Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


Rachel Morello

Rachel Morello comes to StateImpact by way of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has worked for various news and education-related organizations across the country - but no matter the locale, you’re sure to find her sporting a Packers jersey and tuning into “Car Talk.” You can follow her on Twitter @morellomedia.

Say What? How Indiana Talked About Education In 2015

We at StateImpact like a good movie quote as much as the next person. And out in the field, we hear a good many quips about from parents, teachers, kids, other reporters and state leaders alike. So we thought as long as we’re compiling year-end lists, why not let those people do the talking?

Here’s a look at what we think are some of the smartest, funniest and most controversial statements people made about education in Indiana this year…

Brownsburg Community Schools received their test booklets from CTB-McGraw Hill the week Gov. Pence and the IDOE began making changes to the test. (Photo Credit: Scott Smith/Brownsburg Community Schools)

(Photo Credit: Scott Smith/Brownsburg Community Schools)

“The ISTEP+ Dumpster Fire

Dave Bangert, Lafayette Journal & Courier

With this headline just a few days before the close of 2015, Bangert painted perhaps the most vivid picture of what’s happened with Indiana’s annual standardized test this year. The ISTEP+ has graced headlines all year. First, the test was too long, then it was not working, and most recently the public found out it is not being graded correctly. Many have said they hope state education leaders find a way to put the fire out when 2016 starts, so that students, teachers and schools don’t suffer the consequences of such a controversial exam.

“That just seems like a lot of hoops to jump through for, say, a parent who is already trying to navigate the special education world for their kid…I emailed twice for meeting information and got no response. I doubt many parents or members of the the public would keep trying after that.”

– Eric Weddle, WFYI education reporter, in a story written by Chalkbeat Indiana’s Scott Elliott

Through telling Weddle’s story (among others) about the trials of getting information from the Indiana Department of Education, Elliott put into words what many in Hoosier education had been feeling earlier this year: at times, the IDOE can be a tough egg to crack. The department’s transparency became an issue on multiple occasions throughout 2015 – some attribute the demise of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz‘s short-lived gubernatorial campaign to the fact that for weeks, no media were able to locate a public relations/communications contact. The IDOE also found itself in the middle of a dispute with charter school leaders mid-year due to complaints they hadn’t been clear about how they calculate Title I funding distributions.

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Extra Pay Could Help At Holidays, But Teachers Are Still Waiting

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and also one of the most stressful, especially if you work in Indiana’s public school system.

Teachers and students have been waiting for months to see the results of the statewide standardized ISTEP+ test from last spring – months longer than they’d originally expected. The test’s results have wide-ranging effects on things like school accountability grades, teacher evaluations, and, in turn, teacher pay.

With 2015 coming to a close – and Christmas only a week away – some of that extra money could really come in handy for educators.

‘People are getting frustrated’

Abby Taylor is scouring the toy shelves to find Christmas presents for her kids, seven-year-old Rylee and three-year-old Paxon. They each have one big wish this year…

Third-grade teacher Abby Taylor checks out some sweet treats for this year's Christmas stockings. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Third-grade teacher Abby Taylor checks out some sweet treats for this year’s Christmas stockings. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

“My son wants Jake and the Neverland Pirates stuff, he loves Jake and Captain Hook,” Taylor says with a smile. “And Rylee wants bunk beds so that her brother can stay and have sleepovers in her room.”

As she roams the aisles, Taylor’s eyes light up when she finds something on her list and it comes in under budget.

“It’s one of those things – do you spend the money now at Christmas, or do you spread it out over the year?” Taylor explains. “My kids don’t get big gifts because we live pretty much paycheck to paycheck on most occasions.”

Taylor is a third grade teacher in the Indianapolis Public School system. If you’re familiar with Indiana’s educational landscape, you know that means her job is considered perhaps the most stressful: third grade is the first year kids take the annual ISTEP+, in addition to a bunch of other standardized tests.

