school choice

It looks like Indiana’s ISTEP test is toast after 2017

PHOTO: Shannan Muskopf via Flickr
State officials are closing as many 38 Michigan schools with low rankings due to test scores but they might have trouble finding higher scoring schools nearby

Whatever standardized test Indiana chooses to give in 2018, it probably won’t be ISTEP.

After a circuitous journey through the legislature, House Bill 1395, which would end the state’s ISTEP testing program in 2017 and create a panel of educators, lawmakers and policymakers to find a replacement, passed the Senate 50-0 and the House 77-19. It next heads to Gov. Mike Pence for his signature.

But the bill’s final vote came only after serious concerns raised by House Democrats, who passionately asserted on the House floor that they were being left out of future discussions over the test.

“It’s probably going to be one of the most important interim committees of the season, and probably the next decade, and the minority group is not going to get a seat at the table,” said Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson.

(Read “Junking Indiana’s ISTEP test: What might come next and at what cost?“)

Austin said Democrats should have a say in who is appointed to the 23-person ISTEP study panel, but the bill’s author Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the Senate preferred a committee that would be similar to one that created the state’s new 2016 A-F accountability system.

“This is not the panel that the House passed, this is the panel that the Senate liked and was unwilling to move on,” Behning said. “This is not where I wanted to be necessarily.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who has four appointments under the bill, said he would “at least consult with” Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, before he makes his choices.

Behning said Senate Republicans agreed to require business leader, a parent, a state board of education member and a teachers union representative be appointed to the panel, a proposal that originally was in the House version. The other members of the committee will be educators and legislators to be appointed by Republican legislative leaders, Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who will also be part of the committee.

Behning originally introduced the bill as proposal to rescore of the problem-plagued 2015 test. Last year’s exam was beset with scoring delays and technical glitches that Behning thought called for a full review of the scores to make sure the state can accurately determine student progress going forward.

Later, Behning’s proposal to rescore ISTEP was removed in the Senate, partially over concern about the cost. The rescore didn’t make it back in the final version of the bill.

Deadlines for appointing panel members is May 1. The group must recommend options for a new test to the legislature by Dec. 1. The goal is for the panel’s recommendations to become legislation on the General Assembly docket in 2017.

Two other bills that were suddenly given new life yesterday also cleared their last hurdles before being forwarded to Pence to sign.

Popular teacher scholarship proposal moved ahead

A scholarship bill that would allow aspiring teachers to apply for up to four years of college aid in exchange for teaching in Indiana schools for five years passed easily in both chambers — 97-0 in the House and 48-2 in the Senate.

Bosma said he was pleased to see House Bill 1002 move ahead. The program now also will see $10.5 million of funding for scholarships that would begin in 2017.

“I’m thrilled, it was a better result that I had hoped for at the start of session,” Bosma said. “What a great way to reinforce the importance of the teaching profession.”

Austin, along with other Democrats, supported the bill and hailed what it could do for Indiana classrooms.

“This is really one of the most substantive things we’ve done this session to address the teacher shortage,” she said.

Lawmakers remain divided on teacher pay raises

A teacher mentoring bill that became surprisingly controversial also passed.

House Bill 1005 had widespread support, but over the last week two controversial ideas were added to it: one giving school districts flexibility to pay some teachers extra and one to extend the deadline to apply for private school tuition vouchers.

House Bill 1005 narrowly passed the House on Wednesday 51-43 and made it out of the Senate 33-17. But some lawmakers still had misgivings about including the teacher pay langauge in the bill, which the Senate and the House had already rejected in other bills earlier this year.

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, compared the measure to stipends given for extracurricular activities. Plus, Republican lawmakers argued, a similar law already is in place allowing pay bumps for dual credit teachers, establishing a precedent.

“This is not breaking new ground,” Brown said. “This is actually recognizing the hard work that teachers do.”

But extracurricular pay is subject to union negotiations and the extra pay for teaching AP courses is not, said Indiana State Teachers Association spokeswoman Kim Clements-Johnson. Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said she worried that the provision might change teachers’ willingness to work together and collaborate.

“It sets up an adversarial atmosphere,” Rogers said. “What we try to do is keep the learning atmosphere one in which we work together, teachers and administrators.”

Silver Lining Playbook

Memphis’ youngest students show reading gains on 2018 state tests — and that’s a big deal

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
A student works on reading comprehension skills at Lucie E Campbell Elementary School in Memphis and Shelby County Schools.

Those working to improve early literacy rates in Shelby County Schools got a small morale boost Thursday as newly released scores show the district’s elementary school students improved their reading on 2018 state tests.

