Indiana Chamber Outlines Priorities for School Testing Reform

19173605In testimony this week, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce began outlining its priorities for school testing reform. Caryl Auslander, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of education and workforce development policy, expands on some of her remarks:

Pause school accountability for one year only:

“The Indiana Chamber fully supports a one-year pause in school accountability due to the many missteps in the latest ISTEP testing cycle. Teachers should still be subject to the important classroom and other evaluations that take place, but not have test scores used for that purpose for this one year.

“With a new test administrator in place going forward, our hope is that the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) will work very closely with them to ensure that the test is administered accurately and that scores are finalized and reported in an appropriate timeframe (i.e., by the end of August). Many of the ISTEP issues can be traced to past vendor-DOE relations; those need to improve and DOE needs to take a more aggressive role in ensuring deadlines and expectations are met.

“We urge legislators to resist any efforts to lessen our overall accountability process. Accountability measures for schools, teachers and students are critical. They allow us to accurately predict student progress, rate teacher effectiveness and compare and contrast school performance relative to state and national peers. We have to be able to grade ourselves.”

Rescore of current data necessary:

“If we are pausing accountability for the schools, it is important to keep the unadjusted scores/data as a baseline for growth measurement next year. That means it’s essential for the scores to be correct and trusted. And the only way that can be accomplished is through a rescore of the exams by an independent third party.”

Rebrand test; no need to start process over:

“We have new, more rigorous academic standards and the new assessment exam to go along with them. There is no need to spend more of the state’s money to change the assessment. The length of this test or any test is something DOE can and should address with the new test vendor.

“The new test was labeled ISTEP out of a sense of continuity. Let’s rebrand the test to reflect that it is indeed new and simply work to ensure future tests are executed properly and timely. That’s all that needs to happen.”

ESSA Passes Final Hurdles, Signed by Pres. Obama

36107229Last week, the Senate passed and President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – sweeping education legislation that replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Most notably, this legislation sends significant power back to the states and local districts, while still maintaining some limited federal oversight over policies.

NCLB created a national system that judged schools based on math and reading scores, and had significant requirements to raise test scores every year or face significant penalties. ESSA, on the other hand, shifts power to the states and locals while providing flexibility. This legislation seeks to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education and close student achievement gaps.

Still, this legislation is not perfect by any means. We wish stronger accountability measures were included, but in the spirit of compromise and collaboration, it is a strong step forward in ensuring a balance between federal, state and local governments. It has an emphasis on challenging academic standards and accompanying assessments and accountability plans; it also institutes changes to funding for innovative programs – including Preschool Development Grants, a competitive one-year grant program to develop, update or implement a strategic plan that facilitates and improves coordination, quality and access for early childhood education, which will now be administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and U.S. Department of Education.

A special thank you to Congressmen Todd Rokita and Luke Messer for their tireless work on ESSA while sitting on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Indiana Chamber Unveils Our Top Six Legislative Priorities for 2016

statehouse picTransportation infrastructure funding, reverse credit transfer to the state’s accredited two-year colleges and expansion of the state’s civil rights law are among the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s top priorities for the 2016 session.

These objectives were announced at the organization’s annual Central Indiana Legislative Preview in Indianapolis today.

The Indiana Chamber proposes an array of strategies to establish a sustainable funding stream for the state’s roads, highways and bridges. These include dedicating more of the state’s sales tax on fuel purchases to infrastructure, increasing and indexing fuel excise taxes and implementing fees on alternative fuel vehicles.

“Indiana benefited greatly from the Major Moves program that accelerated our timeline and funded $4 billion worth of projects over the last decade. But those dollars are spent or allocated. It’s time to move forward with the next generation of resources to drive our economy by moving people and products throughout our state and beyond,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“Legislative action is needed in the coming session to address glaring needs and begin implementing long-term strategies to allow our state to live up to its ‘Crossroads of America’ designation.”

Brinegar concludes that the good news is that legislative leaders, the Governor and others are on the same page about the need; the challenge will be how to get there.

Higher education is also a focal point for the Indiana Chamber. One specific proposal the organization will be pushing for is a method to allow for more students to turn their existing college credits into a two-year degree. This would be accomplished by allowing specific credits earned at state-supported colleges and universities to be transferrable to Indiana’s accredited two-year schools, such as Ivy Tech and Vincennes. Credit is already generally transferrable from the two-year schools to their four-year counterparts.

“This would give students more opportunity for post-secondary attainment and then obviously help with employment,” Brinegar offers. “Specifically, it would help fill the gap for those individuals who first went to a four-year school but for whatever reason couldn’t continue. This would be a viable path for them to turn their efforts into a two-year degree and become more attractive to employers.”

Earlier this month, the Indiana Chamber announced its support for expanding the state’s civil rights law to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity, with Brinegar noting:

“The time has come for Indiana to expand protections against potential discrimination. This action will increase the state’s future business competitiveness in the recruitment, attraction and retention of talent, as well as enhance respect for all employers and employees. We encourage our state leaders to work together to take this next critical step.”

