Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Reporter’s Notebook: Covering English Learners Across Indiana In 2016

Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school’s few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school\’s new dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school’s few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school\\’s new dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

At the very beginning of 2016, I wanted to follow up on a school funding change that went into place the year before. A previous school funding formula gave schools more money to educate high-need students, like students in special education, students who are English learners and low-income students. But, in an attempt to distribute school funding more equally, the new formula took much of that money away.

I traveled to Goshen Community Schools to look at how these cuts were affecting a district where a third of the students need English learning services. I spent a lot of time with the district’s Chief Financial Officer, and I didn’t expect it to be an emotional interview. But it was. The district lost a lot of money through the new funding formula, and he worried they might have to scale back services.

This story drew me into a topic I hadn’t covered closely yet – English language learning.

When I looked at the data, school districts with the highest percentage of English learners were mostly concentrated in rural areas, and I saw that this was an issue that wasn’t being covered. I knew small, rural school districts were also facing disproportionately larger budget problems, and English learning programs are expensive. I was also interested in the social reactions to this population, as it is a growing percentage of residents in small towns.

I became so invested that I applied and got a fellowship with the Institute for Justice in Journalism, whose 2016 program was focused on stories around immigrant children. I pitched a series of stories on different school districts serving the growing English learner population in rural Indiana.

One of my first stops was Frankfort, where the schools serve the largest percentage of English Learners in the state. Eight teachers are trying to provide English learning services to 800 kids.

Many small districts face this challenge. It often means the dedicated EL teachers don’t get as much time with the kids as they’d like:

Other teachers say they get pulled away from working with English learning students to proctor ISTEP+ exams or do lunch duty. And they all say the schools need more dedicated, certified EL teachers. But Frankfort’s Director of English Learning, Lori North, says that’s a tough ask right now.

“We had teacher cuts this year so it’s really hard for me to go and say ‘I need more EL teachers when they’re cutting general education teachers,” North says.

Another place this reporting took me to was Columbus, Ind., a larger school district, but one where the English learner population was changing. The EL teachers in the district had typically served Spanish speaking students, but because of foreign businesses moving to Columbus, more and more Japanese students were enrolling in Columbus schools.

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. from Japan in August with her husband and two kids. They came for her husband’s job at Enkei, a Japanese wheel company with a branch in Columbus. Her children, Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services. When they started the year they didn’t speak any English. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. from Japan in August with her husband and two kids. They came for her husband’s job at Enkei, a Japanese wheel company with a branch in Columbus. Her children, Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services. When they started the year they didn’t speak any English. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

It is hard to appeal to every student’s language and cultural needs. And this frustrates some parents, who want the teachers to give their children more one-on-one attention.

While in Columbus, I met Hiroko Murabayashi, a mother of two elementary school students. They only lived in Columbus for a few months, and she was hoping her kids would spent more time learning the mechanics of English and not as much in their general studies.

This tug of war between what a school is capable of doing and what is best for a student learning English was a theme. And it’s what made this topic so interesting.

Relative to other states, Indiana’s immigrant population is small, but it’s growing quickly. This tension is not going away.

And this is something I heard so often from teachers in these schools – they don’t feel supported. They say most of the legislators who are able to allocate funds to these programs don’t understand how much work it takes to learn English.

Another thing that came up again and again – once the EL students became proficient in English, they academically outperformed native English speakers.

My last story of this series took place in Ligonier, at West Noble Primary School. This school received a grant from the Indiana Department of Education to start a dual language program. This type of program requires teachers who speak two languages, because they will teach half of their lessons in one languages and half in another.

West Noble’s population is about half Latino, and many of the students were already bilingual.

I loved rounding out the series with this story, because it showed a school that is able to embrace its diversity. When I spoke with the principal and a teacher for the dual language program, their goal is to break down social barriers and encourage all students to be bilingual.

“I want them to feel equipped with and have the mentality to have a diverse mentality,” first grade teacher Elias Rojas said. “To have them not see a minority and not say that’s a minority. That is a person.”

What Were The Top Five Education Stories Of 2016? Let’s Review

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, 2016. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on election night, after defeating Glenda Ritz for state superintendent. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

As 2016 winds down, there’s a lot to reflect on. A lot. While so much happened this year (seriously so much happened, I’m sure we blocked most of it out), we’re going to focus on the milestones of the Indiana education world: the most notable laws, conversations and changes in our classrooms.

