Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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.​

Attorney General’s Office: A-F Law Intact, Schools To Get Grades

After questions regarding the validity of the state’s A-F school accountability system surfaced this week, the Attorney General’s office sent a statement to the Department of Education and State Board of Education Friday to weigh in, stating that the law is valid and schools should receive A-F grades according to the rules currently in place.

As we reported, the question around the law stems from changes made to the A-F system over the last few years.

Specifically, in 2013, lawmakers said the state must trash old A-F rules once new procedures had been put in place. Questions about how that shift was executed are what prompted this week’s inquiry. 

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/Indiana Public Media)

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/Indiana Public Media)

Chief Deputy Attorney General Matt Light wrote the statement received by the IDOE and INSBOE, in which he says although it seemed murky to some, the transition from old practices to the current ones are legal.

“[T]he intention of the statute was to have the new set of comprehensive rules replace the old set of comprehensive rules,” Light writes.

He goes on to say the IDOE should calculate A-F grades for the 2014-15 school year according to current rules.

The Attorney General’s office also suggests the General Assembly introduce legislation next session to prevent further confusion on the issue.

“We would recommend looking at legislation for the 2016 session to retroactively confirm validity of all applicable rules so as to minimize potential for any challenges to them,” Light writes.

State Board of Education spokesman Marc Lotter says his colleagues are grateful for the Attorney General’s contribution to the matter.

“The State Board of Education appreciates the Attorney General’s Office putting these questions to rest and upholding the system that informs Hoosier parents how our children’s schools are doing,” Lotter said in a statement.

The new set of rules for calculating A-F grades will go into effect during the 2015-16 school year.

Is It Possible Schools Might Not Get A-F Grades This Year?

State officials are investigating whether or not A-F accountability rules still exist this year.

Indiana’s Department of Education is looking into the issue. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, tells StateImpact that he met with department officials this week and discussed a potential technicality in state law that will make whatever grades are assigned for the 2015-16 school year void.

This is pretty complicated, so stick with us….

The problem allegedly lies in whether or not the State Board of Education correctly followed the letter of the law in its rulemaking process for A-F between April 2013 and now. Some sources claim that if they did not, it means Indiana could potentially operate for a full school year without an A-F standard in place.

Even if this is true, it’s likely the grades assigned for the 2014-15 school year would hold true, and the state would still be able to pick up with a new, recently-approved A-F system in the 2016-17 school year.

This came about after Kenley met with IDOE staff this week to go over the timeline for administering performance pay for teachers, now that there is a delay in getting ISTEP+ scores. It was during that meeting, Kenley says, that the IDOE first brought up the concern that something might be off with the A-F law.

“[We're looking] to see whether the rule is valid or invalid and I don’t have any idea what the status of that is, it was just brought up as a discussion point,” Kenley says.

After this meeting Kenley took the issue to Legislative Services Agency and is waiting to hear back.

Department of Education spokesperson Daniel Altman did not acknowledge his department brought up the potential problem with the law, and says the IDOE is looking at the law in preparation for calculating the A-F grades for this year like any other year.

“Through those preparations we’re doing our due diligence making sure we have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed,” Altman says.

Altman says the Attorney General’s office has been contacted, although he would not specify for exactly what purpose.

It will likely fall to the Attorney General’s office to provide an opinion on whether a critical misstep was in fact made.

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State Expands Dual Language Immersion Programs

Theodore Potter is one of few dual language immersion programs in the state, but through a new pilot program created by the legislature this year, more programs like this one will start over the next year.

Theodore Potter is one of few dual language immersion programs in the state, but through a new pilot program created by the legislature this year, more programs like this one will start over the next year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny / StateImpact Indiana)

For the last few decades, dual language immersion programs in Indiana’s schools have been rare. A handful are sprinkled throughout the state, but after this year’s legislature allocated $500,000 to start a dual language immersion pilot program, five more schools will join the pool of available programs.

This type of language initiative provides a unique learning opportunity for students and has been shown to increase test scores.