Another initiative the organization will again pursue is a work sharing program, which will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns and enable employees to keep their jobs but with reduced hours and salary (which is partially offset by unemployment insurance). This program has enjoyed support on both sides of the aisle the last few years, but has yet to cross the finish line.

“There is no negative impact on the state’s unemployment insurance fund. Instead of paying full benefits to a smaller group of recipients, a larger group of employees will receive limited benefits – but most importantly remain on the job,” Brinegar explains. “There is no reason not to enact a work share program to help meet future employee and employer needs. They deserve that option.”

The other two legislative priorities for the Indiana Chamber are maintaining a fair and equitable system for the state’s commercial property assessment and appeal procedures (in the face of recent “big box” retail stores’ appeals and reaction to that); and expanding publicly-funded preschool from the pilot program to statewide so more children are prepared to enter kindergarten.

A complete rundown of the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 key legislative initiatives (top priorities and additional areas of focus) is available at www.indianachamber.com/priorities.

Also at the legislative preview event, four state legislators were honored as Indiana Chamber Small Business Champions “for their hard work and dedication to improving Indiana’s small business climate.” This award is based on voting and advocacy during the 2015 legislative session.

The 2015 Small Business Champions are: Sen. Rodric Bray from Martinsville, District #37; Sen. Carlin Yoder from Middlebury, District #12; Rep. David Ober from Albion, District #82; and Rep. John Price from Greenwood, District #47.

Recap of the Indiana Chamber’s Top 6 legislative priorities:

  • Support an array of strategies to establish a sustainable funding stream for the state’s roads, highways and bridges
  • Support specific credit transfer from Indiana’s four-year, state-supported institutions to the state’s accredited two-year colleges
  • Support expanding the state’s civil rights law to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Support a work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns
  • Support maintaining a fair and equitable system for the state’s commercial property assessment and appeal procedures
  • Support the development of publicly-funded preschool initiatives statewide

Student Scores: ISTEP and ‘National Report Card’

The Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) met last month with the plan to set cut scores and finalize ISTEP grades from the 2014-2015 school year. As a reminder, setting cut scores is done by a panel of educators that determines the passing score for that year’s test. However, during that meeting, questions were raised regarding the differences between the online and paper-pencil versions of the exam. This was identified in a report submitted to the Indiana Department of Education in early October – yet that report was not provided to the test’s Technical Advisory Committee or the SBOE until right before the meeting. The SBOE then requested a comparison study done by its own test experts to determine any discrepancies. Sarah O’Brien, vice chair of the SBOE, had originally made this request back in July.

SBOE – after the comparison studies were in hand – set pass-fail benchmarks for the latest ISTEP scores. What’s anticipated is that a notable increase in students will see drops in their scores, with a portion falling below the pass line. While no one wants to see test scores go down, it is explainable as students and teachers were adjusting to the new, more rigorous academic standards and a new assessment that were adopted for the same school year. In other words, this drop is expected, and many other states have experienced similar decreases. In fact, Indiana’s scores were either on par or higher than other states that have recently adopted new standards and/or a new assessment. While the news of dropping ISTEP scores is disappointing, it is important to note that the changes to the standards will benefit students as they will be more prepared for college and career in the future. The Indiana Chamber appreciates all of the hard work of Indiana teachers and students.

Due to this somewhat turbulent transition year, Gov. Pence released a letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and SBOE members recently stating that he is working with leadership in the Indiana General Assembly to have legislation drafted to ensure that the 2014-2015 test results would not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses this year. The Chamber has a longstanding policy to support accountability and transparency for students and teachers but understands that unforeseen circumstances with ISTEP delays and testing issues would allow the need for this pause.

Positive news:

The recently-released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores – aka a “National Report Card” – shows that Indiana is achieving more than other states in all four categories:

  • Fourth grade math: Indiana 248; national average 240
  • Eighth grade math: 287; 281
  • Fourth grade reading: 227; 221
  • Eighth grade reading: 268; 264

Indiana is actually widening its advantage over other states. We commend our teachers and school administrators for their important role in helping our students reach these higher levels of achievement.

While our ISTEP scores are lower as expected, these NAEP scores reinforce that our students are achieving at a higher overall level than many of their counterparts. We expect that to accelerate going forward with the enhanced college and career ready standards in place.

Teacher Shortage Concerns at Forefront of Interim Study Group

Portrait of students taking notes while their classmate is raising his hand

A popular phrase in Indiana these days is the term “teacher shortage.” So much so that the Indiana General Assembly leadership asked the Education Interim Study Committee to schedule an extra meeting on Oct.19 to discuss this issue.

This marathon committee hearing lasted close to nine hours and featured testimony from many people (both from Indiana and around the country). Data is often conflicting – while there may be fewer potential teachers applying to education schools, it seems to be that there are pockets of shortages (in STEM, special education and secondary schools). (In fact, a Michael Hicks/Ball State study released last Wednesday said there was actually a surplus of teachers, except for these specialty areas). Emphasis was also provided – with bipartisan support – on the importance of mentoring, as well as flexibility of teacher pay and grant incentive programs in shortage areas.