The Ever-Evolving ISTEP+

When it comes to Indiana education, 2016 was the year of the ISTEP+. The year started with the 2016 legislative session, where lawmakers passed a bill to get rid of the ISTEP+ as it currently functions. They also created a 23-person panel to craft recommendations for its replacement.

The panel met once a month for six months, and its strategy had a broad frame. Members included teachers, principals, superintendents, legislators and state officials. This range of experience required a lot of discussion on both how standardized assessments function and how they are created.

Narrower conversations about specific changes to the test or testing administration did not take place until the the very end of the process, the second to last meeting before the Dec. 1 deadline.

The final recommendations to the legislature were broad and didn’t offer major changes to the testing system.

The fate of the new state assessment now rests with lawmakers, who will decide how much to reshape the old one. We recently heard from Sen. Dennis Kruse, the chair of the Senate education committee, that he will propose pushing back the deadline for a new test to make sure the revisions are well done.

What’s Next For State Funded Pre-K?

All year, we’ve heard many call for the state to expand its pre-K pilot program and serve more children.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal pre-K. A group of business leaders called on the legislature to expand the current program to just low-income families, and many candidates brought it up during the election.

Universal pre-K will not be on the table, now that both Ritz and Gregg lost their respective races. But all of the talk from different groups prompted the legislature to announce they will address the issues during the next session.

So… How About That Election, Huh?

Remember that?

It has some major implications for education.

In Indiana, we elected a brand new Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state’s highest ranking education official. The publicly elected office also heads the Department of Education and chairs the Indiana State Board of Education.

In a stunning upset, relatively-unknown-on-a-statewide-level Republican Jennifer McCormick handily defeated incumbent Glenda Ritz. McCormick, current Yorktown Community Schools’ superintendent, agrees with Ritz on key issues – reforming teacher evaluations, pre-K expansion, calling for less testing.

But with a Republican as state superintendent, the change could mean fewer squabbles between the Republican-controlled Legislature and the education department.

And we can’t forget that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is now also Vice President-elect. So, Indiana’s education policies may soon make it onto the national stage. Largely in the form of school choice. Indiana boasts the country’s most robust school choice program, with the state spending $40 million to send more than 300,000 students to private schools. President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of education, Betsy Devos, is well-known for pushing programs and laws that require public funds pay for private school tuition in the form of vouchers.

Indiana Prepares For New Federal Education Law

For those of you who have been following our blog closely, you may have noticed we’ve spent a lot of time on the country’s new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Fellow policy nerds (…I mean, you ARE reading an education policy blog right now…) will know ESSA was signed into law in Dec. 2015 and set to take full effect in 2017. So this year was largely – figuring out how to make sure the roll out goes smoothly.

The new education allows states more freedom to design administration and practices for rating schools and teachers, as long as they meet certain federal standards.

State leaders weighed in on it. Experts shared advice. A state panel worked to create goals for various education factors, including English language instruction, graduation rates, and student achievement on state tests.

Much of the debate surrounded a still undetermined, non-academic factor that the state will measure as a way to measure schools’ progress. That factor could include school climate, access to AP classes, chronic absenteeism or disciplinary action.

Although the federal law allows states much more flexibility in test administration, teacher evaluations and school ranking, many of these elements are already written into Indiana state law. So tweaking those things, even though ESSA allows it, would require legislators to change the law.

School Rankings Took A Dip

The 2016 school rankings showed far fewer A’s. It also showed fewer F’s. Schools from the high and low rankings moved to the middle – many more schools ranked as B’s and C’s.

A few factors led to this. A change in the way the state ranks schools now measures students’ growth in test scores from year to year, rather than whether a student passed the test or not. And last year the state held schools harmless for lower test scores. In other words, the school was awarded the higher grade between their 2014 and 2015 scores.

So 2015 scores were higher than they may have been otherwise, possibly leading to a more drastic dip in 2016.

We have a database of school test scores here.

What were your favorite stories of 2016? What should we look for in 2017? Leave your answer in the comments below.

Messer Sponsors Bill To Help Grad Students Save For Retirement

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer is sponsoring a bill that would allow graduate students receiving stipends from grants or fellowships to save part of that money for retirement.

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer is sponsoring a bill that would allow graduate students receiving stipends from grants or fellowships to save part of that money for retirement. (courtesy of Rep. Messer’s office).

