Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

State Board Will Vote On ISTEP+ Cut Scores At Special Meeting

State Board of Education members convene for a special meeting Wednesday to discuss ISTEP+ cut scores and new diplomas.

State Board of Education members convene for a special meeting Wednesday to discuss ISTEP+ cut scores and new diplomas. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education convenes Wednesday for a special meeting to set ISTEP+ cut scores and discuss new high school diplomas proposed for the state.

The board postponed the cut score decision at its Oct. 14 meeting because members expressed concerns about the difference in difficulty between the paper/pencil and online versions of the ISTEP+ test. This comes from an annual study conducted by testing company CTB that look at the validity and comparability of the two types of testing methods.

The board decided to let CTB finish the study before approving ISTEP+ cut scores, the point that determines passing versus failing.

State Board of Education spokesperson Marc Lotter says the results of that study are complete, and the experts who reviewed the test found the online version of the test was more challenging than the paper/pencil version.

To understand the difference he gave this example: a math story problem on the paper/pencil version asked students to come up with the mathematical statement that best illustrated the story problem pictured above. There were multiple choices the students could choose from, meaning they could guess and have a chance of getting the right answer or use the choices to check their math work.

Alternatively, on the online version, there was just a blank space where the student had to write in the correct mathematical statement.

The use of online versus paper/pencil versions of the test is up to school districts, so not all students faced the same difficulties.  Continue Reading

Education Study Committee Passes Draft Legislative Proposal

This is one of several similar laws which passed in different state legislatures.

The Interim Study Committee on Education met for the last time Monday and passed a list of recommendations for education bills in the next session of the General Assembly. (Photo Credit: Bill Shaw/WFIU News)

The Interim Study Committee on Education met for the fifth and final time Monday to finalize the list of recommendations it will make to the 2016 General Assembly, passing the list with bipartisan support on most items.

Since the 2015 General Assembly ended, the group of senators and representatives serving on education committees within their own chamber met to discuss a variety of issues that came up during the session but did not make it into a bill or law.

Some of those topics included raising the age of a student can be classified as needing special education services, the state of the ISTEP+ and the current teacher shortage facing the state’s school districts.

All of those discussions were consolidated Monday into a list of 19 suggestions the committee will give the larger legislature as things to pursue in the next session. The committee passed 17 of the suggestions, creating a sort of rough draft of a legislative agenda for 2016 when it comes to education.

Most of the suggestions have to do with the ISTEP+ or ways to attract and retain teachers. The two suggestions that were voted down were proposed by Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, and had to do with pausing certain accountability measures that come with ISTEP+ scores, such as teacher pay and A-F letter grades for schools. It’s something state Superintendent Glenda Ritz has suggested for months now, but the State Board of Education also doesn’t back the idea.

Here are the suggestions in their final language as decided by the committee Monday:  Continue Reading

Feds Will Work To Reduce Time Spent on Standardized Testing

National education leaders are saying “enough is enough” when it comes to standardized testing.

President Barack Obama announced Saturday that his administration will work to limit the amount of standardized testing in schools – specifically, the president says no child should spend more than two percent of classroom instruction time taking those tests.

He also called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it works to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, the cornerstone federal statute governing all U.S. public elementary and secondary schools.

“I believe that in moderation, smart, strategic tests can help us measure our kids’ progress in school,” Obama said in a video posted to Facebook. “But I also hear from parents who rightly worry about too much testing, and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that.”

If our kids had more free time at school, what would you want them to do with it? A) Learn to play a musical instrument?B) Study a new language?C) Learn how to code HTML?D) Take more standardized tests?Take the quiz, then watch President Obama’s message about smarter ways to measure our kids’ progress in school.

Posted by The White House on Saturday, October 24, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education plans to take action on both the federal and state levels to reduce over-testing. The feds will offer expertise and financial support for states to develop and use “less burdensome” assessments, as well as flexibility from federal mandates and greater support to innovate.

