Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

State Board Will Attempt To Keep Pace With A-F Grades Wednesday

Following a week of confusion surrounding Indiana’s A-F grading system earlier this month, the State Board of Education will focus primarily on school accountability at their monthly meeting Wednesday.

Earlier this month, state education officials raised a red flag and asked legal experts to weigh in on whether or not they had invalidated the state’s A-F letter grading system. The issue at hand was whether or not the State Board had followed the letter of the law in transitioning from an old A-F system to the new version set to take effect for 2016 grades.

State Board members Byron Ernest (left) and Steve Yager talk during a break in the board's August meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Board members Byron Ernest (left) and Steve Yager talk during a break in the board’s August meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The state’s attorney general has since said everything is fine, and the current system is still valid.

Despite the confusion, the board is expected to vote to direct the Department of Education and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to issue grades for the 2014-15 school year, including amendments for schools with atypical configurations.

The calculation of those grades will be delayed. That’s because of issues current test vendor CTB encountered in grading new technology-enhanced portions of the 2014 ISTEP+ test – a main factor in the state’s rating system. The company informed the board of those problems at their meeting in August.

Schools likely will not receive grades until December.

CTB will not be the state’s test vendor any longer – as of the current school year, that job now falls to British testing company Pearson. The board will receive an update on the transition between the two companies at Wednesday’s meeting.

Also on the agenda are votes for recommending new rules for reporting school discipline data and a discussion about Indiana’s new high school diploma requirements.

The board meets Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m. You can watch a live-stream of the meeting here.

Meet Dawn Wooten, The First Republican Candidate for Schools Chief

Dawn Wooten, a college-level English instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, is seeking the Republican nomination for state superintendent.

Wooten filed her election paperwork and launched a campaign website last week.

She is the first candidate to emerge as a challenger to current superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat. Ritz is seeking her second term after dropping a bid for the governor’s seat.

Nominees will be chosen at state party conventions next year.

Dawn Wooten is the first Republican to present herself as a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction in 2016. (Photo Credit: Dawn Wooten Official Campaign Website)

Dawn Wooten is the first Republican to present herself as a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction in 2016. (Photo Credit: Dawn Wooten Official Campaign Website)

Wooten’s name might be familiar to some because she served on Indiana’s College and Career Readiness Panel – the group that prepared a new set of state academic standards after Indiana’s 2013 exit from the Common Core. During that stint, she visited the Department of Education offices at the statehouse in Indianapolis – and that’s part of what compelled her to run.

“I did not see a lot of initiative or activity in the office, in fact I barely saw any people. It made me question, what is this administration doing?” Wooten recounts. “I did not see any policy initiatives come out of the administration, and I don’t think they accomplished what they wanted to.”

Wooten has a degree and a background in management – a skill she sees as crucial for the person occupying the office of superintendent. That, she says, is what sets her apart from Glenda Ritz.

“The Department of Education is a huge department to manage in terms of human resources and money, and with her not having that experience I think it made it difficult for her to try to learn how to do that and try to get her policies initiated,” Wooten explains. “I can jump into that. I have that to bring to the table, in addition to my education experience, so I think I’m more well-rounded in terms of the job as a whole.”

Wooten says she will campaign for changing the state's test teacher autonomy. (Photo Credit: Dawn Wooten for State Superintendent Official Facebook page)

Wooten says she will campaign for teacher autonomy. (Photo Credit: Dawn Wooten for State Superintendent Official Facebook page)

Wooten says in both her current and past positions as a college-level educator, she’s seen what comes out of Indiana’s K-12 system. As an adjunct faculty member at IPFW, Wooten says she encounters many students who enter college in need of remediation – something she says needs to change.

In addition, Wooten homeschooled her own daughter and nephew for a number of years, during which time she used the Indiana state standards and textbooks as well as reviewing local curriculum. She says this experience gave her an awareness of what is actually going on in the state’s public schools.

And what she sees is an aggressive push on the part of the state and federal government on standardized testing – which she says has forced educators to “teach to the test.” That’s why teacher autonomy is one of Wooten’s top priorities.

