From the Statehouse

READ Act rules taking shape

Members of the State Board of Education last week took their first detailed look at the proposed new system intended to improve the literacy levels of the state’s youngest students.

Child readingThe draft regulations reviewed by the board Jan. 10 outline an implementation plan for the 2012 READ Act, a law that sets an expectation for all students to be reading at grade level by third grade.

A key element of the regulations is the definition of “significant reading deficiency.” Schools will be required to provide special, individualized services for students with that designation. And students who are still deficient in the third grade could be held back.

The current draft of the rules proposes a three-part process to determine significant reading deficiency, but a coalition of education reform and business groups is urging a simpler method.

Ed groups question process for identifying struggling readers

The three proposed criteria include: a child scoring twice in the lowest quartile on state-approved assessments, identification of a significant deficiency in one or more components of reading as determined by a diagnostic assessment; and a “body of evidence” showing a child is not making sufficient reading progress.

A coalition of education-reform groups is questioning the three-part process. The groups are Colorado Succeeds, Stand for Children Colorado, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Concern. All were in the forefront of lobbying to pass the READ Act, House Bill 12-1238, last year.

“This three-step approach creates a threshold that is unnecessarily high, unclear, and leads to a precarious loss of time. The intent of the Colorado READ Act was for struggling readers to be identified early so that they will receive immediate reading interventions and support,” representatives of the groups wrote to CDE last week.

“We urge the State Board to adopt a less stringent and more straightforward threshold for determining if a student has a significant reading deficiency,” the groups wrote, suggesting that scoring in the bottom quartile of any approved assessment should be sufficient grounds for identifying a child with a significant reading deficiency.

Department of Education staff appeared open to making tweaks.

“The department is considering that suggestion. … We will address that during the next board meeting,” Dian Prestwich, CDE assistant director of literacy told the board.

Significant reading deficiency is a specific individual determination and would not include all children who are merely reading below grade level.

The Department of Education is proposing use of the current DIBELS, PALS and DRA2 assessments for this school year and next. It’s expected other tests will be added to the approved list in the future.

The proposed regulations also define reading competency skill levels in detail for kindergarteners and for students in grades 1-3. (See pages 4-10 of the draft rules) and lay out specific amounts of instruction for struggling readers, time frames for administering tests at the beginning of school years and detailed descriptions of what constitutes appropriate instruction and on what data districts will have to report to the state.

There was no testimony at the Jan. 10 session. The board will hold another hearing during its Feb. 13-14 meeting and is set to vote on the final rules during the March 20-21 meeting.

READ Act details

At the end of this school year districts will report to the Department of Education the number of K-3 students with significant reading deficiencies.

The law is expected to cover up to 24,000 students. An estimated quarter of Colorado third-graders don’t read at grade level.

Starting in 2013-14 districts will annually assess K-3 students’ reading abilities with the CDE-approved tests. The department is required to create a list of approved instructional programs and professional development resources that districts can use.

Individual READ plans have to be created for students with significant deficiencies. The law also creates a process for parent, teacher and administrator consultation to determine each year if students should advance to the next grade level. Parents have the final say for K-2 students. Superintendents (or designated administrators) will review the cases of third-graders recommended for advancement and can decide to retain a student. Special services must be provided for third-graders who are held back.

The law contains protections and exemptions for students with disabilities, limited English proficiency or who have already been held back.

The program will divert interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund to provide about $16 million in per-pupil funding (about $700 per student) to districts working with students who have significant reading deficiencies. The law also includes some $5 million in funding to be used for CDE administration costs ($1 million) and for professional development grants to districts. So total funding first-year will be about $21 million.

Districts receiving the per-pupil funding will be required to use specific interventions, such as enrollment in full-day kindergarten, summer school or tutoring.

More grades?

Schools with lots of transfer students say A-F labels don’t fit

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Schools with large numbers of kids who transfer in or out should get an extra grade from Indiana’s A-F system, a legislative committee said Thursday.

The proposal, backed by both Democrats and Republicans on the House Education Committee, would give schools a second A-F grade based just on the scores of students who have attended for at least a year.

The goal is to account for schools with “high mobility,” common in poor neighborhoods where families move frequently and kids sometimes change schools several times in a single school year. When kids change schools, their test scores often sink. Lawmakers argued the schools where they end up on test day can be unfairly saddled with a low grade that doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of teaching at the school.

Even so, the schools will still be judged the same as all schools in Indiana on their first A-F grade.

The proposal was added as an amendment to House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. The bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.

