Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, are legislative members on the ISTEP+ panel. Behning authored the bill creating the panel. (photo credit: Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana).
After one of the last meetings of the ISTEP+ panel, it seems unlikely the group of educators and policy makers will draft a plan for a new state assessment.
When the 2016 General Assembly created the panel through legislation, it charged the group with creating a recommendation for a new test by Dec. 1. The vision was to have educators and other stakeholders craft a plan with elected officials that would then be written into law.
Through the panel, the legislature appointed teachers into the conversation about the future of testing, something many educators have desired for a long time.
Tuesday’s meeting was the fifth of the seven meetings before the Dec. 1 deadline. The previous four focused on ‘creating a test.’ Panel members heard from national experts and engaged in general discussions about what they want to see.
Now, as the deadline looms, with only two planning meetings left, some of the panel members are disappointed there won’t be time to have as much influence over the new test as they originally thought.
“Perhaps what that means is we become more general in our recommendation to the state,” says superintendent of Blackford Schools and panel member Scot Croner. “We won’t be able to be as specific as some individuals, including myself, would have liked to have been in the proposal.”
Representative Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, authored the bill that eliminated the current ISTEP and created the panel. He says the lack of forward mobility comes from the fact that most of the panel don’t usually work in creating an assessment from scratch. He made this statement after the Tuesday meeting, where panel members asked questions about tests at different grade levels and how they work.
“There’s a lot of people who, even on this panel, that are assessment illiterate,” Behning says.
When asked if he would take the panel’s final recommendation seriously or build a plan with other legislators?
“Obviously these people are getting educated,” Behning says. “But I think it’s just reflective of the environment we’re in, you hear a lot of noise about assessment but when it comes down to it a lot of these people don’t have a clue about assessments, how they’re used and what it really means.”
So far, the group has not voted on or put forward any concrete set of parameters for the new test.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Department of Education announced to the panel that they independently contacted testing vendors (companies like Pearson, CTB, ACT, etc.) to ask for proposals on a new test.
This is known as a Request for Information (RFI), and it’s a document of questions sent to companies, asking how they would create a test meeting Indiana’s requirements. The DOE created this document in conjunction with the governor’s office, to bring something concrete back to the panel.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz says this move will ensure the panel has a solid recommendation before December, since the panel wasn’t sure what kind of things to ask of the legislature.
“We need more information?” Ritz says. “Fine, that’s what the whole purpose of the RFI is – what’s out there that we actually can do.”
The proposals from testing companies are due Sept. 30 and will be presented to the panel at the October meeting, with company names redacted.
With only two meetings left, the panel has yet to discuss a state assessment for grades three through eight.
This year’s students and teachers are currently using the ISTEP+, but that will not be the case in spring 2018, according to law. The current version of the ISTEP+ was voted out by a bipartisan group of lawmakers last session.
Behning previously said the state might elect to prolong this test and the contract with testing company Pearson.
Kendra Bowden and her son Wyatt, 3, on their porch. Wyatt has had cochlear implants for most of his life. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Public schools in Indiana serve about 2,400 students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Of those students a growing number now use cochlear implants, small medical devices that stimulate nerves in the inner ear and give a sense of hearing.
As technology develops, and cochlear implants become more common, many public schools are still working to catch up.
“I like to think that it’s not malicious, it’s just that most of these smaller districts don’t have the training and the knowledge to really be able to understand what these kids need,” says Ellyn McCall, family liaison at hearing loss advocacy group Hear Indiana.
As the number of students with cochlear implants grow, advocates like McCall say there’s often a disconnect between services schools offer and services these students need.
Brandy Hauser, of Spencer, IN, had never been more excited. She was a brand new mom. Like all Indiana parents since 1999, she watched as doctors took her newborn daughter Grace for a hearing screening.
Then a nurse came back.
“She [gave] me a little card and said that your daughter didn’t pass the infant hearing screening test,” Hasuer says.
