Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

State Board To Approve School A-F Grades At Tomorrow’s Meeting

The State Board of Education meets Tuesday for its monthly meeting. It will approve the A-F grades for schools for the year.

The State Board of Education meets Tuesday for its monthly meeting. It will approve the A-F grades for schools for the year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

State officials will approve 2015-16 school A-F grades Tuesday when the Indiana State Board of Education meets for its last meeting of the year .

As of right now, A-F scores are mostly calculated based on ISTEP+ scores, which, for the second year in a row, dropped.

During the 2015-16 school year, 52 percent of students passed both the English language arts and math portions of the test — a one percentage point drop from the year prior.

The 2015-16 school year was the second year of an updated version of ISTEP+, and the first year with the education company Pearson administering the test. In 2014-15, when the test was brand new, the education board voted to hold schools harmless for their A-F grades. That meant schools’ scores wouldn’t drop if they performed lower than they did in 2013-14.

Superintendents from around the state asked the board at its November meeting for a hold harmless provision again this year, but the board said that isn’t possible due to federal requirements.

We will have a full database of A-F scores posted tomorrow.

The board meets at Tuesday Dec. 13th at 9 a.m. in the State House, Room 125.

Why This Indiana School District Is Going Completely Solar

A group of solar panels at Sheridan Elementary School. Sheridan Community Schools, in Hamilton County, is now one of Indiana's first completely solar powered school districts.  (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

A group of solar panels at Sheridan Elementary School. Sheridan Community Schools, in Hamilton County, is now one of Indiana’s first completely solar powered school districts. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Budgeting is one of those necessary evils. It’s tough, but you’ve got to do it.

And for school districts, with growing costs and fixed funding, it’s increasingly crucial.

So Sheridan Community Schools, a small, rural district in the heart of central Indiana, has taken a unique approach to managing energy costs: They’re now one of the state’s first completely solar powered school systems.

“At Sheridan Community Schools, a district of a little over 1,000 students, we’ll save somewhere in the ballpark of $4 [million] to $5 million over the next 20 years,” says Dave Mundy, superintendent of Sheridan Community Schools.

And that’s a big deal for them.

“As a smaller school, it just seems like we’re spending more and more on other things,” says Robin Popejoy, director of business.

Next to teachers, energy is one of the district’s largest costs. Almost 20 percent, one of every 5 district dollars, pays to keep the lights on, buildings warm and computers running.

So when the district received a letter forecasting a 7 percent jump in their energy bill, it was significant. The equivalent of half a teacher’s pay.

“I realize things go up, but it was such a huge jump for us,” Popejoy says. “Then trying to figure out, you know, is that less supplies for the classroom, is that an aide that we can’t have?”

Then Popejoy got a pitch – instead of looking around for money or places to cut, look up.

Think about solar power.

It was a gamble. But, the district decided it was a risk worth taking.

A row of solar panels lies behind Sheridan Elementary School. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

A row of solar panels lies behind Sheridan Elementary School. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Recently solar energy has gotten more appealing. For a few reasons.

“One, energy rates rose. Two, the cost of borrowing money fell,” says Bob McKinney, president of Johnson Melloh, a company that helps schools save on energy costs. “And probably, the most important element, was the cost to build these solar plants fell.”

They’re now half as cheap as five years ago. And it’s a price that’s enticing schools to invest.

“Schools, particularly in Indiana, are challenged with doing more with less,” McKinney says. “Which isn’t a bad thing, it causes them to innovate. And that’s where we come in.” Continue Reading

Students At Indiana’s Universities Rallying For Sanctuary Campuses

Students at Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame are appealing to administration, asking to make the schools a sanctuary campus for undocumented students.

Students at Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame are appealing to administration, asking to make the schools a sanctuary campus for undocumented students. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

After the election of president-elect Donald Trump in November, college students around the state began asking their universities to become “sanctuary campuses.” This means university officials would not comply with immigration officials when it came to deportations or raids.

A week after the election, students at the University of Notre Dame staged a walk-out and protest calling for the sanctuary status at the school.

WNDU in South Bend reported on other demands in a petitions signed by students and faculty:

1. Declare Notre Dame to be a sanctuary campus that will actively refuse to comply with immigration authorities regarding deportations or raids.

2. Guarantee student privacy by refusing to release information regarding the immigration status of our students and community members to any government agency.

3. Create an undocumented student program, with a full-time director, and free on-campus access to legal counsel. Create funds to assist undocumented students (and faculty, staff and students with family members) in need.