Indiana Rep. Luke Messer is sponsoring a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow graduate students to save portions of their fellowship and grant stipends in retirement accounts.

Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Mike Lee introduced The Graduate Student Savings Act of 2016 in the Senate earlier this year, and Messer, along with Democrat Rep. Joe Kennedy, is sponsoring the companion bill in the House.

Right now, graduate students who have part-time jobs or work as research or graduate assistants can save some of their wages in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). But students who receive a stipend, whether it is through a grant or a fellowship program, legally cannot save that money in an IRA. If passed, this bill would give graduate students that option.

The senators’ plan would allow graduate or doctoral students to take money from their stipends and contribute toward a retirement plan. And that can mean big savings in the long run. The plan would allow a student who puts away $1,500 for 5 years, or $125 a month, to earn an extra $58,000 through interest by the time they retire.

“Grad students and researchers who are studying to improve all of our futures should have the chance to invest in their own.”

Thursday was the last day of the session, so the bill will not get a vote until after they resume after the holidays.

 

 

 

 

Wayne Township Teachers Donating Small State Bonuses

State issued teacher bonuses are calculated using mainly test scores and graduation rates. The bonuses vary between districts, with teachers in more affluent areas getting a larger bonus.

State issued teacher bonuses are calculated using mainly test scores and graduation rates. The bonuses vary between districts, with teachers in more affluent areas getting a larger bonus. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

After state issued teacher bonuses gave thousands more dollars to teachers in affluent districts, some teachers in Wayne Township are donating their bonuses to help other teachers.

The state uses a formula to decide how much money each school district receives to award bonuses to all teachers rated effective or highly effective.

But because that formula is mostly based on test scores and graduation rates, teachers in affluent school districts get a larger bonus – a few thousands dollars. And teachers in less affluent districts, such as Wayne Township in Indianapolis, might get around 40 dollars.

Wayne Township superintendent Jeff Butts says many of his effective and highly effective teachers are donating their $42 bonuses to a district fund that helps teachers and students.

“They’re personally going to make that donation to the Wayne Township Education Foundation so that they can continue doing the work of supporting our teachers in the classroom.”

Butts says, so far, 40 teachers in the district committed to donating the money.

Butts says he has set up meetings with legislators to discuss how this money is distributed, to hopefully change the process in the future.

(Read a letter from some Wayne Township teachers to legislators protesting the formula that distributes bonus pay).

Whose Line Is It Really?: How Improv Benefits Children With Autism

Shaw, 8, plays an improv game with Erin McTiernan, an Indiana State University doctoral student. Shaw is a participant in an improv class at Indiana State University for children with high functioning autism. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Shaw, 8, plays an improv game with Erin McTiernan, an Indiana State University doctoral student. Shaw is a participant in an improv class at Indiana State University for children with high functioning autism. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

When he gets excited, he gets really excited.

And for 8-year-old Shaw, tonight he’s excited for the warm up. From the moment he walks in, he can’t wait. The blonde boy, in his gray and black zip up sweatshirt, is eager to to shake his limbs. Scream a countdown.

And then, he’s ready.

Like the other children gathered beneath the bright fluorescent lights at Indiana State University’s psychology clinic, Shaw’s here for a class specifically designed for 6- to 9-year-olds with high functioning autism. He’s here to practice a skill that, until recently, seemed reserved for comedians and actors.

Improv theater.

But, instead of entertainment, tonight it’s being used by one of a growing number of groups that use improv to teach social skills to children with autism.

For children with autism, socializing can be hard because it involves things like taking turns.

“And waiting is very, very, very hard for people with autism and anxiety,” says Janna Graf, Shaw’s mother.

She knows. Two of her four children are diagnosed with autism, attention deficit disorder and anxiety. When Shaw was young, it was hard.

“When he was 3, man, he screamed every day for eight hours a day, for six months,” Graff says. “And he’s just awesome.”

These days, once a week, Graff takes Shaw to the social skills group in the form of an improv theater class.

The improv theater class at Indiana State University’s psychology clinic. Rachel Magin, center, created the class to help children with autism learn social skills and practice reading others' emotions. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The improv theater class at Indiana State University’s psychology clinic. Rachel Magin, center, created the class to help children with autism learn social skills and practice reading others’ emotions. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Rachel Magin, an ISU doctoral student in psychology, designed the class. Her aim is to help these children focus on the different ways people communicate.