Grace has mondini dysplasia, an inner ear malformation that results in profound deafness.
“After that it was like a whirlwind of ‘What do we do?,’” Hauser says.
For communication, the options can come from two schools of thought.
There’s the well-known route: use sign language. Or the newer option gaining popularity: cochlear implants and spoken language.
Hauser chose the second. At 18 months, Grace had an implant surgically attached to her skull.
“She was sitting in her little car seat stroller. We had her sitting up in there, and they turned her on. It was just like the shine of a Christmas light in her face when she, you know, clapped and she looked,” Hauser says. “It was the first time that I knew, ok, she looked. Ok, we’ve got this.”
Brandy Hauser plays with her cat on the porch of her Spencer, IN home. She says the rural location of her home has made getting services for her daughter difficult. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
But when Grace got to school, things became complicated. Hearing with cochlear implants is not traditional hearing. It takes time to ‘learn to hear.’
“When sentence writing started coming around, and the structure of sentences.. [It] was very hard for her to make a sentence that would be correct,” Hauser says.
Hauser says that’s largely because services from the school district weren’t geared for deaf kids who, through technology, were also learning to hear and speak.
Instead, the focus was American Sign Language, where grammar is different.
Students like Grace are already outliers in the state. She’s one of nine deaf or hard of hearing students in the Spencer-Ownens Community Schools district of 2,600 students. That’s one-third of one percent of the entire student body.
That’s typical for most Indiana school districts. Public districts, outside of the Indiana School for the Deaf, have eight deaf or hard of hearing students, on average.
Melissa Lancaster heads the organization that provides special education for Grace’s school district, Spencer-Owens Community schools.
“We look at what they’re needing and what services can we provide to meet that,” Lancaster says. “The only challenge is making sure that we’re up to speed on the cochlear implant and what’s needed with that.”
Challenges — and debates — around educating students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing are nothing new to Indiana. Indiana is home to the Indiana School for the Deaf — an institution that specializes in giving students who are deaf and hard of hearing an American Sign Language and English bilingual education.
It’s goal? Provide information regarding all communication opportunities to families, from American Sign Language to spoken language.
Naomi Horton, executive director of hearing loss advocacy group Hear Indiana. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Deaf or hard of hearing students bring their districts about $8,000 each in extra state funding, but advocates say that amount doesn’t necessary cover expensive services that help students with cochlear implants, like therapy, closed-captioning and teacher microphone systems.
“That has to cover lot’s of things,” says Naomi Horton, executive director of hearing loss advocacy group Hear Indiana. “It’s not enough money in most cases to cover the special education costs.”
But there’s a catch. Under federal law, school districts are obligated to provide all students with a free and adequate education. In other words, they can’t say a necessary special education accommodation is beyond their budget. And she says, that can put cash-strapped schools in a tricky position.
Ellyn McCall, the family liason at Hear Indiana, says it makes a big difference when services are tailored for children with cochlear implants. She says it has made a big difference for her son Seth.
Ellyn McCall and her son Seth 8 at the Hear Indiana offices. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Today, Seth is 8 years old. He’s in a traditional classroom, and says he learns things like the definition of “busybody.”
“‘Busybody’ is when you’re being nosy and you’re listening to someone else’s conversation,” Seth says.
Because there is evidence that early services can mean big results for students like Seth in the long run, some parents don’t want to wait for their districts to provide them.
Kendra Bowden’s son Wyatt has cochlear implants. On his third birthday, Bowden says he still had the language skills of a child half his age.
Bowden lives in Terre Haute, but she decided to send Wyatt to St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf, a private school that specializes in educating children with cochlear implants. It’s in Indianapolis. An hour and a half away.
The Bowden family. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
“We didn’t want to actually send him because it’s far for us, it’s far for him it’s hard on him it’s hard on us, he’s our baby he’s never even been to daycare,” Bowden said. “But that school is only there for preschool.”
