Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Changes To Funding Formula Still Leave Many Districts In The Red

School districts like Indianapolis Public Schools, with high free/reduced lunch rates, will see a cut in state funding under the new formula.

School districts like Indianapolis Public Schools, with high free and reduced lunch rates, will see a cut in state funding under the new formula. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

A previous version of this story included incorrect free and reduced lunch data from the Department of Education. 

In Zionsville, a suburb of Indianapolis, the median household income is more than $100,000. The free and reduced lunch rate is less than four percent – the lowest in the state.

It’s also one of the lowest funded school districts in the state.

It seems counterintuitive that a school in a wealthy community is having to make deep cuts to stay out of the red, but that’s exactly what’s been happening over the last seven years.

“We lost some world languages, we lost our International Baccalaureate program at the high school level, we lost the ability to run most of our science labs for more than a year, because our class sizes exceeded the safety ratings,” says Zionsville Superintendent Scott Robison.

The district has also laid off teachers and posed multiple referendum questions to supplement its state funding. To understand why Zionsville is in this situation, you have to know how the way we fund schools has changed. Continue Reading

How Can Indiana Improve the ISTEP+ Next Year?

Students across Indiana are in the middle of taking the spring ISTEP+ – a shorter test than was expected, thanks to quick action from state officials, guided by two national consultants.

Two national consultants recommend a series of quick steps to improve next year's ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Kate Parker/Flickr)

Two national consultants recommend a series of quick steps to improve next year’s ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: Kate Parker/Flickr)

Gov. Mike Pence released Edward Roeber and Bill Auty’s full review of the test Monday. The two men compiled their report within a matter of days after the governor hired them to aid in trimming the test last month. The document contains recommendations for immediate implementation in this spring’s test, as well as ideas for the state moving forward.

“We believe that implementing our long-term recommendations will improve the design and implementation of the ISTEP+ program in the future,” the report reads. “We remain willing to assist in and perhaps monitor efforts to implement these recommendations.”

As a refresher, the feds required Indiana to create a new test this year, after the state pulled out of the Common Core and PARCC last April. State leaders hope to better align the state test to state standards so they can create a more refined assessment for 2016 and beyond.

How can they do so? Let’s look at the short- and long-term fixes Roeber and Auty suggest…

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One-Quarter of High School Students Enter College Unprepared

A report out this week finds nearly a quarter of Hoosier high school graduates were not ready for college. That’s an improvement from past years, but the state Commission for Higher Education says there is still too many students taking remedial classes at college.

One in three students at Indiana's public universities requires remedial help in math or English. (SIUE/Flickr)

One in three students at Indiana\’s public universities requires remedial help in math or English. (SIUE/Flickr)

The annual Indiana College Readiness report is a trove of data on students’ transition from high school to college. For example, more than a third of 2013 high school graduates don’t go on to college – sixty percent of students who graduated with a Core 40 diploma did. The largest group of college bound students is the 92 percent of those who earned a Honor diploma.

Yet while nearly the same number of students earning those two degrees enter Indiana’s colleges, more than a third of students with Core 40 diploma require remedial classes in English and math.

“There’s a disconnect there between thinking you have taken what you needed to,” says Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s higher education commissioner. “There is no one simple answer to that but the compelling evidence is that when they are not prepared they are not very likely to complete once they get there.”

Lubbers says colleges and high schools are working closer together to narrow these types of gaps. She adds that Indiana’s new K-12 academic standards and a review of high school diplomas will help.

Read The Report Lawmakers Used To Shrink The Spring ISTEP+

Following the scramble to shrink this year’s ISTEP+, Gov. Mike Pence Monday released the full report state leaders used to help them take action on the test.

National consultants Edward Roeber and Bill Auty assembled the brief last month, after Pence hired them to advise state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, the Indiana Department of Education, State Board of Education and members of the General Assembly.

Edward Roeber, a national testing consultant hired through Gov. Pence's executive order, presents his plan to shorten this year's ISTEP to the State Board of Education last month.