The amended bill would require the Indiana State Board of Education to first define a “high-mobility” school. Then, starting in the 2018-19 school year, the board would assign those schools both the typical grade based primarily on state tests and a second grade that only considers the test and other academic data of students who have attended the school for one year or more.

The second grade could not be used by the state board to make decisions about state sanctions, the bill says. But it would help parents and others better understand the circumstances at the school, said Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s author and chairman of the education committee.

“Especially in our urban centers, there are several schools … that have very high mobility rates,” Behning said. “We could all recognize that if you’re being moved from school A to school B to school C to school D in a year, it’s going to be very difficult for your performance to be where it needs to be.”

The bill also makes a similar change to high school graduation rates, which would help Indiana better comply with new federal law, Behning said. The bill would alter the graduation rate calculation so that students who drop out would only count in a school’s rate if they attended that school for at least 90 percent of the school year. Otherwise, their graduation data gets counted at the previous school they attended for the longest time.

Melissa Brown, head of Indiana Connections Academy, one of the largest online schools in the state, testified in support of the bill. She said the graduation rate change and second letter grade better reflect the work they’re doing with students.

“We really believe that if we can keep a student, we can help them,” Brown said.

Virtual schools have performed poorly on state tests, which some school leaders argue is because they serve a challenging population of students, including those who frequently move and switch schools, come to school far behind grade level and have other learning difficulties that make them more difficult to educate.

Read: The broken promise of Indiana’s online schools

Indiana Connections Academy sees about 20 to 25 percent of students come and go each year, Brown said. Other virtual schools, such as Hoosier Academies, have reported more than double that rate.

Although the rates for individual schools could vary widely, Beech Grove schools had the highest district mobility rate in 2015 in Marion County, where 20.1 percent of students left a Beech Grove school to go outside the district, according to state data. Franklin Township had the lowest, with 8.5 percent. Generally, transfer within districts was much lower.

In IPS, the rate was 18.4 percent for students leaving to attend a school in another district, and 8.2 percent of students left their home school to attend another in IPS.

Brown said she thinks the second school grade could help all schools that see high turnover, but it also could dispel some misinformation about what virtual schools are for — it’s not a “magic pill” for kids who are far behind, she said, a scenario she encounters frequently.

“At the end of the day, it’s really about what’s best for the kid,” Brown said. “And it’s not best to send a student to another school with two weeks left in the semester expecting a miracle to happen.”

new plan

Lawmakers want to allow appeals before low-rated private schools lose vouchers

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

Indiana House lawmakers signaled support today for a plan to loosen restrictions for private schools accepting state voucher dollars.

Two proposal were amended into the existing House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. One would allow private schools to appeal to the Indiana State Board of Education to keep receiving vouchers even if they are repeatedly graded an F. The other would allow new “freeway” private schools the chance to begin receiving vouchers more quickly.

Indiana, already a state with one of the most robust taxpayer-funded voucher programs in the country, has made small steps toward broadening the program since the original voucher law passed in 2011 — and today’s amendments could represent two more if they become law. Vouchers shift state money from public schools to pay private school tuition for poor and middle class children.

Under current state law, private schools cannot accept new voucher students for one year after the school is graded a D or F for two straight years. If a school reaches a third year with low grades, it can’t accept new voucher students until it raises its grade to a C or higher for two consecutive years.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author, said private schools should have the right to appeal those consequences to the state board.

Right now, he said, they “have no redress.”  But public schools, he said, can appeal to the state board.

Behning said the innovation schools and transformation zones in Indianapolis Public Schools were a “perfect example” for why schools need an appeal process because schools that otherwise would face state takeover or other sanctions can instead get a reprieve to start over with a new management approach.

In the case of troubled private schools receiving vouchers, Behning said, there should be an equal opportunity for the state board to allow them time to improve.

”There are tools already available for traditional public schools and for charters that are not available for vouchers,” he said.

But Democrats on the House Education Committee opposed both proposals, arguing they provided more leeway to private schools than traditional public schools have.

“Vouchers are supposed to be the answer, the cure-all, the panacea for what’s going on in traditional schools,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary. “If you gave an amendment that said this would be possible for both of them, leveling the playing field, then I would support it.”

The second measure would allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a private school accredited and allow it to immediately begin receiving vouchers once it has entered into a contract to become a “freeway school” — a type of state accreditation that has few regulations and requirements compared to full accreditation.Typically, it might take a year or so to become officially accredited.

Indiana’s voucher program is projected to grow over the next two years to more than 38,000 students, at an anticipated cost — according to a House budget draft — of about $160 million in 2019. Currently in Indiana, there are 316 private schools that can accept vouchers.

The voucher amendments passed along party lines last week, and the entire bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.