4. Assure that all students receive a campus, classroom and community experience free of hostilities, aggressions and bullying regarding immigration status. Communicate unequivocally and repeatedly that undocumented students are full members of the Notre Dame community who will be protected to the fullest power of the administration.

5. In line with the Catholic tradition of providing sanctuary to the persecuted, identify particular spaces on campus where those who feel threatened can seek refuge and protection.

Similar requests are being made at Indiana University, when students asked provost Lauren Robel to make a similar distinction. But the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University reports this looks unlikely:

Robel met with the UndocuHoosiers Alliance on Nov. 28 after they delivered demands on Nov. 16 to her and IU President Michael McRobbie to meet with them and discuss how they will support undocumented students when Donald Trump takes office.

Robel said she thinks the possibility of opposing immigration officials being able to execute immigration law on the IU campus is an unwise step for a number of reasons because of her concern for IU students.

“So, I think the position we’ve taken is we will do everything that is legally within our power to protect our students and we do everything that we do with our students interest in mind, not with political statements in mind,” Robel said.

State Superintendent-Elect McCormick Announces Transition Team

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

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, after she defeated current State Superintendent Glenda Ritz. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

State superintendent-elect Jennifer McCormick announced her transition team Friday. The 17-person team will help McCormick is hiring her cabinet at the Department of Education and preparing her new administration. She takes office Jan. 9.

The transition team consists of many public school principals, superintendents and leaders in higher education.

“I am excited and honored to work with such a dynamic and diverse group,” McCormick said in a statement. “The team’s commitment to Hoosier students will drive critical decision-making which will ultimately impact Indiana’s education system and ensure Indiana has one of the best Departments of Education in the nation.”

Here is the full list of McCormick’s transition team:

Dr. Brad Balch – Professor and Dean Emeritus, Indiana State University, Department of Educational Leadership

Dr. Todd Bess – Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Principals

Mr. Wes Bruce – Education and Assessment Consultant

Dr. Jeff Butts – President-Elect, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents

Rep. Tony Cook – Republican, Cicero

Mr. Denny Costerison – Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Business Officials

Dr. Scot Croner – Superintendent, Blackford County Schools

Mr. Steve Edwards (Transition Team Chair) - Retired Superintendent and Education Consultant, Administrator Assistance

Dr. Nancy Holsapple – Executive Director, Old National Trail Special Services Inter-Local

Mr. David Holt – Chief Financial Officer, MSD Warren Township

Dr. Lee Ann Kwiatkowski – Member, State Board of Education

Mr. Micah Maxwell – Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Muncie

Dr. Hardy Murphy – Executive Director, Indiana Urban Schools Association and Clinical Professor of Education, IUPUI, IU School of Education

Mrs. Kathryn Raasch – Principal, Wayne Township Preschool

Mr. Terry Spradlin – Director of Community and Governmental Relations, Education Networks of America

Mrs. Lisa Tanselle – General Counsel, Indiana School Boards Association

Mrs. Kelly Wittman – Executive Principal, Max S. Hayes Career & Technical High School of MSD Cleveland

Once Again, Indiana Plans To Launch A New Assessment In 1 Year

Testing expert Ed Roeber travelled to Indiana Tuesday to speak with the panel re-writing the state's assessment. Roeber encourage the panel to spend at least two years creating and implementing the new assessment system and not rush into it, like Indiana did in 2014.

Testing expert Ed Roeber travelled to Indiana Tuesday to speak with the panel re-writing the state\’s assessment. Roeber encourage the panel to spend at least two years creating and implementing the new assessment system and not rush into it, like Indiana did in 2014.  (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

When the 2017 General Assembly convenes in January, it will tackle one of the biggest education issues of the year: replacing the state’s assessment, the ISTEP+. Last session, the General Assembly passed a bill eliminating the current ISTEP+ and saying the replacement must be in effect by spring 2018.

This gives the legislature, the Department of Education, a test vendor and school districts less than a year to create and implement the new test.

It’s a road the state has been down before.

This started in March 2014, when Gov. Mike Pence and the legislature ditched Common Core standards and the PARCC assessment. The exit came without a contingency plan. And because of a waiver the state had with the federal government regarding the old No Child Left Behind law, they were legally obligated to give the test that year.

So the DOE and the State Board of Education wrote new standards in a few months and had test vendor, CTB, create an assessment to match.

Schools began preparing for test administration in Spring 2015, and many educators complained. The new 2015 version of the ISTEP+ was significantly longer than previous years. That’s because when a new test is created, best practice is to field test the questions on the test to make sure they are properly assessing a student’s knowledge. That field testing is usually spread out, but because of the short timeline, the pilot questions were tacked onto the real assessment, making it longer.