Still, while many educators agree this type of program is academically and culturally beneficial for students, a lot needs to go into it for it to be successful.

How Dual Language Immersion Works

A group of first graders are listening intently as Pilar Sanchez goes through the list of steps for planting a lima bean at the front of the classroom.

It’s a typical lesson for an elementary school science class, except here at Theodore Potter, a K-6 school within Indianapolis Public Schools, the lessons sound very different from other schools. 

“Es una semilla,” Sanchez says as she holds up a lima bean.

“I only use Spanish mainly to teach the class because this is a Spanish immersion school so the whole point of it is that the kids learn the Spanish through the subjects,” Sanchez explains after the class ends.

This is how dual-language immersion programs work. During half of the subjects taught, the teacher only speaks to students in the target language. The same classes are taught in the same language every day – Language Arts is always in English, math is always in Spanish.

Theodore Potter also adds another layer to the language immersion – half of the students at the school are native Spanish speakers, and the other half are native English speakers. So in each class, no matter what language it’s taught in, half of the students are learning in their native language.

Research shows this strategy is working. At Theodore Potter, almost 90 percent of kids are passing the ISTEP+, compared to the rest of the district which has a 50 percent passage rate.

Nearly all of the school’s Spanish-speaking teachers come from Spain through a visiting teacher program run through the U.S. State Department, because as principal Tim Clevenger explains, foreign teachers are crucial for the native Spanish speaking students.

“If [the teacher's] native language is English and they learn Spanish, they possibly could be fluent, at a very high level,” Clevenger says. “But if things get difficult and they need to explain things in four or five different ways they might not be able to do that in the native language or the target language, and then fall back and rely on their English.” Continue Reading

Two Indiana Stops Planned For Department of Education Bus Tour

As kids all over the country head back to school, the U.S. Department of Education wants to come along for the ride.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted this picture of the USDOE's back-to-school tour bus last year, when he took over the official White House Instagram account. (Photo Credit: The White House/Instagram)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted this picture of the USDOE’s back-to-school tour bus last year. (Photo Credit: The White House/Instagram)

Federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior Department officials launch their sixth annual back-to-school bus tour the week of September 14. The team plans to make an eleven-stop, seven-state tour across the Midwest – and the route will include two stops in Indiana.

The bus will dock at Purdue University in West Lafayette, followed by a stop at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Exact dates and times will be announced through email updates and the department’s social media accounts.

The tour begins in Kansas City, Missouri.

This year’s theme is “Ready for Success,” which will bring attention to how states and local communities are working to increase access and opportunity from early learning through to the college level. Along the route, Duncan and his colleagues will host events “highlighting the progress and achievements of educators, students, families and leaders in expanding opportunity for students throughout the nation.”

The USDOE recently granted Indiana a three-year extension for the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, as well as more than $300,000 to help cover the cost of AP tests for the state’s low-income students.

Department Of Education Considers Legal Action Over ISTEP+ Delays

Updated 11:26 a.m.:

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman says he cannot confirm that the department is pursuing any type of legal action against testing company CTB, but says the department is “looking at and assessing what our options are under the contract” with CTB.

Altman adds that the IDOE’s legal team will likely take a look at (among other things) a part of the contract about liquidated damages.

Remember, the state is still waiting to receive scores from the 2014 test – so taking much further action would be speculative at this point.

A public information officer for the Indiana Attorney General’s office says it’s routine for state agencies to pursue legal action or suit against vendors who don’t hold up their end of a contract, although their office had not heard that the IDOE was planning to do anything.

Original story (from Network Indiana): 

Indiana students take a number of tests that are either summative or formative in nature. (Photo Credit: David Hartman/Flickr)

Indiana students take a number of tests that are either summative or formative in nature. (Photo Credit: David Hartman/Flickr)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s office might pursue a fine for the maker of the ISTEP+ over its latest problem in grading the exam, though it isn’t yet clear whether the state has any recourse.

Executives from CTB (the former CTB/McGraw-Hill) announced at last month’s State Board of Education meeting that they would re-grade some ISTEP+ tests administered last school year to correct what were initially marked as incorrect answers on some open-ended questions.