Like everyone else across Indiana, Taylor and her students are still waiting for the results of last spring’s ISTEP+. The score release has been postponed due to multiple technology and grading issues.

“We did not assume that it would take this long. It’s frustrating because when you plan, you’re excited.”
—Abby Taylor, third grade teacher

What’s more: teacher salaries and pay raises are tied to these delayed scores. Which means they’re behind schedule, too. That’s impacting many educators’ wallets during a time of year when many are already tightening their belts.

Abby Taylor is – or was – slated to get a bonus this fall. That could have added anywhere from $600 to $1000 dollars to her end-of-year budget.

“People thought that they could save it for Christmas money, or vacation at fall break,” Taylor says. “The longer it gets pulled out, the more people are getting frustrated.”

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Senate Will Vote On ESEA Reauthorization Tomorrow

With only a Senate vote and President Barack Obama’s stamp of approval left, Congress looks set to finalize reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (or ESEA) this week. The Every Student Succeeds Act would include key Obama administration priorities, such as pre-K, but not others, such as dramatic school turnarounds and teacher evaluation through student outcomes. Alyson Klein of Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog examines how the potential law would differ from its predecessor, No Child Left Behind.

The No Child Left Behind Act is about to get a much-delayed facelift. The bill to replace the pretty-much-universally despised NCLB law- the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA-already sailed through the House and is expected to coast through the Senate. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it (maybe even as soon as this week).

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Blue Ribbon Commission Finalizes Its Agenda For Teachers In 2016

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz reads through a report drafted by her colleagues on the 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz reads through a report drafted by her colleagues on the 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

More concrete and specific designs for reversing Indiana’s teacher shortage are emerging ahead of the legislative session.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz convened her Blue Ribbon Commission earlier this fall, following evidence of dwindling numbers of people entering the teaching profession throughout Indiana. After five meetings, the group whittled down a list of specific ideas Monday for improving Indiana’s teacher recruitment and retention rates.

The draft of the group’s report includes eight recommendations:

  1. Mentoring: Establish a state-funded, ongoing investment in a mentoring system, based on a common set of expectations, but that is flexible and locally designed, to support new teacher induction and nurture the reflective practitioner.
  2. Positive press: Create, implement, and sustain a robust marketing campaign that leverages all forms of media to promote the education profession.
  3. CompensationAllow for locally-developed compensation models that include a pay scale which has a professional competitive base and index, regular increases, expands opportunities for pay based on career paths, including ongoing learning through advanced education; and establish and compensate teacher leadership and career ladders that have mentoring opportunities and ongoing advancement, support, and recognition of teacher skills and expertise.
  4. Teacher evaluationsInclude in the local evaluation system an emphasis on how teachers use data from multiple forms of assessment, including informal, teacher-constructed, and standardized assessments to inform instruction and measure student growth, thus clarifying the purpose of and reducing the number of standardized tests.
  5. DiversityRecruit and retain a diverse teacher workforce and candidate pool that includes underrepresented populations.
  6. Clinical experience: Strengthen partnerships among P[re-kindergarten)-12 schools and institutions of higher education and require significant, extended pre-service clinical experiences prior to licensing.
  7. Professional developmentIdentify and fund job-embedded professional development that improves teachers’ and administrators’ knowledge and practice.
  8. Career pathways: Re-envision teacher career pathways and leadership opportunities to encourage, develop, and retain teacher-leaders and provide pathways for promotion, so that teachers have the opportunity to advance in ways beyond leaving the classroom for administrative positions.

Within their list of recommendations, the group also includes specific actions that can be taken to improve conditions for teachers during periods of recruitment, pre-service, induction and throughout the course of their careers.

Once Commission members review their final report, it will be presented to legislators.

Superintendent Ritz says she’s not surprised to see that teacher evaluation and compensation were areas attracting the most conversation and debate over the course of the group’s time together. She adds that it was important to include leaders from different ends of the education world in on the conversation.