“Through our facial expressions, through the way our body language shows it or just the tone of our voice,” Magin says.

Over the course of the seven-week class, Magin is gathering feedback on how children, like Shaw, interpret these things, the modes of communication that are not words.

“Children with autism just are not able to read those cues as well,” Magin says.

For children with autism, those cues can be like a foreign language.

“And they haven’t necessarily learned that language,” Magin says.

But languages can be learned. And improv classes can serve as a language immersion program, of sorts.

Shaw, 8, looks on as his sister Silas, 6, participates in an improv game. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Shaw, 8, looks on as his sister Silas, 6, participates in an improv game. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

“OK, here’s what we’re going to do,” says Erin McTiernan, Magin’s co-teacher, as she gathers the class.

They proceed with a fairly typical improv game: Shaw and classmates pick sentences out of a bright white envelope and randomly choose a card with an emotion on it. Their task: say that sentence, in that emotion.

It’s a child-friendly version of Whose Line Is It Anyway’s “Scene From A Hat.”

Sometimes it runs smoothly. McTiernan helps a 6-year-old student with her combination.

“Say ‘it sounds great’ in a happy voice,” McTiernan says.

“Yay! It sounds great in a happy voice! Yay!” the child responds. “Yay! Yay!”

But – like in real life – the way you say the words changes their meaning. So when emotions don’t obviously line up with the words, it can be more of a challenge for these children.

Like the phrase “it’s over.”

“It’s over!,” says Jake, a 9-year-old. Now, the others have to guess the emotion.

“Umm, sad,” someone guesses.

“No.”

“Scared.”

“No.”

“Happy.”

“Yes!”

Magin, the teacher, uses it as a teaching moment.

“What would have helped him to show that he was happy?” Magin asks the class.

Silas – Shaw’s 6-year-old sister doesn’t have autism, but comes with her brother – she knows.

“Yay! It’s over! Yay, it’s over! Yay!” Silas says, jumping in her blue and black striped sweater.

“OK, so jumping up and down, having the voice get a little higher and a little louder,” Magin says. The children nod.

Erin McTiernan (left) looks on as Rachel Magin leads a class exercise. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Erin McTiernan (left) looks on as Rachel Magin leads a class exercise. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

And they improvise other situations, too.

“We’re gonna role play how to deal with anxiety,” McTiernan, the other teacher, says.

Perhaps, it’s something we all could use, but for these children it’s especially important. Children with autism can experience anxiety more intensely and more often than other children.

In an improvised scene with his sister, Shaw plays someone nervous about going to a new school.

“I think it’s going to be scary,” Shaw says.

In the scene, his sister has advice.

“Take deep breaths and you will not be scared,” Silas says.

The idea of the class is pretty straightforward – if children act out different situations, think about their emotions and how they show them — they’ll communicate more clearly in real life.

“[Improv] is being recognized as kind of a technology for human connection and communication,” says Jim Ansaldo, a research scholar at Indiana University.

Ansaldo also runs Camp Yes And, an improv summer camp for teens with autism and performs improv himself. He says improv-specific programs for children with autism are rare – he knows about a half dozen – but their number is growing.

Jim Ansaldo, a research scholar at Indiana University, in his office. Ansaldo also runs an improv summer camp for teens with autism. He says improv-specific programs for children with autism are spreading. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Jim Ansaldo, a research scholar at Indiana University, in his office. Ansaldo also runs an improv summer camp for teens with autism. He says improv-specific programs for children with autism are spreading. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

“What improv really does is create a safe and fun and authentic environment in which to practice, where mistakes really don’t matter,” Ansaldo says.

And Janna Graf, Shaw’s mother, says the change is real. She saw it when the 8-year-old – who, she says, can ramble – introduced himself at a church group.

“When he learned about ‘how to stop and pause and take a moment,’ he said, ‘My name’s Shaw, I’m 8-years-old,’ and then he actually took his hands and waved it to the next person,” Graf says. “And realized it was his turn.”

She felt wonderful.

And it’s this kind of feedback that the researchers are using to see how this improv class transfers to real social skills. So far, they’re encouraged by the early results.

High School Dual Credit Teaching Requirements Gets Extension

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers led a meeting in 2015 discussing how Indiana educators can get more college education to teach dual credit courses.