“My number one priority is to kind of change the thinking about achievement testing,” Wooten explains. “The state and the federal government are so worried about student test scores, that if they really want to get those to a higher level, they need to realize that teachers cannot teach to a test adequately, and students don’t respond to that.”

“There was a time in this state when achievement testing was done once every two or three years, and it was more than enough,” Wooten adds.

Here’s a quick look at where the candidate stands on other top education issues:

  • Academic Standards: On her website, Wooten cites “stopping the Common Core influence” as a top issue in the 2016 race. She says Indiana’s standards as they were rewritten still contain a significant bulk of Common Core language, although notes that as a member of the rewrite panel on the English/language arts side, she was able to get a lot of that type of language removed. Wooten adds that Indiana needs to rethink its textbooks, since many of those currently in use were written to meet Common Core requirements: “By doing that, they have taken away so much of what I consider a ‘classical education’ – meaning reading, writing and arithmetic, and having our children exposed to the classics, and making sure that they’re not overloaded by informational texts,” Wooten says.

Continue Reading

Arlington Seeks More Staff Amid Struggle To Control, Help Students

Principal Stan Law has spent only a few days observing teachers and giving them feedback since school began six weeks ago. He knows that’s crucial support educators at Arlington Community High School need as some are fresh-out-of-college.

Instead, he carries a bullhorn and joins three IPS police officers and other staff who fan out across the school’s expansive corridors to hunt down dozens of students daily. These are kids skipping class, vandalizing the building, smoking marijuana and just ignoring the rules and their education.

On a recent day, Law is walking along D Hall on the second floor — it’s a hot spot where kids can move up and about the building with little notice — when he hears someone in the stairwell.

Law creeps up the steps.

“I knew it was you, little rascal! Don’t worry, I got you,” Law shouts as the student runs away onto the third floor. “The one I was just talking about … that’s him. Can’t trust him as far as I can see him.”

Law is trying to clamp down on these “runners” — students, sometimes in large groups, who literally run free in this 380,000 square-foot school on the city’s northeast side. That’s the size of an IKEA store for thousands of customers.

But at Arlington there’s just 630 students. Continue Reading

Commission Addressing Teacher Retention Meets For First Time

The first meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission looking at teacher retention met Friday.(Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)

The first meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission looking at teacher retention met Friday. (Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)

A 50-member commission created by State Superintendent Glenda Ritz met for the first time Friday to begin developing strategies to address Indiana’s teacher shortage, and this initial meeting examined teacher retention.

Superintendent Ritz made it very clear from the outset of the meeting: the so-called “Blue Ribbon Commission” she assembled is no mere study committee.

“Its purpose is to provide action,” Ritz said. “It is to provide strategies toward action so that we can retain the best teachers that we have and we can recruit the best teachers that we need.”

About 80 percent of Hoosier teachers remained with their school corporation between the 2012-2013 school year and the 2013-2014 school year. That number gets significantly worse when you look at teachers in schools with a high percentage of minority students, or schools with a high level of poverty.

As the commission explored potential root causes, Indiana Department of Education specialist Caitlin Beatson provided examples of what is causing teachers to leave.

“Lack of teacher mentoring and support, nonexistent or non-responsive professional development, inadequate educator preparation,” Beatson said.

But those examples were based on exit interviews and surveys some schools provided – with several commission members questioning whether they reflected actual conditions and causes. The panel will only have a few more meetings – likely three or four – to develop its own answers.

Indiana Schools Changing Policies To Include LGBT Students

Three Prism students speak on a panel at Bloomington High School South about making schools more inclusive for LGBT students. State superintendent Glenda Ritz joined the students as part of the panel.

Three Prism students speak on a panel at Bloomington High School South about making schools more inclusive for LGBT students. State superintendent Glenda Ritz joined the students as part of the panel. (photo credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz joined the conversation this week about how to make schools safer and more inclusive for all students. The backdrop for her announcement was Bloomington High School South, a school in the Monroe County Community School Corporation, which recently updated its anti-discrimination policy to specifically prohibit discrimination or bullying based on a student’s gender identity in addition to sexual orientation and other protected classes.