The study committee proposed 20 recommendations to be put into its final report of the year – of which 17 were agreed upon. But this does not mean that they might turn into actual legislation during the 2016 General Assembly session. Many of these recommendations dealt with further study, but the biggest recommendation called for new money to be used to increase salaries for teachers and other educators for the first 10 years of their career. However, the 2016 legislative session is not a budget session, which essentially handcuffs the ability to propose any new funding.

All in all, while we do not expect the 2016 legislative session to be dubbed another “education session,” we should anticipate some comprehensive bills when it comes to testing, accountability and teacher shortage solutions. The Indiana Chamber is immersed in these policy issues and is in constant contact with policymakers to ensure that we are part of those discussions.

Remarks on Indiana’s Scores on ‘National Report Card’ for Student Achievement

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar reacts to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scoring or “national report card” on student achievement:

“Hoosier students are outpacing the national average and, in fact, Indiana is widening its advantage over other states. This is welcome news and is an important metric. We commend our teachers and school administrators for their important role in helping our students reach these higher levels of achievement.

“Our new ISTEP scores are lower due to the implementation of more rigorous, but important, college and career readiness standards, which will better prepare students for post-secondary education and ultimately create a much stronger workforce.

“But in the big picture, these NAEP scores reinforce that our students are achieving at a higher overall level than many of their counterparts. We expect that to accelerate going forward with the enhanced college and career ready standards in place.”

Background:
In mathematics, Indiana fourth graders averaged a score of 248 with a national average of 240 points. Hoosier eight graders in mathematics averaged a score of 287 with a national average of 281 points. Similarly in reading, Indiana fourth graders averaged a score of 227, higher than a national average of 221 points and eighth grade students averaged a score of 268 with a national average of 264 points.

Charter Schools Being Shortchanged in Federal Poverty Aid

19293579Despite no change in student population, many charter schools across the state are experiencing a sharp decline of federal Title 1 funding, with little to no explanation from the DOE. Title I funding assists poverty-stricken students meet educational goals.

For example, Christel House Academy experienced a 20% drop in funding this year, to the tune of $121,743. Meanwhile, IPS (which has experienced student numbers going down) received an 8% increase, close to a $1.5 million bump. Similarly, Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school where 94% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, took a budget hit of $36,000 this year.

Federal rules state that schools cannot have more than a 15% drop in Title 1 funding in any one year. However, all of the schools that received more than a 15% decrease were charter schools.

The DOE response was that the charter schools must have made a mistake, but it is still gathering information. The federal government has since stepped in and is requiring DOE to provide information on calculations of Title 1 funding for the past few years. This story is far from over.

There was a significant decrease in Title 1 funding across the board in Indiana, but it is extremely important that this reduction is allocated equitably among the schools. These charter schools are public schools and provide education and resources to students of poverty means across Indiana. It is extremely important that this issue be resolved accurately and swiftly to provide Hoosier students with the education they deserve.

The Indiana School Matters blog also took a further look at why Title 1 funds were cut for our charter schools.

Attorney General Rules on A-F Grades for 2015

In July, we discussed Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Department of Education’s (DOE) position on suspending A-F grades for 2014-2015, or potentially utilizing a “hold harmless” proposal that would assign the better A-F grade between the 2013-2014 year and the 2014-2015 year due to the potential for lower scores as a result of the newly enacted educational standards. State Board of Education members, however, had significant concerns over Ritz’s proposal and made a recommendation that Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office review the potential options and give a legal opinion as to which option, if any, would be best for Indiana.

In early September, Zoeller’s office released an informal opinion that advised that the “hold harmless” option would not be supported by current statute and rules. In order for that provision to be legally sound, the General Assembly would have to change the law themselves.

As you may recall, this is not Ritz’s first time trying to pause accountability for students and schools. The Indianapolis Star recently quoted her stating, “Tests never teach you anything.” The Indiana Chamber wholeheartedly disagrees with her statement and finds that testing and accountability are critical for students and schools. Testing is imperative to understanding what a student knows and issues with which they may still struggle. Having strong, accurate and transparent accountability measures means that we can accurately predict Hoosier student progress, assist teachers in where students are struggling, as well as compare and contrast how schools are performing to their peers around the state.

New High School Diploma Requirements Ready for Next Round of Approvals

????????????????Earlier this summer, the Indiana Career Council met and heard an update on the draft plan for new high school diplomas, which would be set to begin in 2018. In order to simplify the process, the draft plan would change the current four diploma options – general, Core 40, Core 40 honors and technical honors – to three diploma options: college and career ready, honors and workforce ready. A good summary of the differences in the diplomas can be found at Chalkbeat.

The Indiana Chamber provided public comments to the plan earlier this year, which included items that we liked: an overall increase of core curriculum credits with a decreased emphasis on electives – including an increase of math, science and social studies credit requirements, a personal finance graduation requirement and a graduation capstone of a work-based learning experience. The Chamber did have some concerns and questions regarding: further descriptions and rigor of certain mathematics course requirements, and the absence of requirements in computer science/IT as well as a world language.

While the public comment period for the diplomas is now closed, the process to finalize this draft plan is far from over. The Commission for Higher Education passed a measure supporting the diplomas in August and it moved to the State Board of Education this month. It will then move to the General Assembly for debate in early 2016.