Edward Roeber, a national testing consultant hired through Gov. Pence’s executive order, presents his plan to shorten this year’s ISTEP to the State Board of Education last month. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The governor tasked the group with figuring out how to shorten the state’s annual standardized test after the IDOE notified schools that students would sit for an average of 12 hours to complete the test – significantly longer than last year.

“I commend these nationally-recognized assessment experts for their efforts to thoroughly and efficiently review and make recommendations to shorten the 2015 test,” Pence said in a statement. “Indiana’s students, teachers and families deserved no less.”

Pence also says the report provides insights to be considered regarding next year’s test.

“Based on the results of 2015 tests, IDOE should investigate the feasibility of shortening the ISTEP+ tests in 2016 and beyond,” the report reads.

Remember, the current test marks step one in a transition for Indiana – after pulling out of Common Core State Standards and the associated national testing consortium, language in Indiana’s No Child Left Behind waiver required the state to provide a state test matching state standards.

Indiana is still in the planning stages of creating a test for spring 2016. Some of the fixes on this year’s assessment included pilot testing questions for next year, as well as saving others for use on fall practice materials.

National: Congress Postpones Vote To Rework No Child Left Behind

House Republicans delayed a vote last week on the “Student Success Act,” legislation to rewrite No Child Left Behind, dimming hopes this could be the year the cornerstone education law gets a facelift, according to POLITICO. The bill does not appear on the House calendar for this week.

Complicating the issue? Disputes over funding the Department of Homeland Security.

House Republicans decided not to vote Friday on their proposed rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law, the Student Success Act, after House leadership struggled to lock down support for the bill and debate over Department of Homeland Security funding eclipsed education plans.

Read more at:

Calculation Concerns Dominate Public A-F Talks

Indiana’s State Board of Education approved initial rule language for a new A-F school accountability system during their January meeting. This week, they traveled the state to gauge public reaction to the proposal.

Beginning Wednesday, held hearings in Evansville, Marion and Indianapolis. Board Director of Accountability Cynthia Roach says the panel generally heard the same concerns at each meeting.

“We’ve been hearing a lot about the [ratio] of performance and growth,” Roach says. “We’ve also been hearing a lot about being equitable for your lowest-performing students, that they receive equitable points when they’re showing high growth.”

We’ve already told you a bit about how the system would change if this proposal gets approved – but let’s pick out the items Roach is talking about:


Credit: Indiana Department of Education

Calculation Ratios:

  • The equation used to calculate a school’s grade uses the following variables: performancegrowth, and multiple measures (i.e. graduation rate, college- and career-readiness).
  • Each variable is assigned a letter grade (A, B, C, D or F) on a scale similar to what you would see on any test a student takes in school: 90-100 points is an A, 80-89 point is a B, and so on.
  • To determine a school’s total score, the scores for each of the three variables gets weighted (based on data about enrollment) and then added together.

Growth scores:

  • As suggested by the name, growth is determined using data from both the current year and the previous year.
  • A school’s total growth number is the sum of students’ English/Language Arts scores and math scores.
  • The score for each subject is the sum of the average marks of two subgroups: the highest performing students and lowest performing students. In other words, one-half is the average ISTEP+ mark of all the kids performing in the top 75 percent of the school, and the other half is the average ISTEP+ mark of all the kids performing in the bottom 25 percent of the school.

For a more detailed explanation of how each domain is calculated, see pages 3-7 of the proposed rule language. If you’re a visual learner, check out this calculation chart from the IDOE website.

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Halftime Report: How Is The General Assembly Doing So Far?

The Indiana General Assembly passed the halfway mark of its 2015 session Wednesday.

Republican Governor Mike Pence (Photo Credit: The Heritage Foundation/Flickr)

Republican Governor Mike Pence (Photo Credit: The Heritage Foundation/Flickr)

Gov. Mike Pence was the first to dub this the “education session” back in December, when he announced his administration’s legislative priorities. He says he thinks things are moving along smoothly.

“I’m very encouraged at the level of collaboration that’s taking place in broad and bipartisan fashion on priorities of this administration, chief among them is in the area of education,” Pence says.