This policy change comes after a year where LGBT issues dominated politics between the controversy over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same sex marriage. That conversation is now reaching classrooms in Indiana, and school districts, policy makers and students themselves are learning how to navigate through these changes.

Superintendent Ritz Learns From LGBT Students

Superintendent Glenda Ritz took a seat on the stage at Bloomington High School South Tuesday  to engage in a conversation about how to make schools safer and more inclusive, especially for LGBT students.

She was billed as the guest speaker, but she mostly sat back and listened, taking notes as students shared their experiences — good and bad — of teachers addressing LGBT students in the classroom.

“I was talking to a teacher in the classroom about my identity as a bisexual and they just kind of said, ‘Well, you’ll pick one’,” said Isaac, one of the student panelists.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks before the panel discussion on LGBT issues in schools.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks before the panel discussion on LGBT issues in schools. (photo credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)

The student panelists are members of Prism, a youth group for LGBT students, run by Bloomington Pride. They organized the discussion to help inform school officials on ways to make school more inviting and inclusive for LGBT students, and discussed topics such as gender neutral restrooms, including LGBT relationships in sex education classes and how teachers can be better trained on interacting with this population of students.

After the panel, Ritz said conversations like this are slowly happening at schools statewide.

“Well I think the conversation is out there already with the RFRA conversation, it’s happening all over the state and in our communities and it’s happening in our schools,” she said. “I think that we have students that are feeling empowered so to speak to bring up issues with their administration and I’m excited that we’re having that conversation statewide.” Continue Reading

Q&A: What’s Going On With Indiana’s Accountability System?

Last week, Indiana education officials held their breath as they waited to hear whether they’d made a critical error in developing the state’s A-F accountability rules.

It’s a system that’s been in flux for many of the past several years, change happening right alongside other big administrative shifts for Indiana schools – which caused some confusion and put policymakers, teachers and parents on edge.

That’s where we come in.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most frequently asked questions from last week, try to calm some nerves and get our bearings on the current state of Indiana’s school accountability system.

Q: What exactly happened last week?

A: Since Indiana first adopted the process of assigning annual school accountability grades in 1999, policymakers have tweaked how those grades are calculated on several occasions. Most recently, in 2013 the General Assembly asked the State Board of Education to totally rewrite the formula, after Indiana dropped the Common Core and adopted a new state test.

After an extensive retooling process, that rewrite is ready – it’s set to take effect beginning next school year. In the meantime, Indiana is still operating under the old set of A-F rules.

The middle of last week, news broke that legal officials had been asked to look into a potential problem with that process. The issue at hand was whether the State Board correctly followed the letter of the law in transitioning from the old system, whether the timing of certain amendments they made voided the existing accountability system.

If that were the case, it would mean Indiana schools might not receive a grade this year.

Later in the week, the state’s Attorney General took a stab at the law, and he said it’s valid. His staff sent policymakers a letter Friday, in which he also recommended the legislature consider passing a law next year to reaffirm the State Board’s authority to assign A-F grades.

RELATED READING: Indiana’s A-F School Letter Grades: How They Work Now & How They’re Changing
Members of the Indiana House of Representatives meet during the 2015 "education session." (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Members of the Indiana House of Representatives meet during the 2015 “education session.” (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Q: Will schools be receiving grades this year?

A: The short answer? Yes. But it’s complicated.

This goes back to a decision the State Board made in July. The federal Department of Education gave states some leeway with accountability during transition periods for standards and assessments. This is exactly Indiana’s situation right now, so state officials are considering taking advantage of the flexibility.

Indiana’s Department of Education came up with a list of 12 viable options that would fit within federal restrictions, so as not to jeopardize the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. The option they recommended is called “hold harmless” – which would assign each school the better A-F grade received between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

The State Board asked the Attorney General to weigh on the legality of pursuing this option, and in the same letter his office sent out regarding the A-F law, he said that option is not supported by current statute:

“…even assuming for the sake of argument that data from multiple years could be considered for purposes of grade calculation, we do not believe schools could be treated differently in this context, which would be the case if some schools are graded just based on ’14-’15 data, and others are graded based on multiple years’ data.”