“It’s really those that are in the profession having a say about their profession,” Ritz says. “It was really a very good conversation over several long meetings. I think teachers throughout the state of Indiana will be glad to see this report and know that it came from the professionals.”

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New Technical Committee Will Advise State Leaders On Tests

State leaders say they recognize the difficulties presented by changing standardized tests, and that they are taking the necessary steps to help make the transition go more smoothly.

During their monthly meeting Wednesday, the State Board of Education voted to begin the process of establishing an independent committee to advise on technical aspects of statewide assessments.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and fellow State Board of Education member Byron Ernest listen during December's meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and fellow State Board of Education member Byron Ernest listen during December’s meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The group would consist of four to six members with specific expertise in various technical areas. They would provide counsel to the State Board and Department of Education on things such as test design, growth models, and assessment of special populations (i.e. English language learners and students receiving special education).

This comes after months of frustration over the current version of Indiana’s statewide ISTEP+ test. Not only did multiple districts experience technical problems taking the exam last spring, but lawmakers scrambled to cut time from the lengthy test during administration, and grading issues plaguing test vendor CTB have caused setbacks for releasing 2014-15 scores.

As Chelsea Schneider reports for the Indianapolis Star, many school leaders have penned newspaper editorials and parent letters to convey their feelings to local communities:

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Turnaround, Testing Will Be Highlights On Light State Board Agenda

It’s back to business as usual for Indiana’s State Board of Education.

Following an autumn full of extra meetings to discuss new high school diploma requirements and the process of grading last year’s ISTEP+ test, the board has a slimmer agenda for their end-of-year meeting this week.

Here are just a few of the items they’ll look into:

  • IPS Turnaround: District officials from Indianapolis Public Schools will update the board on progress at its turnaround academies – Emma Donnan Middle School, Emmerich Manual High School and T.C. Howe High Schools, all operated by Charter Schools USA. Most prominent in this discussion will likely be Arlington High School – a takeover school that returned to IPS management this year. Fellow education reporter Eric Weddle is embedded at Arlington this school year – check out his series of stories from inside the halls here. We’ll run another story from Weddle on what he expects from this conversation on the blog tomorrow.
  • Testing Committee: The board will begin the process to assemble a standing committee that will oversee the development and operation of statewide tests going forward. Although the board has mobilized this type of group during periods of transition in the past, according to a resolution on the board’s website, Indiana has received “expert recommendations” that the state should establish a permanent four to six member group including “individuals who have specific expertise.” The group would provide technical advice to both the State Board and Department of Education on matters such as test design and assessment of special populations (think English language learners and students with special education needs).

Speaking of tests, it doesn’t look as though the board will have much to discuss about the process of releasing ISTEP+ scores from the 2014-15 school year.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz told StateImpact earlier this month that the board, along with the IDOE and legislative leadership, is on track to hit the necessary deadlines. According to their timeline, schools should receive finalized ISTEP+ data next week, around December 8.

Board spokesman Marc Lotter says the board hopes to approve subsequent A-F school accountability grades during its inaugural 2016 meeting in January. After that, schools will be able to complete teacher evaluations and receive their annual state-assigned performance grant distributions.

The State Board meets Wednesday beginning at 9 a.m. Anyone interested can watch the proceedings live online.

Diverse Teachers Critical For Indiana’s Ever-Evolving Population

Think about your favorite teachers. What drew you to them?

Maybe they helped you enjoy a subject you didn’t particularly like, or made you feel comfortable in a new classroom setting. In short, you most likely felt like they could relate to you.

Having teachers who can work with a wide range of student experiences is especially crucial to ensure success for children who come from diverse backgrounds. But it can also be difficult to find those teachers – especially in Indiana’s current educational environment.

Here’s something we all know by know: Indiana is experiencing a teacher shortage. In considering solutions for recruiting new folks and retaining existing personnel, state education leaders have said that attracting diverse teachers has to be part of the conversation.