The delay means ISTEP scores will likely not be available until December according to the company, which could push the distribution of A-to-F grades for the 2014-15 school year as late as February 2016.

“Once you have ISTEP grades, there is a lot more process to go through,” said Daniel Altman, spokesman for the Department of Education. “It pushes the calendar back for ISTEP+ grades and other information schools are looking for.”

In 2013, when ISTEP was plagued with problems during the administration of the exam that mostly had to do with computer servers not being able to handle the online testing load, CTB had to repay $3 million to the state for the delays, only a small portion of its $95 million, four-year contract. This spring’s ISTEP was the last one to be given by CTB before the expiration of the contract, so it isn’t clear whether the state can assess another fine for the delayed scores.

“That’s something we are taking a look at. We are having our legal staff take a look at the contract to see what options are available to the state,” Altman said.

CTB would likely fight any attempt to recoup money they have already been paid for ISTEP+. At the State Board meeting last month, company president Ellen Haley essentially blamed the grading problems on the state’s new education standards and the creation of a new ISTEP to adhere to those standards. The quick change caused ISTEP+ to be longer in length since test questions could not be tried out in practice exams and weeded out before the actual ISTEP took place. Haley also says the company didn’t have a chance to test their new grading guidelines, which she says did not foresee the way some students answered technology-based questions.

What Do Indianapolis Mayoral Candidates Plan For Local Schools?

Joe Hogsett is the Democratic candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/WTIU News)

Joe Hogsett is the Democratic candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/WTIU News)

As Indiana’s capital city and home to the state’s largest public school district, Indianapolis is a hotbed for education policy.

That’s why we care about this year’s Indianapolis mayoral election, among others. Since current mayor Greg Ballard is not running for a third term, who is running and what he or she plans to do with the city’s schools matters on both the local and statewide levels.

Late last week, Democrat and former U.S. attorney Joe Hogsett made headlines when he announced a five-point plan for education, which he says is the key to solving violence and crime throughout the city.

Hogsett’s plan is anchored in the following ideas:

  • Expanding high quality pre-k
  • Offering discounted housing for teachers
  • An “Indianapolis Mayors’ Scholars Initiative” to eliminate barriers to high school graduation
  • Smarter school discipline
  • Excellence in charter schools

WFYI’s Ryan Delaney attended Hogsett’s press conference Friday – here’s how he explains the basics of Hogsett’s platform:

He wants to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities and address the high childhood poverty rate. He also would like give younger teachers the chance to buy city-owned homes at a discount, as a way to attract talented educators.

“I think it’s time that we start being creative in terms of incentivizing teachers,” he said.

The program has been tried before — mostly around police officers and firefighters — to limited success.

Hogsett’s ideas also include a high school completion and college scholarship program.

“The greatest barrier to educational progress in recent years can be found outside the classroom, in parts of our community where students don’t even see college, don’t even think of college as a possibility,” he said.

Hogsett would like to replicate a program in Columbus, Indiana that increases tutoring in high schools and offers scholarships to eligible students to state colleges, centered around public-private partnerships.

As far as how Hogsett plans to pay for these initiatives, Hogsett For Mayor spokesman Thomas Cook says the vast majority of this plan will require zero additional tax dollars.

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Is There Actually A “Teacher Shortage” Or Not?

The so-called “teacher shortage” is making daily headlines across the entire country. Educators, policymakers and journalists have been debating the merits of various data to find out where the most teachers are needed and arguing potential solutions – but few have examined the premise of whether or not an actual shortage exists. Our friend Shaina Cavazos of Chalkbeat Indiana digs into the data and really looks at what is making this such an issue for Indiana schools. She finds the picture may not be as dire as some are painting it, and that the problem isn’t the number of certified teachers but a mismatch between them and available jobs.

Superintendent Tom Hunter grew worried this summer when he realized that fewer people were applying to become teachers in his rural district, Greensburg. In one extreme instance, a high school teaching position that he said would have drawn 100 applications a few years ago yielded just three.

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