This isn’t final yet. Deputy Attorney General Matt Light wrote that the Attorney General hopes to finalize an opinion to send to the Department of Education and the State Board before the board’s meeting next week.

RELATED READING: State Board Kicks Off Flexibility Discussions for A-F Grades


Indiana's accountability system has wide-ranging effects on things like local property values as well as teacher evaluations and pay. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana’s accountability system has wide-ranging effects on things like local property values as well as teacher evaluations and pay. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Q: So it’s safe to assume this will be something the board will talk about at that meeting. Is there anything else on their agenda as far as A-F is concerned? 

A: As has become customary, the group is set to get an update on the status of grades for last school year.

Here’s where things get even more complicated: schools still don’t have those grades, and they might not for a while. First they’re waiting on ISTEP+ scores – and as you might remember, testing company CTB encountered some problems grading new technology-enhanced questions, so schools might not get those scores until closer to December.

Lawmakers say this is unacceptable because of the greater ramifications grades have for schools – on things like ­teacher evaluations and teacher pay.

“The last thing I think we want to have is performance pay to be delayed because of the fact that there’s been problems with the grading of the test,” says Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis. “It’s supposed to be distributed by December 31st. And frankly, I would assume most educators just like most people, it’s kind of a nice thing to get before Christmas, and I think that many of us would like to do what we can to make sure that that happens.”

As we’ve reported previously, CTB will no longer be the state’s test vendor – that job will now belong to Pearson. So as the state moves forward with them to work on yet another new version of the ISTEP+, we’ll see how the timeline for test scores and, in turn, A-F grades affects that process.

RELATED READING: More Test Issues Will Lead To Delay In ISTEP+ Scores


Have more questions about school accountability, the ISTEP+ transition or something else? Interact with us in the comments section below, follow us on Facebook or tweet us @StateImpactIN.

Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder To Retire In 2016

Ivy Tech president Tom Snyder will retire.

Ivy Tech president Tom Snyder will retire. (photo credit: Talk Radio News Service / flickr)

Ivy Tech Community College President Tom Snyder will retire in 2016 from leading the statewide system. The college’s Board of Trustees approved a transition contract this morning that allows Snyder to more easily step down about a year before his current contract ends.

Snyder, 72, has run the college since 2007, two years after it was rechartered as a statewide network. Since then it became the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college with 34 campuses granting certificates and associate’s degrees.

Last week Snyder sent a message to the college’s staff and said he was planning for the next phase of his career.

Snyder did not attend today’s meeting because he is in Warren, Mich. with President Barack Obama for the launch of the College Promise Advisory Board, a coalition to promote ideas for free community college. Obama appointed Snyder to the board.

Snyder’s new Ivy Tech contract was approved unanimously by the board and without discussion during a brief public meeting. Ivy Tech declined to release the contract until it is signed. Synder’s annual salary is $300,000. In 2012 the trustees extended his contract to mid-2017.

Paula Hughes, Ivy Tech board chairwoman, said details on a presidential search committee will be announced in the coming weeks.

“Tom has been a tremendous force for good at Ivy Tech,” she said after the meeting. “We have really moved, progressed forward by leaps and bounds during his tenure. It’s going to be big shoes to fill.”

Hughes said it’s essential that the next leader continue to bridge the academic and business worlds and find a way to maintain the statewide campus network. Ivy Tech has become a source for much of the state’s workforce development.

In the past year Ivy Tech has faced scrutiny over declining enrollment and low graduation rates. Lawmakers reacted during the past legislative session by blocking funding for capital projects and ordering a review of academic programs. Continue Reading

Ritz Joins Panel Of LGBT Youth To Discuss Safer Schools

State superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks on a panel at Bloomington High School South about making Indiana schools safer and more inclusive for LGBT students.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks on a panel at Bloomington High School South about making Indiana schools safer and more inclusive for LGBT students. (Photo Credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz joined a panel of LGBT students in Bloomington Tuesday to discuss how to make Indiana schools safer and more inclusive for all students.