Building Relationships With Instruction

Many of the students Sarah Laptiste meets as kindergarteners at Clinton Young Elementary School will stay in her classroom until they go on to middle school around age eleven.

A map of all the home countries of students and their families graces the bulletin board outside Clinton Young Elementary School ELL teacher Sarah Laptiste's classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A map of all the home countries of students and their families graces the bulletin board outside Clinton Young Elementary School ELL teacher Sarah Laptiste’s classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

“Some of the kids, I remember when they were born – I’ve had all their brothers and sisters,” Laptiste says with a smile, reflecting on her 11 years at the school. “Fifth graders I have in here, I remember when they were in kindergarten. There’s a lot of history between us and I know their parents very well. We’ve been together a long time.”

This relationship and the continuity it provides makes Laptiste different from all the other “regular” teachers her students encounter. It also makes her well-suited to deliver the kind of instruction these specific students need: learning the English language.

Laptiste is one of two certified English Language Learning, or ELL, instructors at her school – along with an ELL facilitator, two ELL aides, and a translator. Of the approximately 700 K-5 students attending Clinton Young, about 30 percent are classified as English learners. In total, nearly one-third of the 15,000 kids Perry Township serves district-wide are ELL students. For the most part, these students’ primary languages include Spanish and Burmese, or Chin, a language spoken in southern Asia.

Clinton Young is part of the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township, a corporation on the south side of Indianapolis that’s home to a large concentration of Chin people. As a state, Indiana lays claim to one of the largest populations of people from Burma, also known as Myanmar, outside of the country itself.

Other cities and towns are in similar situations. The Hoosier state houses emigrants from Mexico, India, China and the Philippines, just to name a few.

According to the national Center for Immigration Studies, one in five Americans speaks a language other than English as home – that’s 63.2 million people, and growing. That applies to 22 percent of school-age children.

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House Will Work On Teacher Scholarships, Protections

Tuesday marked Organization Day, the official kickoff to the 2016 legislative session and the day lawmakers reveal more details about their ideas for upcoming legislation.

As we reported yesterday, legislative leadership plans to take on Indiana’s teacher shortage this session by introducing measures to emphasize teacher recruitment and retention.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

House Speaker Brian Bosma elaborated on the plan for House Bill 1002, which he will co-sponsor with Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, a former school superintendent, and House Education Committee chair Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis. The bill will advocate for a program first brought to legislators’ attention by State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as a way to encourage more people to go into teaching.

As we reported when Hendry introduced his plan in August, the Next Generation Hoosier Educator Scholarship program would give Indiana’s top high school students an opportunity to earn a full ride scholarship to any accredited in-state school of education, so long as they spend five years teaching in an Indiana classroom after graduation – one more year than the four Hendry originally proposed.

“Our program’s going to say five years, which is related to the statistic on keeping teachers in the classroom – there’s bona fide evidence that they tend to stay [after five years],” Bosma says.

Hendry says he’s pleased the legislature is including his plan as part of the 2016 education agenda.

“I look forward to helping make this plan a reality,” Hendry said in a statement. “Making sure there are great teachers in every classroom is critically important to the future of our state, and it’s something we can all work together to solve.”

Bosma says there may be available funds to pay for the scholarships beginning this year, despite the fact that 2016 is not a budget session.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, says he and his party are on board with finding ways to recruit more teachers into Hoosier classrooms.

“That’s not an ideological thing, we all want good teachers who are happy doing their jobs,” Pelath says. “There’s probably different ways to go about that. I think the discussions there have to be around what’s actually going to be the most effective in bringing that about.”

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Pelath says he hopes the Republican-led House will listen to Democratic state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has been working with her Blue Ribbon Commission to determine best practices for recruiting and retaining Indiana teachers. Pelath says he wants to be a voice for Ritz’s ideas in his chamber. 