The administration will also create or fix rules to reduce the reliance on student test scores, including requirements for teacher preparation programs and educator evaluations.

This is quite a shift in rhetoric from USED, which has pushed to increase accountability linked to student assessment over the past seven or eight years. But this week, current education Secretary Arne Duncan admitted to the New York Times‘ Kate Zernike that he thinks it’s time to tone things down:

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has said he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

A study released by the Council of the Great City Schools found that nationwide, students take an average of 8.4 assessments per year in grades 3-5. Researchers say eighth graders spend an average of 25.3 hours during the school year taking exams, and the average pre-K class gives 4.1 standardized tests per year.

Patrick McAlister, Director of Policy for Teach Plus Indianapolis, told Indiana lawmakers earlier this fall that during the 2013-14 school year, third graders in the state’s largest public school district, Indianapolis Public Schools, spend an average of 11.4 hours on state tests and nine hours on district exams.

Testing time has long been a contentious issue among policymakers, teachers, school leaders and parents in Indiana.

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South Bend Schools Lost More Students To Charters Than Expected

South Bend schools saw a huge drop in enrollment this year, and the district says most of them went to area charter schools. (Photo Credit: Alex McCall/WFIU News)

South Bend schools saw a huge drop in enrollment this year, and the district says most of them went to area charter schools. (Photo Credit: Alex McCall/WFIU News)” credit=”

Enrollment in the South Bend Community School Corporation dropped 827 students this school year, as more area students left to attend local charter schools or traditional public schools in neighboring districts.

The loss is greater than expected, according to school board President Jay Caponigro, who says the district budgeted for the loss of just a few hundred.

The numbers come after the state’s first official attendance count in September. The second count takes place in February.

It’s a trend the district has seen ever since school choice legislation went into place, and the number of students utilizing this choice has grown more and more each year. This summer, South Bend schools along with other public school districts in the area launched marketing campaigns to attract more students to their schools, as well as retain current students.

At a school board meeting this week, Superintendent Carole Schmidt said she expects around half of those students to return to South Bend schools before the next count day in February.

Caponigro says this expectation comes from what they’ve seen in other years.

“Students…or families trying out charters and giving it a couple of months, and then we see a number of them come back to us,” Caponigro says.

Caponigro says the district believes this particular massive drop in enrollment comes from the opening of one new charter school in South Bend, Success Academy. The South Bend Tribune reported this week that Success Academy used a lot of resources in marketing their school:

Success Academy, meanwhile, located in the former St. Vincent de Paul Society and thrift shop building that underwent some $14 million in renovations, enrolled 456 students in its first year. Along with its sister school, South Bend Career Academy, which serves grades seven through 12, it spent some $98,000 on radio and television ads, as well as marketing and other related services, from January through July of this year, according to information earlier supplied to The Tribune in response to a records request.

Superintendent Paul Schlottman wrote in an email two weeks ago that school leaders there have been pleased with the results of their marketing efforts.

And, he wrote, “The response from the community has been fantastic and the school year is off to a great start.”

On the flip side, South Bend school leaders say their budget for marketing isn’t as robust as in the past, and Caponigro says some of this has to do with the school funding formula taking more money away from South Bend.

One way the district plans to combat this issue is creating more opportunities to inform the public about their district. Next week the district is hosting a “magnet fair,” where area families can learn about magnet programs in the district, and they hope to host similar events throughout the year.

Seven Oaks Classical School Seeks Charter Through New Authorizer


Photo Credit: Seven Oaks Classical School website

Seven Oaks Classical School in Bloomington continues in its pursuit to open in August 2016. School leaders are trying to gain a charter authorization, this time through Grace College & Seminary.

The Indiana Charter School Board denied Seven Oaks’ application last year. The school pulled its second application to the same board earlier this year.

If opened, Seven Oaks would teach students according to a “traditional, classical-liberal arts curriculum,” according to the proposed school’s website.

Terry English is a member of Seven Oaks’ board and says the group decided to pursue a charter with Grace College because they felt the college better understood the mission of Seven Oaks.