The percentage of Memphis elementary-age students considered proficient in reading rose by 3 points to almost one-fourth of the district’s children in grades 3 through 5. That’s still well below the state average, and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said “we obviously have a long way to go.”

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Tennessee’s largest public school district since 2013.

Strengthening early literacy has been a priority for the Memphis district, which views better reading skills as crucial to predicting high school graduation and career success. To that end, Shelby County Schools has expanded access to pre-K programs, adjusted reading curriculum, and made investments in literacy training for teachers.

Hopson said the payoff on this year’s TNReady scores was a jump of almost 5 percentage points in third-grade reading proficiency.

“It was about five years ago when we really, really, really started pushing pre-K, and those pre-K kids are now in the third grade. I think that’s something that’s really positive,” Hopson said of the gains, adding that third-grade reading levels are an important indicator of future school performance.

TNReady scores for Shelby County Schools, which has a high concentration of low-performing schools and students living in poverty, were a mixed bag, as they were statewide.

Math scores went up in elementary, middle, and high schools in Tennessee’s largest district. But science scores went down across the board, and the percentage of high school students who scored proficient in reading dropped by 4 percentage points.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools

Hopson said he was unsure how much the scores of older students — all of whom tested online — were affected by technical problems that hampered Tennessee’s return this year to computerized testing.

“From what people tell me, kids either didn’t try as hard in some instances or didn’t take it seriously,” Hopson told reporters. “We’ll never know what the real impact is, but we have to accept the data that came from these tests.”

But students in two of the district’s school improvement initiatives — the Innovation Zone and the Empowerment Zone — showed progress. “We’re going to double down on these strategies,” Hopson said of the extra investments and classroom supports.

In the state-run Achievement School District, or ASD, which oversees 30 low-performing schools in Memphis, grades 3 through 8 saw an uptick in scores in both reading and math. But high schoolers scored more than 3 percentage points lower in reading and also took a step back in science.

The ASD takes over schools in the state’s bottom 5 percent and assigns them to charter operators to improve. But in the five years that the ASD has been in Memphis, its scores have been mostly stagnant.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said she and new ASD Superintendent Sharon Griffin are reviewing the new data to determine next steps.

“We are seeing some encouraging momentum shifts,” McQueen said.

departures

As fate of ‘Newark Enrolls’ is debated, top enrollment officials resign

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

The top officials overseeing Newark’s controversial school-enrollment system have resigned just weeks after the school board blocked the new superintendent from ousting them.

Their departure creates new uncertainty for Newark Enrolls, one of the few enrollment systems in the country that allows families to apply to district and charter schools through a single online portal. Proponents say the centralized system simplifies the application process for families and gives them more options, while critics say it undermines traditional neighborhood schools while boosting charter-school enrollment.

Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, chief of the Newark Public Schools division that includes enrollment, and Kate Fletcher, executive director of the enrollment office, both departed on Friday. The district did not provide information about why they left or who — if anyone — will replace them, and neither of the two could be reached for comment.

Their departure comes after Superintendent Roger León, who took over on July 1, included them among 31 officials and administrators who were given the option to resign or face being fired. Days later, the school board approved all but nine of the dismissals; Ramos-Solomon and Fletcher were among those spared.

Both officials were hired in 2013 shortly before former Superintendent Cami Anderson unveiled the enrollment system, then called One Newark, as part of a sweeping overhaul that also included closing some schools. Parents were outraged by the closures and the system’s glitchy rollout, which left some students without school placements and separated other students from their siblings.

In recent years, Ramos-Solomon has overseen improvements to the system, including tweaking the computer algorithm that matches students with schools to give a greater boost to families who live near their chosen schools. While district data shows that most students are matched with one of their top choices, critics remain wary of the system and some — including some board members — call for it to be dismantled.

León, a veteran Newark educator who was expected by some observers to oppose Newark Enrolls, said in a private meeting with charter-school leaders that he intends to keep the process in place. But he will have to win over the board, whose members have asked the district skeptical questions about the system in recent months, such as why some students are reportedly matched with charter schools they didn’t apply to. (The district says that does not happen.)

Board member Tave Padilla said he was not aware that Ramos-Solomon or Fletcher had resigned, and did not know whether replacements had been lined up. He added that the board had not discussed the fate of Newark Enrolls since a meeting in June where Ramos-Solomon provided information about the system, nor has the full board discussed the matter with León.

“The district now does have the option to keep what we have in place, modify it, or do away with it,” he said. “Whether we choose to do that or not, I don’t know.”