Parents and teachers were outraged at the amount of time students spent testing, and the discussion quickly turned into public accusations from the SBOE, the DOE and the governor’s office about whose fault it was.

Eventually, Governor Pence signed an executive order shortening the test, and the DOE worked with testing experts to figure out how to do make that happen.

Just over a year later, we’re back in a similar situation. If legislators keep the 2018 implementation deadline, here’s how the workflow of the test creation will play out: the General Assembly crafts a law that dictates how the new test looks. That isn’t finalized until late April or May of 2017 when the legislative session ends. Then the Department of Education, now under Jennifer McCormick, hires a test vendor to create the assessment. The vendor has a few months to create the test and the DOE has a few months to prepare schools for the change before it must be implemented spring 2018.

The legislation passed last year that eliminates the test, also created the ISTEP+ panel that was tasked with creating suggestions for re-writing the assessment.

The panel took testimony from Ed Roeber, a testing consultant based in Michigan who previously consulted with Indiana when the test was too long. He told the panel that the state should take at least two years to fully plan and implement a new test.

“When things get rushed, then you take shortcuts,” Roeber said at the October meeting of the ISTEP+ panel.

The panel issued its final report this week, and it does include a suggestion the state retain the current version another year and take two years to re-write and implement its replacement.

House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Education Chair Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, have both said they would discuss changing the deadline. The legislature could re-write that deadline during this year’s legislative session.

4 Things You Need To Know (But Were Too Scared To Ask) About The Ed Secretary

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Education. (Twitter)

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump\’s pick for Secretary of Education. (Twitter)

The nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education has inspired a good deal of conversation – from qualms about her qualifications to explainers about her background to praise for her record as a bullish proponent for market-based school choice.

As a school choice advocate, DeVos’ has clear priorities  – expanding state private school vouchers, education tax credits and charter schools – but how much impact does the Secretary of Education have on individual state policies?

Let’s take a look at the U.S. Secretary of Education job to find out.

1. What does the U.S. Secretary of Education do?

The Secretary of Education is a dual role. As head of the U.S. Department of Education, the secretary advises the department, and proposes and executes legislation that deals with federal influence over education policy.

The secretary is also a member of the president’s cabinet. In that capacity, the secretary is the lead adviser to the President on federal policies, programs and activities related to education in the United States.

And, interestingly, the secretary of education is 15th in line of succession to the president.

2. How much influence do they have over individual states’ education policy?

Education is primarily a state and local responsibility in the United States. Less than 9 percent of the money spent on education comes from the federal government.

But the U.S. Department of Education and the Secretary of Education can make requests and offer the states guidance, regulations and additional grants for local education. And, as they write, the department “works hard to get a big bang for its taxpayer-provided bucks.”

That’s where those guidance and regulations come in – the department can attach strict stipulations on what they expect to see in return for that money. That was one of the most controversial aspects of President Barack Obama administration’s Race to the Top grants, a series of grants created to spur education innovation and reforms in states and local districts.

In return for those federal grants, the administration asked for specific things, including the adoption of common standards, school turnaround initiatives, tying tests to teacher evaluations and charter school expansion. They were controversial. Critics said the federal government overstepped its bounds by enticing states to adopt certain measures. Supporters say it helped spark a wave of reform across the country.

The department also oversees civil rights matters in education – it can pull funding from districts if it identifies discrimination based on race, disability, sexual orientation, income or gender identity.

3. Can the Secretary of Education make policy?


Instead, they’re in charge of implementing and overseeing laws. Laws written by Congress and signed by the president.

A clear example of this is the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Congress passed it as a rewrite to No Child Left Behind. It was then signed into law by President Obama.

Now, the education department is in charge of enacting that law and overseeing implementation.

4. So, can Trump’s pick actually privatize U.S. schools?

It’s highly unlikely. There are a number of factors at play.

Remember, less than 9 percent of spending on public K-12 schools comes from the federal government. All of that money is already earmarked for specific groups of children, like students with disabilities and students from low-income families.

So, where will the money for President-elect Trump’s $20 billion school choice proposal actually come from? Well, it’s still a question.

The education department could offer grants that ask for school choice expansion, in return. It could be similar to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grants. But getting the $20 billion into a budget passed by Congress may be very hard.

Trump’s plan also asks states to pledge another $110 billion to school choice. That may be infeasible, Kevin Carey explains in the New York Times.

States don’t have that kind of money lying around. The only plausible source is existing school funding. But even if Ms. DeVos were to find a willing governor and state legislature, it’s not that easy. Roughly half of all nonfederal education funding comes from local property taxes raised by over 13,000 local school districts. They and their elected representatives will have a say, too.

