Testing Testing

Senate bill aims to kill Common Core in Indiana

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Lawmakers could move to dump Common Core as Indiana’s official state standards under a bill the Senate Education Committee will consider Wednesday.

A provision in Senate Bill 91, written by Sen. Scott Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, is focused squarely at killing Common Core in Indiana.

“This is the legislature speaking finally about this issue once and for all,” he said. “Indiana is going to write its own standards.”

But a spokesman for state Superintendent Glenda Ritz warned today that such a move could threaten a critical agreement between Indiana and the U.S. Department of Education that released the state from sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Language added last week to Senate Bill 91 would void Indiana standards adopted after June of 2010. The Indiana State Board of Education adopted Common Core as the state’s standards on Aug. 3, 2010, and has been implementing them in stages a grade per year starting at kindergarten.

Schneider said he is frustrated by two years of legislative debate and testimony and motivated by what he sees as a widespread change of heart about Common Core.

“We’re putting a capstone on two years of waiting,” he said. “There’s been a lot of discussion on this.”

In 2013 there was a backlash against Common Core, as conservative legislators raised concerns that the standards were too closely aligned with the priorities of the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama, ceding too much local control. Others felt Indiana’s previous standards were stronger.

The legislature in 2013 passed a bill to “pause” implementation of Common Core. It required new public hearings and additional study of Common Core, setting July 2014 for a new vote of the state board as to whether to continue with it or write new Indiana standards.

The state board and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz have responded by embarking on a process to set new standards. Ritz said earlier this month she did not expect Common Core standards to emerge from the process as the state’s sole standards, but instead new standards may incorporate Common Core elements along with locally-created standards.

Ritz has said the standards will be ready for the board to vote on them by the July deadline.

Daniel Altman, Ritz’s spokesman, said Senate Bill 91 could violate Indiana’s agreement with the federal government. That deal requires the state to adopt “college and career ready” standards in order to be released from the accountability requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law. If the state were subject to the those sanctions, a significant number of schools that did not meet NCLB’s goals for test score gains could be forced to take dramatic actions, like replacing the principal and replacing teachers.

“As this bill is written right now, we think it will put the waiver in pretty significant jeopardy,” Altman said. “The U.S. Department of Education is watching very carefully right now what is happening in the Indiana legislature.”

That’s something Schneider said he will aim to avoid, even if it means changing the bill. He said he’s already begun conversations with Ritz’s office to find a solution.

“I think she has legitimate concerns and I’m willing to work on that,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in the building wants to jeopardize that waiver.”

Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and a Common Core supporter, said the bill language also could force Indiana to revert to its 2000 standards, which are 14 years out of date. The 2009 standards Indiana created, which some Indiana critics of Common Core argue are superior, were never formally adopted by the state board, he said.

But Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he thought there would be a way to restrict the bill to fit its intention was to revert to the standards written in 2009 only if Ritz fails to deliver on new standards by the July deadline.

“I’m told we’re on task right now to have our new standards in place,” Behning said. “I think the bill is out there just in case something breaks down.”

Gail Zaheralis, of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said teachers need the state to resolve its standards debate so teachers can know what to teach.

“We want as quickly as possible to resolve this issue,” she said. “We’re supportive of college and career ready standards. We also support more Hoosier involvement in setting the standards.”

Test tweaks

Tennessee will halve science and social studies tests for its youngest students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday plans to slim down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders as she seeks to respond to complaints of over-testing in Tennessee.

McQueen has been mulling over that option since meeting last summer with her testing task force. The State Department of Education received more public feedback on testing during the last eight months while developing the state’s new plan for its schools in response to a new federal education law.

Tennessee already has eliminated a state test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as shortened TNReady, the state’s end-of-year tests for math and reading.

It’s uncertain just how significant the latest reductions are, since McQueen also said that some “components” would be added to English tests in those grades.  

And the trimming, while significant, falls short of a suggestion to eliminate the tests altogether. Federal law does not require tests in science and social studies for those grades, like it does for math and English.

Parents and educators have become increasingly vocal about the amount of testing students are undergoing. The average Tennessee third-grader, for instance, currently spends more than 11 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science. That doesn’t include practice tests and screeners through the state’s 3-year-old intervention program.

McQueen noted that more changes could be on the horizon. Her testing task force has also considered eliminating or reducing TNReady for 11th-graders because they already are required to take the ACT college-entrance exam. “We will continue to evaluate all of our options for streamlining assessments in the coming years, including in the 11th grade,” she wrote in a blog post.

McQueen also announced that the state is tweaking its schools plan to reduce the role that chronic absenteeism will play in school evaluation scores.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to evaluate schools based off of a measure that’s not directly tied to test scores. Tennessee officials have selected chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including absences or suspension. McQueen said the measure will be changed to count for 10 percent of a school’s final grade, down from 20 percent for K-8 schools and 15 percent for high schools.

Some local district officials had raised concerns that absenteeism was out of the control of schools.

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

About 130 districts were eligible to test online this year.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County