It’s almost seven hours total of driving there and back, to and from school each day. But Bowden hopes it will be worth it after preschool.
“I think it’s gonna be worth it in the long run,” Bowden said. “It’s not forever, it’s maybe a couple of years.”
Studies show getting children with cochlear implants specialized services early can be worth if for the state financially, too. The state can save over $200,000 per student that would otherwise go to state services, like special education and auditory rehabilitation.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, even though non-white students make up close to 30 percent of enrollment in all Indiana public schools, only 19 percent of that demographic is enrolled in gifted education. (A&M/Flickr)
It’s no secret. Across the nation, non-white students are underrepresented in accelerated learning programs. Indiana is no exception.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, even though non-white students make up close to 30 percent of enrollment in all Indiana public schools, only 19 percent of that demographic is enrolled in gifted education.
In addition, data show two more inequalities.
First, schools with majority students of color are less likely to provide accelerated classes.
Second, schools that offer accelerated learning programs are likely to be whiter than your typical Indiana school - with an average of 25 percent students of color.
DGilman Whiting, a Vanderbilt University African-American studies professor who spoke at a recent Purdue symposium on gifted education, says more still needs to be done to reassure students of color that they belong in gifted classes.
“Once we get them in here, do we have the adults, do we have the facilities, do we have the training, do we have the care and concern to help them feel that it’s their alma mater as well?” Whiting says.
State education officials say that local districts determine their own criteria for students and teachers in accelerated learning programs.
“Decisions regarding program offerings and enrollment are made at the local level,” Samantha Hart, Indiana Department of Education woman, said in an email.
Whiting says, for one, that means hiring more non-white teachers and educating all teachers to be more attuned to issues of class, race and culture.
“In city schools, that population can be up to 70-80 percent black or Hispanic,” Whiting says. “And you are more likely a white female coming from a very homogenous setting. You are ill-prepared to work for the population you’re in front of.”
Vanderbilt’s Whiting says, at many schools, future teachers can travel all the way up the higher ed ladder and graduate with a PhD without ever taking a class on multicultural education – classes he calls “education about difference.”
Whiting says educating future teachers, recruiting more teachers of color and focusing on the inclusion, retention and self-confidence of non-white students can help narrow persistent achievement gaps.
Donald Trump outlined a plan to fund more options for students to choose between traditional public, charter and private schools. If elected, he says he would allocate $20 billion toward school choice scholarships. (photo credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced Thursday a financial plan to expand school choice in all 50 states. In many ways, it is similar to what governor Mike Pence created in Indiana and funding formulas created by the Indiana legislature.
In a speech Thursday, Donald Trump said he would allocate $20 billion to states to support school choice opportunities. This money, along with state funding, would be used to create a “scholarship” that each student receives, and then the family decides whether to send the child to a traditional public school, a public charter school or a private school.
“Specifically, my plan will use $20 billion of existing federal dollars to establish a block grant for the 11 million school age kids living in poverty,” Trump said in his speech. “We will give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend. Distribution of this grant will favor states that have private school choice and charter laws, encouraging them to participate.”
One part of his plan mirrors Indiana’s school funding formula - that the money follows the student.
Indiana’s current funding formula does exactly that. A student receives the same amount of state funding whether he or she attends a traditional public or charter school. Rather than funding a school directly the state allocates the money per child.
But Trumps plan would extend this idea to include private schools as well – for all students – so state money could follow any student to any type of school. While, in Indiana, state money only follows students to private schools if they qualify for the state voucher program.
“If the states collectively contribute another $110 billion of their own education budgets toward school choice, on top of the $20 billion in federal dollars, that could provide $12,000 in school choice funds to every K-12 student who today lives in poverty,” Trump said.
In a statement released by the Trump campaign, Pence praised the plan:
“The school choice proposals unveiled today by Mr. Trump are a bold set of policies that will increase accountability and lead to better results for our nation’s children.”