“There’s not as much of a political influence on the college, I think, as there is on the state board,” English says. “We believe that Grace College is more in line with the vision that we have for the school.”

Grace College currently authorizes two other charter schools in the state: Smith Academy for Excellence in Fort Wayne and Dugger Union Community School in Dugger.

Compared to previous applications, English says this go-around brings a few big changes to the makeup of Seven Oaks, if approved. First, the school will provide meal service to students during the day, something that wasn’t included in its application to the charter board. Leaders also want to serve students K-12; they had previously planned to only educate students through grade 8.

English says the school would initially only go up to eighth grade, but add consecutive grade levels each year after opening.

Tim Ziebarth oversees charter authorizations for Grace College and says he looks at the school’s leadership and academic programs when considering authorization. Ziebarth says the fact that the Indiana Charter School Board didn’t want to authorize the Seven Oaks isn’t a reason for Grace College to do the same.

“I think there can be things learned from it – potentially better plans, potentially better questions to think through. Not every charter application gets approved,” Ziebarth says. “Some folks take three, four, five years to get their charter approved.”

Grace College is hosting a public meeting in Bloomington in two weeks to get public input about the school and learn more from the Seven Oaks’ board about plans for the school. The meeting takes place Nov. 4 at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites at 117 S Franklin Rd.

Brownsburg School Employees File First Amendment Lawsuit

Voters rejected two proposed referenda in Brownsburg school district last May. (Photo Credit: Janelle Fasan/Twitter)

Voters rejected two proposed referenda in Brownsburg school district last May. (Photo Credit: Janelle Fasan/Twitter)

A pair of cafeteria workers in Brownsburg say the Brownsburg Community School Corporation violated their First Amendment rights when it punished them for expressing their opinions on social media.

The two workers and the ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit against the school system in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana earlier this week.

Tina Gracey and Brenda Farnsworth allege the school took unconstitutional disciplinary action against them for posting in a Facebook group called “Brownsburg Residents for Fiscal Responsibility.” The group criticized two proposed referenda, one of which was seeking a $96 million property tax hike, that were ultimately defeated in the May 2015 election.

I agree with Vicky Chastain !!! The building of apartment complexes and housing additions is crazy!!! Stop trying to…

Posted by Tina Gracey on Friday, April 17, 2015

Funny thing this morning out doing yard work along side my neighbor, both with VOTE NO signs proudly in our yards when a…

Posted by Tina Gracey on Sunday, April 26, 2015

I have openly voiced my opinion about this referendum because that is my right as an american!!! The constitution…

Posted by Tina Gracey on Friday, May 1, 2015

The complaint says the school corporation gave Gracey and Farnsworth written warnings and told them they could be “subject to termination if they continued to post their opinions to online forums.”

“I don’t want to lose my job because of this. I’m not asking for money,” Gracey told the Indianapolis Star. “I just want it to be made public that people are allowed to speak out against things like this.”

The ACLU also says the women made their comments on their own time and from their own electronic devices.

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Indiana’s Teacher Shortage Will Take More Than Just A Quick Fix

The data is clear: Indiana is indeed experiencing a teacher shortage.

Since the issue came to lawmakers’ attention this summer, the Department of Education confirmed that the Hoosier state has seen more than a 30 percent drop in the number of people licensed as first-time teachers.

What’s still a bit blurry is what policymakers will do to remedy the problem.

Nearly everyone involved in education has their opinion about why Indiana is seeing fewer people enter and remain in the teaching profession – whether that’s barriers to entry, opportunities for advancement, pay or other working conditions. And along with these countless identified issues come countless recommendations for ways to fix them.

With all these suggestions coming from so many angles, it could take more time than most people expect to see some results – and even longer to see sustained change.

Signaling Solutions

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks to members of the General Assembly's Interim Study Committee on Education Monday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks to members of the General Assembly’s Interim Study Committee on Education Monday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

On one hand, policymakers seem to be making some real strides in narrowing down potential solutions to Indiana’s teacher shortage.

