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.”

Not Ready

Memphis students won’t see TNReady scores reflected in their final report cards

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

Shelby County Schools has joined the growing list of Tennessee districts that won’t factor preliminary state test scores into students’ final grades this year.

The state’s largest school district didn’t receive raw score data in time, a district spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The State Department of Education began sharing the preliminary scores this week, too late in the school year for many districts letting out in the same week. That includes Shelby County Schools, which dismisses students on Friday.

While a state spokeswoman said the timelines are “on track,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the timing was unfortunate.

“There’s a lot of discussion about too many tests, and I think anytime you have a situation where you advertise the tests are going to be used for one thing and then we don’t get the data back, it becomes frustrating for students and families. But that’s not in our control,” he said Tuesday night.

Hopson added that the preliminary scores will still get used eventually, but just not in students’ final grades. “As we get the data and as we think about our strategy, we’ll just make adjustments and try to use them appropriately,” he said.

The decision means that all four of Tennessee’s urban districts in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga won’t include TNReady in all of their students’ final grades. Other school systems, such as in Williamson and Wilson counties, plan to make allowances by issuing report cards late, and Knox County will do the same for its high school students.

Under a 2015 state law, districts can leave out standardized test scores if the information doesn’t arrive five instructional days before the end of the school year. This year, TNReady is supposed to count for 10 percent of final grades.

Also known as “quick scores,” the data is different from the final test scores that will be part of teachers’ evaluation scores. The state expects to release final scores for high schoolers in July and for grades 3-8 in the fall.

The Department of Education has been working with testing company Questar to gather and score TNReady since the state’s testing window ended on May 5. About 600,000 students took the assessment statewide in grades 3-11.

State officials could not provide a district-by-district listing of when districts will receive their scores.

“Scores will continue to come out on a rolling basis, with new data released every day, and districts will receive scores based on their timely return of testing materials and their completion of the data entry process,” spokeswoman Sara Gast told Chalkbeat on Monday. “Based on district feedback, we have prioritized returning end-of-course data to districts first.”

Caroline Bauman and Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.

Making the grade

TNReady scores are about to go out to Tennessee districts, but not all will make student report cards

PHOTO: Chalkbeat Photo Illustration

The State Department of Education will start Monday to distribute the test score data that goes into students’ final report cards, but it won’t arrive in time for every district across the state.

That’s because some districts already have ended their school years, some won’t have time to incorporate TNReady grades before dismissing their students, and some missed the state’s first deadline for turning in testing materials.

“Our timelines for sharing TNReady scores are on track,” spokeswoman Sara Gast said Friday, noting that the schedule was announced last fall. “We have said publicly that districts will receive raw score data back in late May.”

Shelby County Schools is waiting to see when their scores arrive before making a decision. A spokeswoman said Tennessee’s largest district met all testing deadlines, and needs the scores by Monday to tabulate them into final grades. The district’s last day of school is next Friday.

School leaders in Nashville and Kingsport already have chosen to exclude the data from final grades, while Williamson County Schools is delaying their report cards.

A 2015 state law lets districts opt to exclude the data if scores aren’t received at least five instructional days before the end of the school year.

TNReady scores are supposed to count for 10 percent of this year’s final grades. As part of the transition to TNReady, the weight gradually will rise to between 15 and 25 percent (districts have flexibility) as students and teachers become more familiar with the new test.

The first wave of scores are being sent just weeks after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen declared this year’s testing a “success,” both on paper and online for the 24 districts that opted to test high school students online this year. Last year, Tennessee had a string of TNReady challenges in the test’s inaugural year. After the online platform failed and numerous delivery delays of printed testing materials, McQueen canceled testing in grades 3-8 and fired its previous test maker, Measurement Inc.

Tennessee test scores have been tied to student grades since 2011, but this is the first year that the state used a three-week testing window instead of two. Gast said the added time was to give districts more flexibility to administer their tests. But even with the added week, this year’s timeline was consistent with past years, she said.

Once testing ended on May 5, school districts had five days to meet the first deadline, which was on May 10, to return those materials over to Questar, the state’s new Minneapolis-based testing company.

School officials in Nashville said that wasn’t enough time.

“Due to the volume of test documents and test booklets that we have to account for and process before return for scoring, our materials could not be picked up before May 12,” the district said in a statement on Thursday.

Because districts turned in their testing materials at different times, the release of raw scores, will also be staggered across the next three weeks, Gast said.