Prism, an LGBT youth group run through Bloomington Pride, hosted the panel, which covered topics such as gender neutral bathrooms, teacher training on LGBT issues, encouraging school staff to use proper terminology and creating sex education courses that address and include LGBT people.

Ritz says although the decision to change policies or implement new structures to include LGBT students is a local school district decision, her role as a state policymaker allows her and the Department of Education to educate schools on these issues and advise when asked.

“Being able to give guidance to schools on non-discrimination policy, being able to talk about having restrooms for students that are unisex in nature…being able to meet the needs of students regardless of their sexual orientation is something that we need to address and make sure we are able to provide support for,” Ritz says.

Ritz says the recent controversy around the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana is likely empowering more LGBT students to advocate for themselves and what they need in their schools.

The Monroe County Community School Corporation, of which Bloomington High School South is a part, recently updated their anti-discrimination policy to specifically prohibit discrimination or bullying based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Before it prohibited discrimination toward “all” students.

District administrators will also participate in a training session later this month focused on interacting with LGBT students. Students part of Prism created the training and will lead most of the workshops.

Pearson Says They Can Avoid Technology Issues With ISTEP+

Testing company CTB McGraw Hill informed state superintendent Glenda Ritz that there are issues grading this year's ISTEP+. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

Testing company Pearson, who will administer the ISTEP+ starting this year, updated a legislative study committee today on the transition from CTB to their company. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

When educators and school technology experts think about the ISTEP+, technology glitches come to mind for many – especially given Indiana’s track record over the last few years.

A representative from testing company Pearson told the Interim Study Committee on Education today they will avoid such technology problems. Pearson takes over administration of the statewide assessment in 2016, since the state’s contract with test vendor CTB ended this school year.

Rich Young, VP of State Services for Pearson, updated the committee on the transition.

During his presentation, Young said last year Pearson had around 1.3 million students testing at one time and utilizing the company’s servers. If you’ll remember, when CTB administered the ISTEP+ in 2013, school districts around the state suspended testing after technology issues with online assessments prevented students from moving through the exam.

CTB said it was because their servers couldn’t handle the amount of students testing at one time. Because of these issues in 2013, CTB paid the state a $3 million settlement and Indiana did not renew their contract with the company.

During the committee meeting today, Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, asked Young if differences in technology at various school districts will pose potential problems during the administration of Pearson’s version of the ISTEP+.

Young says his company has administered online assessments all over the country for 15 years and have figured out how to accommodate every student taking an assessment.

“We have minimum technical requirements,” Young responded. “But again we really try to hit the broadest swath of what’s out there.”

Although the state did not renew its contract with CTB, the Department of Education will still work with the company through 2016 after CTB announced last month there will be a delay in releasing scores from the 2015 ISTEP+ test. As CTB finishes out its contract and Pearson begins its work with the state, the two companies are conducting weekly conference calls with each other and the Department of Education.

Pearson Will Update Legislators On ISTEP+ Transition

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

Although the General Assembly won’t meet regularly again until January, legislators are checking in periodically to address certain issues held over from this year’s session. The Interim Study Committee on Education, composed of lawmakers from both the House and Senate, will meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss issues related to the changing ISTEP+ for Hoosier students.

The idea of changing the ISTEP+ to a nationally crafted assessment was thrown around this past session in the form of Senate Bill 566 until it was tabled for a study committee, so this meeting will instead focus on receiving updates about the current version of the ISTEP+.

Pearson, the testing company that took over the contract from CTB to produce the ISTEP+, is expected to testify in front of the committee about what to expect from its version of the test, says House Education Committee head Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis.

“There’s actually some very encouraging things that they’ve offered the state in terms of platforms and the way the system will be delivered,” Behning says. “It really should be much more seamless than what we’ve had in terms of past problems, so I think it will be very informative to members in terms of what the future test may look like.”

Behning says having Pearson representatives at the meeting will help the company work with legislators and the Department of Education to ensure a smooth transition from one test vendor to another.

He says the discussion around abandoning a unique assessment crafted around Indiana’s specific standards for a cheaper, nationally used test will likely come up at the next study committee at the end of September.

The committee meets Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the House Chambers.​

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