Carrie Gosch Elementary in East Chicago moved buildings this year because lead was found in the soil under the school. (photo credit: Nick Janzen/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
The National Association of State Boards of Education will attempt to standardize school responses to lead contamination.
After a number of incidents gained national attention in recent years, NASBE says they can no longer look at lead in schools as isolated incidents.
Currently, there’s no set national protocol for handling a lead contamination crisis in a school. While school districts and state education agencies may have general health crisis procedures in place, most have little specifics for lead.
The NASBE will raise the topic at the national meeting this Fall. Director Kristen Amundson says the idea has been percolating since the Flint’s lead crisis.
“It was very, very quickly supported by board members across the country who said, ‘You know that’s a problem in my state, too,’” Amundson says.
The Indiana State Board of Education is a member of NASBE.
In northwest Indiana, School City of East Chicago just relocated elementary school students who attended a school next to a lead contamination site. The SBOE loaded that district 3 million dollars to remodel the school’s new location, a former middle school.
Indiana State Board of Education spokesman Brian Murphy says he appreciates the national group looking into the issue. He says the state was able to quickly move East Chicago students and get the district disaster relief funding without using any national protocol.
The Indiana State Board of Education decided Wednesday to delay any action against the chronically failing Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter School. (WSU Vancouver/Flickr)
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Board of Education decided Wednesday to delay any action against a chronically failing online school, opting instead to wait to decide whether Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter School should shut when the school year ends.
For the past 5 years, Hoosier Virtual Academy has consistently received an “F” grade in the state’s A-F ranking, largely due to low scores on state ISTEP+ tests. Three of every four students failed ISTEP+ tests in 2015.
The move to defer any action came amid concerns that announcing closing the online school could negatively affect its 4,000 students, if teachers jump ship for other jobs, plus reports that the school was improving in teacher training and communication.
“We’ve seen some turnaround work going on in the school itself,” said Ritz.”And we were presented with another charter school in the same space, so we have a lot to consider.
This second point deserves some explanation. In what appeared to be a last ditch effort to save the online school — which until Wednesday’s meeting seemed on the brink of closure — Hoosier Virtual Academy officials and their authorizer Ball State created a second, spinoff charter school.
That school, the Insight School of Indiana, was created in July. Like Hoosier Virtual Academy, Insight is authorized by Ball State, but has a separate charter, separate leadership and more supports for students social-emotional needs.
Bob Marra, Ball State’s executive director of the Office of Charter Schools, says Insight serves “at-risk,” struggling students in a way Hoosier Virtual Academy cannot.
But the two schools operate under the same institutional umbrella, bringing criticism from multiple board members.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz voiced concerns that the Hoosier Virtual could shuffle academically-struggling students to Insight, giving Hoosier Virtual Academy the opportunity to avoid continuing “F” grade in the state’s accountability system.
“I’m just going to be blunt,” Ritz said, questioning the motivation.
Instead of taking any action to definitely keep the online school open or closed, the state board voted to require Ball State to deliver a January report on the school and to decide the school’s fate in April.
The vote was unanimous with board member Byron Ernest abstaining. He’s the head of Hoosier Academies, the network of online Indiana charter schools that operates Hoosier Virtual Academy.
Hoosier Virtual Academy uses a curriculum and online platform provided by K12 Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit virtual school provider. Students take all their classes from home, online, and can complete their coursework on their own schedule. In recent years, K12 schools have faced mounting criticism for low test scores and misuse of funds.
The state board of education meets again on October 5.
The ITT Technical Insitute Canton, MI campus. The Carmel, IN-based ITT Educational Services, Inc. announced Tuesday they would permanently shut their 140 locations in 38 states. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Carmel-based company that operates ITT Technical Institutes announced Tuesday that all of their campuses will close, following a set of crippling federal sanctions.