This is where the intersection of geography and politics makes any national voucher plan much more difficult to enact. The practicality of school choice is highly related to population density. Children need to be able to get from home to school and back again every day. In a large metropolis with public transportation, there could be dozens of schools within reasonable travel distance of most families. In a small city, town or rural area, there will be few or none.

And population density, as Americans saw in the last election, is increasingly the dividing line of the nation’s politics. A significant number of Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters live in sparsely populated areas where school choice is logistically unlikely. At the same time, many of the municipalities where market reforms are theoretically much easier to put in voted overwhelmingly against the president-elect.

ISTEP+ Panel Submits Recommendations For Writing New Test

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 softward developer that later hired one of Ritz's aides in an exuctive position. (Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz was one of two people on the 23-person ISTEP panel who voted against the final recommendation. Ritz says this plan was too broad and doesn’t ask legislators to make dramatic changes from a testing system many are unhappy with. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

The ISTEP+ panel, a 23-person committee tasked with writing a recommendation for re-writing the state’s assessment system, voted on a final version Tuesday. Rather than promoting the sweeping changes that many, including the legislature wanted, the final plan offers slight differences from the state’s current test.

The plan came in before the Dec. 1 deadline and will now be given to lawmakers for the 2017 General Assembly.

The most notable changes from the current assessment system:

  • Administering a test once a year, rather than twice
  • Putting that testing window at the end of the school year in May
  • Proposing that other Indiana teachers grade the assessment

The recommendations also call for a shorter assessment and quicker turnaround of results, but do not specify how to achieve that.

Nicole Fama, the panel’s chair and principal at George H. Fisher School 93 in Indianapolis, says she wanted the group’s final recommendation to be broad for a reason.

“We’re not the experts, we’re not the psychometricians, we wouldn’t know exactly where those things are to meet state requirements, so we left that to them,” Fama says.

The General Assembly voted to eliminate the current ISTEP+ by 2018, after parents, teachers and legislators voiced overwhelming dissatisfaction with the test.

Lawmakers formed this committee to help craft its replacement, but its final recommendation is conservative in its changes to the current assessment system.

Over the last six months, one of the main goals of the panel was to reduce the time students spend testing. One of the suggestions to achieve this was eliminating the IREAD-3 test, an assessment that tests reading skills in third grade. Many on the panel supported this suggestion, but it is not present in the final recommendation.

Fama says, while many want to see that happen, the group decided not to address it in their plan. They will instead ask the State Board of Education to advocate against that test.

But House Education Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, says getting rid of IREAD-3 might not be the best move. He says, ever since Indiana introduced IREAD-3, fourth grade student scores on the federal assessment, NAEP, showed more growth than most states.

Behning says he is willing to consider other options, but that assessment put a greater focus on reading in classrooms.

“It would be my preference at this point in time that we look at options but I think IREAD-3, if you look at the performance we have right now in NAEP, let’s not set ourselves back,” Behning says.

The plan passed 21-2, and the two votes against it were placed by state superintendent Glenda Ritz and Ayana Wilson-Coles, a teacher at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Pike Township.

In a statement, Ritz said this plan wasn’t a dramatic change from the current testing system, and she was disappointed that the group didn’t recommend more detailed recommendations for the legislature.

“Earlier this year, Indiana’s General Assembly said that the time had finally come for an end to the inefficient, expensive, pass-fail, high-stakes ISTEP+ system,” Ritz said in a statement. “The recommendations adopted today will do nothing to shorten the time of the test and will not save Hoosiers any money nor reduce the high-stakes associated with ISTEP+.”

Before the vote, Ritz also raised issue with the fact that this final draft of the plan was compiled through email and didn’t allow for the group to discuss it before voting on it.

These email discussions determined language in the final draft that was not otherwise debated in a public meeting space.

Fama acknowledges that left these discussions were held out of the public eye, but she says that tactic was necessary to meet the deadline.

“I think it was as transparent as it could be with our timeline to meet Dec. 1 and get things going,” Fama says.

This recommendation is only a jumping off point in a longer process to re-write the test. It is only a recommendation. The General Assembly has full control over the future the assessment.

Behring says, when the legislature convenes in January, he will use these recommendations as he and other legislators craft a bill to create a new testing system.

“I can generally support almost everything that’s in the report,” Behning says. “I think we’re going to make some really positive movement forward.”

Tomorrow We’ll Have An ISTEP Recommendation, What Can We Expect?

Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma separately announced appointments to the panel that will recommend a replacement for Indiana’s current standardized test, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus or ISTEP. (David Hartman /Flickr)

The ISTEP panel will issue its final recommendation on how to re-write the state assessment. (photo credit: David Hartman /Flickr)

Tuesday is the last state ISTEP panel meeting, and members are expected to vote on a plan to overhaul the state’s assessment system. The group will submit this plan to the legislature as a recommendation.

During the 2016 General Assembly, lawmakers voted to get rid of the current ISTEP+ assessment. The legislation also created the 23-person panel – educators, parents, legislators and other stakeholders – to come up with a recommendation for its replacement.

That panel met every month, since May, to craft a recommendation before a Dec. 1 deadline. Though Nov. 29′s meeting is the last, it’s not quite clear what we can expect from the recommendation.

When the group convened earlier in the month, members brought different ideas and plans for what the test could look like. It reviewed them at the meeting but no decisions were made.  Chair and Indianapolis Public Schools principal Nicole Fama decided to have those conversations via email. Tomorrow we’ll have our first look at the products of those conversations.

What we have seen so far

One of the first plans came from state superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Department of Education, in October. Highlights include eliminating IREAD-3, enacting computer adaptive tests and the possibility for multiple administrations throughout the year.

A few weeks ago, a group of eight panel members created their own proposal and presented it for consideration. Some of their suggestions:

  • State will provide funds for a formative assessment of the school district’s choosing (a test, like NWEA, schools can use to gauge if students are on track).
  • Only one administration of the summative assessment (like ISTEP). Right now students take it in two sittings.
  • Eliminate IREAD-3.
  • Three end-of-course exams at the high school level.

Different perspectives

At the last meeting, the group also reviewed various pieces of feedback from panel members regarding the test. Suggestions included reducing testing time, cutting IREAD and reducing the social studies and science portions of any assessment.

But there were a few things the entire group wasn’t on board with. Experts suggest online testing is the best way to administer a test, but some on the panel still want to administer a test with paper and pencil. The group also differs on how often there should be testing. Some want to streamline it into one time a year, others want to spread it throughout the year, administering it in shorter chunks.

After the recommendation

The final recommendation will be given to the 2017 General Assembly. It does not mandate anything. The legislature will craft legislation that establishes the new assessment.

Legislative Leaders Agree On Expanding State-Funded Pre-K

The legislature will likely address expanding statewide pre-k during the 2017 legislative session.

The legislature will likely address expanding statewide pre-k during the 2017 legislative session. (photo credit: Sonia Hooda / Flickr)

Legislative leaders outlined their priorities for the 2017 General Assembly Monday, and all agreed they want to expand the state’s pre-K scholarship program. The question that will face the full General Assembly is how much it will be expanded.

Republican and Democratic legislative leaders from both chambers agree state funded pre-K should be a priority in the upcoming legislative session. It’s an sentiment that began earlier this year when business leaders announced an initiative encouraging the legislature to expand the current pre-K pilot program, On My Way Pre-K.

That program exists in five counties and currently serves around 2,500 kids from low-income families. There’s estimates on how many seats are currently open if the state decides to offer more money in scholarships for these students, some saying 5,000. 

Going from currently 2,500 students to almost tripling the program isn’t unreasonable according to House speaker Brian Bosma, but he says it just depends on financial forecasts.

“This may be a tighter session than normal,” Bosma says. “I think that will in part dictate how broadly we expand the program.”

Democrat leaders Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, and Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, expressed interest in expanding the program statewide.

The legislative session begins in early January.

From Policy To Personnel: Pence’s Possible Influence On Education

Indiana Gov. and vice president-elect Mike Pence, and those with ties to him, are likely to influence the next U.S. Department of Education. (Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Indiana Gov. and vice president-elect Mike Pence, and those with ties to him, are likely to influence the next U.S. Department of Education. (Indiana Public Broadcasting)

President-elect Donald Trump is continuing to name his choices for top cabinet positions, with 60 days until he assumes the Oval Office. One role that’s still up in the air: Secretary of Education.

Sure, there are rumors who it could be, including former Indiana superintendent Tony Bennet and U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, but there’s no official announcement yet.

As it stands, Trump doesn’t have much of a record on education for us to look at. But Vice President-elect and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who now heads the transition, does. A lengthy one.

“I suspect that vice president-elect Pence is going to have enormous weigh over the transition process,” says Mike Casserly, executive director of Council of Great City Schools, which represents over 60 urban school systems. “The policies and positions and philosophies that he has espoused in Indiana are not unique to the Trump positions.”

So, what can Pence’s record tell us about where education could go under a Trump administration, a new education department and new person at its head? Let’s take a look. Continue Reading

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