The 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission, a group of about 50 leading educators from across Indiana headed by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, has been meeting for a month now. They’re focused on matching root causes and possible solutions in the areas of teacher recruitment and retention.

The group has begun to identify existing strategies that Ritz says could be implemented in other areas of the state – like one currently in place in the Butler University community, called “tapping.”

It involves asking classroom teachers and other education professionals to identify students or other individuals they think would make good teaching candidates in the future by tapping them on the shoulder and engaging them in a conversation about the profession. Butler has developed a business card to distribute to those individuals, encouraging them to visit the university’s College of Education website to learn more information about potential degree options.

“I think there’s something very powerful about somebody saying to you, ‘I think you would be great at this’” says Angela Lupton, assistant dean of Butler’s College of Education. “Sometimes students don’t even potentially see themselves as teachers unless someone points that out to them.”

This type of strategy has been echoed by many people outside of the Blue Ribbon Commission, as well – along with a laundry list of other likable, doable, popular ideas people have begun to rally around:

  • Differentiated pay models based on subject area
  • Increased mentorship requirements
  • Stronger statewide professional development efforts
  • Improving teacher salaries
  • Positive marketing campaigns
  • Easier pathways to bring in teachers certified out-of-state

It’s always good to have options. But that’s also part of the problem: it becomes difficult to narrow down which are most critical or time-pressing.

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Need Teachers? Some Suggest Looking Outside Traditional Programs

Some say the road less traveled might be the best route for finding new faces to add to Indiana’s teaching force.

Indiana faces a teacher shortage, and state policymakers have been searching for solutions since the issue came to their attention late last spring. Lawmakers received a slew of recommendations during a meeting of the General Assembly‘s Interim Study Committee on Education Monday.

Interim Study Committee on Education co-chairs Sen. Dennis Kruse, R- (left) and Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, conferred before their group met to discuss teacher shortage statistics on Monday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Interim Study Committee on Education co-chairs Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn (left), and Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, conferred before their group met to discuss teacher shortage statistics on Monday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

One new suggestion came from the state of Georgia, and it’s what some would call “non-traditional.”

Back in 1999, Georgia was going through its own iteration of a teacher shortage, and then-governor Roy Barnes remedied the problem by introducing an alternative licensing program. The initiative created programs to provide testing and six-week training courses for students who proved themselves in their respective subject areas to learn pedagogy that they didn’t get because they weren’t teaching majors.

According to Ben Scafidi, one of Barnes’ advisors in this endeavor, that strategy has been effective. He says nowadays, almost 20 percent of new teachers in Georgia come through these routes.

“If you’re a smart undergraduate and you have good content knowledge, a high GPA, then you are welcome to teach in Georgia,” says Scafidi, now an economics professor at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University and senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “A lot of students who are smart go to college, [but] they haven’t thought about being a teacher.”

This is not a totally new idea in Indiana. Its something that’s been tossed around during meetings of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz‘s Blue Ribbon Commission. The state employs Teach for America graduates, and career professionals with bachelor degrees can teach in middle or high school classes through the state’s “Transition to Teaching” program.

Indiana also introduced a reconfigured set of teacher licensure standards last year known as REPA III that set standards for hiring content specialists.

But it’s not altogether out of the question, either.

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Fall Break Is ‘Soothing Environment’ To Learn At Arlington

After three years under management of a private company, Arlington Community High School has returned to Indianapolis Public Schools. It’s the first school under state takeover to transition back to its home district and school leaders are under pressure from the community and state to make it work. In the series A New Day, WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle is spending a year reporting from inside the school on its successes and challenges.

On a regular day, the halls and classrooms of Arlington can teeter on a low rumble until an outburst, fire alarm or students skipping class can shatter any hope of focus.

But for the past two weeks, it’s been a much different vibe.

“It is just a very calm, a very soothing environment in here,” says English teacher Kevin Sandorf as a near-silence envelopes the school. “You are not addressing all those little pieces — the dress code and things like that. We’re getting focused on the instruction in here.”