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers led a meeting in 2015 discussing how Indiana educators can get more college education to teach dual credit courses. ” credit=”Gretchen Frazee / WTIU News

The Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditor working on behalf of the federal government, granted Indiana an extension on new requirements for dual credit teachers, giving the state until 2022 to meet new requirements.

The HLC passed changes for the credentials high school teachers that teach dual-credit courses that were supposed to go into effect in 2017. The changes said a high school teacher teaching a dual credit class, a high school class that also earns a student college credit, must have a master’s degree that includes 18 credit hours in the subject they teach. This means a high school teacher teaching advanced Biology can’t just get a master’s degree in education, but also complete multiple classes in Biology.

The new requirements raised concerns in the education community, as it was estimated 71 percent of Indiana’s dual credit teachers, teaching more than 45,000 students, wouldn’t meet the new requirements.

The extension from the HLC gives Indiana teachers until September 2022 to meet the new requirements.

In the last few years, state superintendent Glenda Ritz and Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers have called on the legislature to provide funding so teachers can afford to take these college classes and meet the requirements.

During last year’s legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill saying they would study ways to make these requirements easier for teachers to reach. But the bill allocated no money to pay for these classes, just makes a scholarship or tuition break possible.

Indiana schools are required to offer dual credit classes to students, but currently do not provide assistance for teachers to obtain advanced degrees.

Lubbers said in a statement Tuesday she is glad the state received approval of the extension.

“We are pleased that the accreditor has granted our colleges this extra time to ensure Indiana’s teachers have sufficient time to meet these new requirements,” Lubbers said. “We will spend the next five years working to make certain all Hoosier students continue to have access to high-quality dual credit opportunities.”

The legislature may pick up the issue during the budget session that begins Jan. 3.

Struggling Gary Schools Could See Financial Boost From City

A city agreement could provide $200,000 to $300,000 of tax increment financing money to the Gary Community School Corporation. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A city agreement could provide $200,000 to $300,000 of tax increment financing money to the Gary Community School Corporation. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

After Gary voters last month turned down a request to increase taxes that would have provided their financially-troubled school district about $8.7 million annually, the school district may find financial reprieve through another source.

A city agreement could provide $200,000 to $300,000 of tax increment financing money to the Gary Community School Corp., the NWI Times reports. The arrangement could also provide money through the sale of some vacant, or unused, school district property.

Under the plan, the school corporation will receive 40 percent of tax increment revenue from all its tax increment financing districts after bonds and existing obligations are taken into account.

“That number will likely fall between $200,000 and $300,000,” [Joe Van Dyk, executive director of planning and development for the city] said.

In addition, Van Dyk said the district will receive 15 percent of the gross of new tax increment money from new districts. These include the East Lakefront district created for the Miller transit oriented development area last year and the Northwest Indiana Industrial Complex district just approved by the City Council.

In addition to the pledge of these revenues, Van Dyk said a memorandum of understanding is being finalized that would allow the Redevelopment Commission to market and sell vacant school properties on the school corporation’s behalf. The commission would receive a 1 percent administrative fee under the proposed arrangement.

“The goal is to get vacant GCSC properties back to productive use and back on the tax rolls, to our mutual benefit,” Van Dyk said.

Clemons said it also would allow the city and school corporation to get rid of some of the vacant buildings that have become eyesores.

City officials anticipate the city could begin providing money to the school corporation by February.

In November, Gary Community Schools officials asked the Legislature to help with their financial woes. At that time, the district was nearly $100 million in debt and facing delays in payroll. Continue Reading

Much Of $40 Million In Teacher Bonuses Going To Wealthiest Schools

Illustration of the Indiana Teacher Performance Grants formula

Illustration of the Indiana Teacher Performance Grants formula. (photo credit: Indiana Department of Education)

Teachers in some of the state’s richest school corporations can expect $1,000 or more in bonuses, while many of their counterparts in urban schools will receive far less. The state is required by law to hand out $40 million in teacher bonuses, and, this year, much of that money is heading to Indiana’s wealthiest districts.

Carmel Clay School teachers will split $2.4 million dollars, or $2,422 per teacher, and Hamilton Southeastern Schools teachers will divvy up $2.2 million, or $1,988 per teacher, according to state data released Wednesday.

