 20-25 minutes into the online testing period.

This is the second time tech troubles have plagued Indiana students during ISTEP+ stress this year. (Photo Credit: WSU Vancouver/Flickr)

This is the second time tech troubles have plagued Indiana students during ISTEP+ stress this year. (Photo Credit: WSU Vancouver/Flickr)

Mitchell Community Schools technology director Sam Klawitter says this is at least a small improvement, but that he obviously still has concerns.

“It was not pretty, but not as catastrophic as last time,” Klawitter says. “Almost all of our students were able to limp along and were able to complete all 20 questions. We powered through and kept students in labs and classrooms beating on it until they were able to finish.”

Thursday’s test was originally supposed to take place a few weeks ago, but was rescheduled after the original failures.

ISTEP+ technology has been watched closely since 2013, when 78,000 students taking the actual graded test experienced disruptions.

IDOE Proposes Resolution To Remove Accountability From ISTEP+

The State Board of Education will meet Friday to discuss this year's ISTEP+.

The State Board of Education will meet Friday to discuss this year’s ISTEP+. photo credit: David Hartman (flickr)

The State Board of Education will consider a resolution proposed by the Department of Education that would suspend accountability for schools and teachers tied to results from the spring ISTEP+ exam. The board convenes Friday for a special meeting to address the length of this year’s test, which sparked outrage from educators and parents when the news became public last week.

In an effort to address these concerns, Governor Mike Pence signed an executive order Monday hiring a national testing consultant to recommend ways to shorten the test to the IDOE and SBOE. But the testing window for the ISTEP+ begins Feb. 25, giving the consultant, the IDOE and CTB McGraw-Hill a tight deadline to make any changes to the test.

The SBOE meeting Friday will focus only on this issue, and the resolution put forward by the IDOE attempts to address the concerns of parents and educators in a different way than the governor’s attempt to shorten the test.

The resolution asks the board to vote on the following changes to the state’s testing procedures:

  • Request that the General Assembly allow the IDOE and SBOE to suspend A-F grades for the 2014-2015 school year (which are based partially on ISTEP+ grades),
  • Ask the General Assembly to pause interventions for failing schools “due to a sixth consecutive year of placement in the lowest category or designation of school performance resulting from the hold in school categories and designations for the 2014-2015 school year,”
  • Ask the General Assembly to remove social studies portions of the 2015 ISTEP+ for fifth and seventh graders,
  • Ask the General Assembly to approve the decision not to administer the IREAD-3 test this year, to reduce the amount of testing for third graders, and
  • Not incorporate ISTEP+ scores into teacher evaluations.

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