English teacher Kevin Sandorf explains some writing techniques to student Daniel Berverena during the Arlington High School's "intersession" for remedial math and English classes. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

English teacher Kevin Sandorf explains some writing techniques to student Daniel Berverena during the Arlington High School’s “intersession” for remedial math and English classes. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

Sandorf is one of a handful of teachers who have given up all or part of their fall break for an intensive, teaching session held during the fall break. The goal is help students bone up on math and English skills — so they can pass exams required for graduation.

About 80 juniors and seniors from Arlington were ordered to attend the two-week session, held 7:30 a.m. to noon each day. But more than half of the students assigned to Sandorf’s English class didn’t show up during the first week.

Those who are get the veteran teacher’s hyper-active, highly interactive teaching style. During two days, students worked their way through — “Heritage or Hate,” an article about the current debate over the Confederate flag.

The lesson gave Sandorf the opportunity to zero in on the stumbling blocks of individual students, such as how to formulate short-form essay responses and narrow down the correct answer when multiple choices are given.

Around the corner in another class, math instructors Tim Davis and Rolanda Gardner split their attention with a just handful of students. That lets them zero in on different topics at the same time — from graphing to quadratic equations. The two also emphasize testing tips.

“You’ve got the numbers in here right now where you can do a one-on-one, pause, ask — ‘do you understand this?,’”  Sandorf’ says. “We can back up and look at this a little more.”

Teachers and students agree — this is the first time there’s been peace and quiet in the school this year. Arlington’s transition back to IPS has been fraught with many challenges, including the new staff trying to earn the trust of more than 600 students while setting a cultural tone.

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Debate Watch: Education Still Largely Taking A Backseat

Republican presidential hopefuls have already had two chances to present themselves to the nation via televised debate – and they haven’t yet said much of substance about the future of education.

ElectionLogo Generic

Earlier this week, it was Democrats’ turn.

Five candidates took to the stage Tuesday night – Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb – a much smaller group than voters have seen from the crowded field of GOP contenders. And some thought that would mean the candidates could address a wider range of issues – including education.

But while Los Angeles Times reporter Joy Resmovits voiced confidence the candidates would likely touch on higher education and preschool efforts, she also predicted viewers wouldn’t hear much about the K-12 realm:

It’s much easier to talk about the need to expand pre-kindergarten – who doesn’t love stumping for adorable 4-year-olds? — than toughening rules around how teachers are hired, evaluated and fired. Clinton in particular has been vocal about the issue.

Another personal issue that speaks to voters without the weird politics of K-12 education is student loan debt and how to alleviate it. College tuition and student debt have increased significantly, posing a gigantic financial problem for many would-be students and their parents. Both Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) have called for a bigger role for federal government in making higher education less of a strain. Clinton released a plan to largely eliminate debt, and Sanders released a plan for the government to make college tuition free for everyone.

And that’s largely how things played out.

Host and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper did ask candidates a question about one of the education-related topics they’ve been talking up most on the campaign trail: college affordability. Here’s a quick summary of their responses, from Education Week‘s Alyson Klein:

[Sanders] talked up his plan to make public colleges free for all students. Sanders said a college degree these days is similar to what a high school degree used to be 50 years ago. That’s why it should be free, he said.

Clinton, the former secretary of state, has said Sanders’ plan would allow billionaire (and Republican presidential candidate) Donald Trump’s kids to get a free pass to college. Clinton touted her own college access prescription, which would call for lowering interest rates for graduates, enticing states to hold down college costs, and calling for more transparency when it comes to college graduation rates.

“The hardest thing about going to college should not be paying for it,” she said.

Clinton also talked about her plan to encourage states to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students known as “dreamers.” O’Malley pointed out that under his leadership as governor, Maryland had passed legislation to do just that.

Other than that, most of the other mentions of school came in passing, or eventually devolved into discussions about social security and immigration.

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