On the other side of the aisle, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, says his party has differences in approach with respect to education.

“When the right arguments are made, some of your hardcore conservatives will join forces with us in a pragmatic way to make sure that our classrooms are protected,” Pelath says. “We have reminded the House majority and the Senate majority and the governor that just because they might have 71 percent of the seats, doesn’t mean that 71 percent of the people agree with them.”

Let’s break down how these leading lawmakers think about what their parties have accomplished so far, and what they hope to do as the session continues.

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Mandatory Kindergarten Falls Off This Year’s Legislative Docket

Legislation before the General Assembly this session sought to make kindergarten mandatory for Hoosier children by lowering the compulsory school age from seven to five.

It’s an issue that has lawmakers and educators split, even as the state focuses on funding early education initiatives.

‘Kindergarten Is The New First Grade’

These are the some of the more than 60 skills five-year-olds are expected to learn now in Indiana’s public kindergartens:

  • Count to 100 by ones,
  • Solve real-world problems that involve addition and subtraction, and
  • Understand how a nonfiction book is organized.

They’re the same skills that could cause a student to struggle during first grade if they haven’t been exposed to them earlier.

Should kindergarten be mandatory for Hoosier kids? (Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)

Should kindergarten be mandatory for Hoosier kids? (Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)

“I am hoping they are going to be able to read and write and do their math and be able to count and recognize numbers,” says Karen Berman, a 24-year kindergarten teacher at Greenbrier Elementary in Washington Township. “We are doing a lot with number sense and it’s unbelievable.”

Students in Berman’s class use interactive technology, shout out fractions during group number games and learn how the government works.

Kindergarten, Berman says, is the new first grade.

“I think you have to mandate kindergarten,” Berman says. “What difference does it make if you put them in pre-k and they don’t go any further? And then go to first grade – they are still going to be behind. Yes, you have to have the pre-k, there is no question about it, but you have to mandate kindergarten.”

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What Happens If Kids Opt Out of ISTEP+?

The road to this year’s ISTEP+ test has been bumpy. Recurring problems with technology and last-minute legislative changes to trim the length of the test have only added to the frustrations many Hoosier parents feel about the stressful effects of standardized testing.

Many parents are deciding to “opt out,” or withdraw their child from this year’s pool of test-takers.

But that decision could have serious repercussions for teachers, schools and even the state.

When Children Worry, Parents Act

Caswell Woodruff was a third grader at Bloomfield Elementary School last year when he began relaying ISTEP+ horror stories to his mother, Resa.

Bloomfield parent Resa Woodruff displays a picture of her son Caswell, 9. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

Bloomfield parent Resa Woodruff displays a picture of her son Caswell, 9. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

“He would tell me some of the things the teachers would say about ‘you have to pass this,’” Woodruff says. “He would just tell me some of the kids were worried and concerned and just the stresses of the environment in the classroom because of the testing.”

Worried for her son, Woodruff began researching, finding any information she could about Indiana’s standardized tests – and what she found scared her, too.

“The more research we did on the subject, the more we wanted to opt our child out of the test,” Woodruff says. “They’re not a reliable and accurate assessment of our child’s developmental growth.”

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School Voucher Recipients Increase By Nearly 50% In 2015

The number of Indiana students receiving choice scholarships increased by almost half during the 2015-2014-2015 school year.

The number of Indiana students receiving choice scholarships increased by almost half during the 2014-15 school year. (Photo Credit: MyTudut/Flickr)

The number of students enrolled in Indiana’s voucher program increased by 47 percent this year, with fewer students having previously attended public school.

This comes from the Department of Education’s Choice Scholarship Program Annual Report released Monday.

The report shows a rapid increase in the number of students and schools participating in the choice scholarship program. Take a look at the number of students receiving scholarships starting with the 2011-12 school year, the first year Indiana offered them:

2011-12: 3,911 students
2012-13: 9,139 students
2013-14: 19,809 students
2014-15: 29,148 students

The eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship expanded each year, which could contribute to the increase in numbers. When the program started in 2011, students could meet one of two criteria to qualify. Now, there are seven: Continue Reading

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