Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana Can’t Use National Assessment, Like Some Lawmakers Want

State senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) chairs the senate appropriations committee and says funding the 21st Century Scholarship Program is a major goal of his this session.

State senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) chairs the senate appropriations committee and says funding the 21st Century Scholarship Program is a major goal of his this session. photo credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU News

As the 2015 legislative session begins, the “education session” as the governor has called it, there is an influx of bills regarding all levels of education.

There’s one bill regarding K-12 testing, though, that seems to be confusing legislators. Senate Bill 566, authored by Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, seeks to replace “ISTEP program testing with BEST testing program for school years beginning after June 30, 2016.”

BEST is an acronym for Benchmarking Excellence Student Testing and will be the name of whatever test the State Board of Education chooses to replace the ISTEP+.

The bill doesn’t specify what test the SBOE should choose, but Kenley wants to use an off-the-shelf test being used by other states (such as PARCC or Smarter Balanced).

Kenley’s desire to use a nationally-crafted test began in December when state superintendent Glenda Ritz, representing the Department of Education, presented her budget to Kenley and other members of the committee. The DOE’s proposed budget requests $65 million for creating a new state assessment to replace the ISTEP+, an increase of $45 million from last year.

Kenley’s concerns are over the large price tag of hiring a company to write a new test, and at that budget meeting in December he suggested Indiana uses an already existing national test. He asked Ritz at that December meeting, “are we making it too hard on ourselves?”

Using one of these tests would be cheaper and simpler, but not possible for Indiana’s current education landscape.

This issue is the crux of what’s going on with K-12 education in the state ever since Governor Pence pulled out of Common Core in April of last year.

Indiana used to be part of the PARCC consortium, but exited shortly before Pence removed Indiana completely from the Common Core. That decision led Indiana to write it’s own standards, which means it needs a test to match the new standards. All of the nationally crafted assessments are aligned to Common Core, so Indiana has no choice but to create a new test.

We also can’t avoid testing, because U.S. Department of Education requires states to assess students every year, and Indiana would lose its No Child Left Behind waiver if it didn’t test.

Kenley’s original proposal was back in December, but according to the Associated Press, as recently as Tuesday he is still making these suggestions:

Bill sponsor Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said Tuesday he believes the state would be better off using such an “off the shelf” set of tests and doesn’t expect the school standards, which educators use to guide lessons plans, to have to be totally reworked.

“The standards would have to be rewritten to work with (the test) and I don’t think they need to be completely rewritten,” Kenley told the Evansville Courier & Press. “I think it will just be a modification.”

SB 566 also addresses other education issues besides the assessment, including teacher stipends, licensing and collective bargaining.


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