Local superintendents, teachers and the state union leader say a formula approved by state lawmakers to calculate teacher bonus pay has caused inequalities for how the annual performance-based grants are distributed this year.

Even as state leaders and educators agree the soon-to-be replaced ISTEP is flawed, results of the exam are the main factor in determining how much money a school receives to reward top teachers.

Basically, the formula ties the 2016 ISTEP pass rate and graduation rates at each eligible school to how much money a district receives for bonus pay. Only teachers rated as “effective” or “highly effective” are eligible for the bonuses.

State Superintendent-elect Jennifer McCormick said she expects to address the formula in the upcoming legislative session.

“It has to be changed,” she said.

Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts said it’s frustrating that performance grants are determined by ISTEP pass rates, an exam not intended to evaluate teachers. This grant is the Department of Education’s second largest funding allocation, aside from general school funding.

“The intent was to reward high-performing teachers and those making a difference in the classroom,” he said. “And we have yet to find that measure that determines a high-performing teacher.”

Butts, who is also president-elect of Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said the amount of funding correlates closely with the number of poor students in a district — the higher the poverty, the lower the grant.

Out of the 38 corporations in the Indiana Urban Schools Association, 24 were in the bottom third of funding levels, Butts said.

Wayne will receive the second lowest amount funding out of 283 school corporations — just $47,216, or $42 per teacher.

Indianapolis Public Schools, the largest district in the state, will get just $330,875, or $128 per teacher, to reward its top educators.

Questioning The Formula

Funding for teacher bonuses is calculated using a combination of pass rates and year-to-year improvements for state standardized tests and graduation.

If a school had an ISTEP pass rate of 72.5 to 90 percent, the school gets $23.50 in grant funding per test. If more than 90 percent of students passed the exam, funding jumps to $47 per test.
In 2015, anticipating a drop in ISTEP scores due to the new testing format and academic standards, the state also awarded bonus money at some schools for each student who showed 1 percent of academic growth.

But this year, the formula became more difficult. Students needed to show academic growth of 5 percent or more, compared to the previous year, at lower performing schools.

Only 52 percent of students passed both the English/Language Arts and math sections of the ISTEP this spring a decrease from the already low rate of 54 percent in 2015.

State Sen. Ryan Mishler, an architect of the grant formula legislation, said he was taken aback by the funding disparity among districts.

“When we drafted it we didn’t think the gap would be as large,” he said. “The issue is the test,” said the Breman Republican.

Mishler expected ISTEP scores to be on the rise in 2016 and low performing schools would make gains in academic growth. That’s not the case, he said.

Mishler is already thinking how to adjust the formula in the upcoming legislative session. One idea, he said, is to create two funds — one for high performing schools and another for low performing schools.

“We know there is high performing teachers everywhere,” he said.

Republican State Sen. Luke Kenley, the Senate’s chief budget writer, rejected some of the criticism that this year’s formula relied too much on ISTEP pass rates. Yet he believes the formula should be tweaked to help talented and new teachers earn more money.

“I think the teacher performance award is going to be one of the keys for trying to attract people to the teacher profession and I think we need to define that,” he said. “We’ve gone for literally a 100 years with every teacher at the same amount of seniority making the same amount of money. And we are trying to recognize teacher performance … that means the formula needs to continue to change.”

But ISTA President Teresa Meredith said the formula’s reliance on test scores is a “flawed premise.”

“While educators at well-resourced schools performed well and received a much-deserved bonus, the educators teaching in some of the most challenging districts where socioeconomic factors can negatively impact student and school performance, were left out,” she said in a statement.

Based on 2016 ISTEP scores, and other factors, only $14.4 million worth of bonuses were calculated for this year’s teacher bonus pools. Yet, since state code calls for a $40 million payout, the Department of Education prorated individual school awards to reach the maximum amount.

That increased the grant for Carmel Schools from $870,482 to $2.4 million, according to state data.
Some suburban districts withstood large declines in ISTEP scores. Carmel faced a 2-point drop in scores to 79.8 percent and Zionsville saw just more than 4 points to 76.7 percent.

Around 90 charter schools and traditional school districts did not receive any bonus money. Some of the schools incorrectly submitted paperwork or did not turn in their teacher evaluation guidelines.

What To Expect From A Pre-K Expansion This Legislative Session

Students at a Jump Start program in Seymour work with their teacher on learning the alphabet.