Speaker Bosma has also indicated the General Assembly will work on finding a way to unlink teacher evaluations from standardized test scores for one year. ISTEP+ scores from last spring are expected to drop significantly, since 2015 marked the first year Indiana schools tested students on a brand new set of academic standards.

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Teaching Profession Will Take Precedence This Session

As students and teachers creep toward Thanksgiving break and the end of their first academic semester, state policymakers are preparing for their own “term” to begin.

The 2016 session of the Indiana General Assembly begins in January, but before legislative leaders call the group to order they have some preliminary business to attend to – primarily, defining the issues they plan to address. Lawmakers and other policy leaders say education will be an important agenda item.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has been leading a group of educators in identifying potential solutions to Indiana's teacher shortage. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has been leading a group of educators in identifying potential solutions to Indiana’s teacher shortage. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

During a panel event hosted Monday by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, legislative leaders acknowledged that measures to address Indiana’s teacher shortage will take precedence this session.

House Bill 1002 – the House’s second priority, after transportation – will highlight solutions for teacher recruitment. House Speaker Brian Bosma says he will work with Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, to sponsor the bill, which will focus on attracting the state’s best and brightest into the teaching profession.

“That’s one step,” Bosma says. “Licensing, open borders for excellent teacher from other states – it’s all part of the picture.”

Identifying solutions for Indiana’s teacher shortage has been a concern for many education leaders in the Hoosier state in recent months. The state’s Blue Ribbon Commission met for the fourth of its five meetings Monday afternoon to begin crafting their own legislative agenda around the issue.

The group narrowed down a list of priorities, and says any measure meant to “fix” the current state of the teaching profession in Indiana must address:

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Diploma Discussion: How Will Added Credits Affect Counselors?

Indiana policymakers are focusing a lot of their attention lately on the different diploma options offered to Hoosier high school students. After the original draft for new choices came down from a committee of educators and business leaders, members of the public had a lot to say about he proposed changes – so much so that the State Board of Education decided to send them back to the drawing board. Over the next two weeks, we’re taking a deep dive into some of the ideas that have been brought forth, why they are so controversial and what they mean for preparing Indiana’s students to be college- and career-ready. Check out our previous stories on arts and math requirements, as well as how the new options would impact students’ choices.  

The amount and type of classes required of Hoosier high school students will change beginning in 2018, based on a new slate of diplomas Indiana policymakers are expected to finalize as soon as April.

Without getting into too many nuances (i.e. whether social studies credits must be split among U.S. History, Geography, Economics, etc.), here’s a general look at how the amount and distribution of credits would change for each of Indiana’s diplomas:

(Note: “CCR” means College and Career Readiness)

For more specific details on where these credits are assigned, check out the Department of Education website and the Core 40 Subcommittee’s original draft of diploma recommendations. 

Along with students themselves, the people helping them craft their schedules will bear the brunt of the pressure to make these changes work.

As we’ve reported, guidance counselors have an increasingly tougher – and more demanding – job. In addition to plenty of other duties, they’re charged primarily with keeping track of and meeting with students from eighth grade forward to draw a plan across their high school careers.

Listening to Bluffton High School Guidance director Jodi Leas tick off the list of considerations needed to do so would make anyone dizzy.

Bluffton High students study in their school library. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Bluffton High students study in their school library. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

“It’s not just, ‘oh, you need this class so you take that class.’ It’s like, okay, how many kids need this class? How does that fit in the puzzle of the schedule? How is that going to work, because it’s going to affect this teacher?” she explains. “It’s a puzzle.”

Like Leas, many school counselors will have to rethink how they piece that puzzle together based on which new courses are added or eliminated from different diplomas. And as you can see above, the credit requirements in general will increase for each option, based on the current draft of options.

But similar to the problem schools face with increased math requirements, the pressures they’ll face with increased credit provisions can’t simply be solved by adding more staff.

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