The U.S. Department of Education banned the for-profit college chain from enrolling new students who depend on federal aid, the source of most of the company’s revenue, citing failures of financial responsibility and federal fraud charges.
The department also required the company to increase its reserves to almost $250 million, about 40 percent of federal student aid the company received in 2015 — a move analysts called a “de facto death sentence.”
The sanctions signal a growing priority from President Obama’s education department in its final months: increased oversight of for-profit colleges.
ITT Educational Services, Inc. operates over 140 campuses nationwide, in 38 states, according to their website. The ITT closure will affect over 35,000 students and 8,000 employees nationally. ITT operated six campuses in Indiana. Continue Reading →
YMCA staff work on swimming skills with preschool students on August 30, 2016. According to a body of research, when kids swimm at an early age they gain a number of educational benefits. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Some children are eager to jump into the deep end of the pool, while others may be terrified to even put their toes in water. But getting young children into the pool can be well worth it. Turns out, according to a body of research, getting kids swimming at an early age comes with a number of educational benefits.
“Physical activity of any kind is great for kids as it helps them maintain a healthy weight, develop better sleeping patterns,” said Jen Smallwood, director of the Monroe County YMCA in Bloomington. “It even combats things like depression and helps in developing their focus, too.”
Most preschool programs don’t have access to swimming pools with life guards and swimming instructors, according to Smallwood. But here at the YMCA things are different. With easy access to a pool, swimming is key to the center’s preschool curriculum.
“Children can learn swim safety primarily and it helps the child to holistically learn in order to get their brain developed,” said Casey Fall-Guerra, co-teacher in the YMCA’s preschool room. “We also focus on their gross motor skills.” Continue Reading →
State superintendent Glenda Ritz has come under fire for an education department contract that was awarded to AT&T. The mobile company worked with a software developer that later hired one of Ritz’s aides in an executive position. (Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)
INDIANAPOLIS — The Republican challenger of Indiana schools superintendent Glenda Ritz wants authorities to investigate a contract benefiting a company that later hired a Ritz aide in an executive position.
Candidate Jennifer McCormick is calling on the inspector general to investigate a series of 2015 contracts to develop a mobile app for the education department.
The contracts, which totaled $573,000, weren’t put up for a competitive process. Instead they were awarded directly to AT&T and its Georgia-based software developer N2N. As the Associated Press reports:
Ritz had hailed the mobile app as a novel new way to communicate with school districts. If adopted by even a fraction of Indiana’s roughly 300 school districts it could yield a large pay day for AT&T and N2N Services because each district would pay over $100,000 in startup costs, according to an estimate from AT&T.
Former Ritz aide David Galvin helped orchestrate the deal and later took a job with N2N Services.
Tim Phelps, spokesperson for Jennifer McCormick, says the inspector general should investigate the fact that N2N stood to profit and later hired an education department official involved in the deal.
“It’s very important that all state contracts go through this transparent process and that no department should be able to go around the rules,” Phelps said. “They exist for a good reason.”
Ritz’s office maintains there was no wrongdoing, saying their deal is with AT&T, not the software developer.
The two contracts in the deal were approved by the Indiana Office of Technology, Indiana Department of Administration and the State Budget agency, all of which report to Republican Gov. Pence.
“Simply put, the Pence administration has already determined that these projects were done appropriately,” said Samantha Hart, Ritz spokesperson, in an email. “We have every confidence that all parties acted appropriately.”
Today, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled new rules, explaining to states and districts how they can prove they’re spreading resources fairly between poor and less-poor schools.
Today’s release is a re-write of rules that were first unveiled last spring and that caused quite a stir, creating a political unicorn: a fight in which Republicans and teachers unions found themselves on the same side.
That fight hinged on a simple fact of life in America’s schools: Districts often spend more money in more affluent schools. That’s because teachers in poorer schools that receive federal Title I aid tend to be less experienced and, as a result, less expensive.