Students at a Jump Start program in Seymour work with their teacher on learning the alphabet. Seymour was one community where the current state funded pre-k program offered scholarships to low-income families. (photo credit: Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana)

When the General Assembly convenes for the 2017 legislative session, expanding state funded pre-K will be a top priority.

Legislative leaders have already said they are motivated to expand the pilot program, On My Way Pre-K, which provides tuition scholarships to a limited number of low-income 4-year-olds – 1,792 are enrolled this year.

There are still questions about how far the expansion will go, but details are slowly starting to emerge.

The Current State Pre-K Program

In 2013, the General Assembly passed a bill allocating $10 million to a new pilot program that gives scholarships to low income four-year-olds to attend a high quality preschool program.

On My Way Pre-K went into effect in January 2015, in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh Counties. The fifth county selected to offer the scholarships, Jackson, launched its program in July 2015.

The program gives families a voucher they can use to attend any high quality preschool in their town. The Family and Social Services Administration oversees the program, and makes sure every provider involved is rated a Level 3 or 4 on the state’s Paths to Quality system, the two highest rankings.

In the counties where the program launched, the demand far outpaced available spots, showing families wanted this opportunity for their kids but weren’t able to afford it.

Since On My Way Pre-K began in January 2015, it has served 3,702 children in the five counties, and advocacy groups and business leaders have called for an expansion. Legislative leaders agree, but there will likely be debate over what the expansion should look like.

The Request From Early Education Advocates

Through this past year State Supt. Glenda Ritz and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal pre-K, free preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state. This is something that we are not likely to see, however, as neither were elected.

A more likely option is an expansion of the scholarship program. Earlier this summer, a group of business leaders and advocates called for this. The United Way of Central Indiana is also an advocate.

“Four is a critical time,” says Christina Hage, vice president of public policy for UWCI. “Before the age of 5, 85 percent of your brain is developed. If these children are arriving at kindergarten and unable to do the basic skills, then they’re already behind. And there are studies after studies that show it is very difficult to catch up.” Continue Reading

‘ISTEP’ Name May Change, But Test Itself May Not For 2 More Years

The state's leading education lawmakers want to extend Pearson's testing contract, to avoid rushing into a botched replacement for ISTEP+. In this 2013 file photo, House education committee chair Bob Behning (left) and Senate education committee chair Dennis Kruse attend a state panel. (Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana’s leading education lawmakers want to extend Pearson’s testing contract, to avoid rushing into a botched replacement for ISTEP+. In this 2013 file photo, House education committee chair Bob Behning (left) and Senate education committee chair Dennis Kruse attend a state panel. (Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

The testing magnate Pearson Education could see their Indiana testing contract extended for an additional two years. Top education officials announced Wednesday it would give Indiana the time it needs to create a replacement for the state’s troubled ISTEP+ exam.

“We need about two-and-a-half to three years to get a new test that is sound, based on our standards, thought out and vetted clearly through the education system,” says Sen. Dennis Kruse, chair of the Senate committee on education. “That’ll [be] a better test at the end of that time.”

Pearson is currently contracted to be in charge of ISTEP+ through spring 2017. The Indiana State Board of Education has the option to renew that contract for an additional two years.

Rep. Bob Behning, chair of the House committee on education, wants the board to extend that contract. If extended, it would leave ISTEP+ in place through the 2018-19 school year.

Without the extension, current law requires a new test to be in place by May 2017.

“Expecting to have an assessment in place by May is, to me, rushing it,” Behning says.

Even though the test would include the same questions and come from the same vendor, if the Pearson contract is extended, lawmakers plan to rebrand the test with a new name.

“The assessment will be similar, but we’ll have to figure out if we want to keep the name,” Behning says. “I don’t think we’ll call the assessment, after this spring, ‘ISTEP.’ I think it will be something different.”

This comes at the end of a tumultuous year for testing in Indiana.

In March, lawmakers passed a law ending ISTEP+ after spring 2017, after critiques of the test’s length, delays in scores and cost. The same law created a state panel to study alternatives to the ISTEP+. That panel recommended that lawmakers extend their timeline, in order to avoid implementing a rushed, botched test in spring 2017.

“The real communication by the panel was ‘Don’t rush it,’” Behning says.

Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith and WFIU’s JD Gray contributed to this report.

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