Testing Testing

Senate panel votes to void Common Core

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

A bill that would dump Common Core standards in Indiana has passed a legislative committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote later this week.

Senate Bill 91’s passage means the state will no longer follow Common Core standards as of July 1, author Scott Schneider said, ending months of sometimes intense debate. That date was intentionally chosen to coincide with a standards review, mandated by the legislature last year and already underway. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has said the review will result in recommendations for new standards by the deadline.

Common Core supporters did not fight the bill, to the surprise of many Democrats on the Senate Education Committee.

Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, led a small group of Common Core backers to the microphone who said they did not object to the bill, once it was amended to go into effect on July 1. The original bill would have voided Common Core once it was passed, potentially leaving Indiana without standards for a short period.

“We do not believe all of this is needed but we believe the process is a reasonable one,” Redelman said.

Democratic senators Earline Rogers, D-Gary, was incredulous.

“You’re OK with striking all references to Common Core?” Rogers asked.

Redelman responded: “It doesn’t prohibit Common Core in the future.”

In just more than a year, Indiana morphed from a strong Common Core state to one that appears ready to toss the national standards aside. In 2010 Indiana was one of earliest of the 45 states that ultimately agreed to make Common Core their state standards with the goal of assuring high school graduates are ready for college or careers. But aopposition, which started with a pair of Indianapolis mothers who thought the standards weakened learning, broadened into a potent force at the statehouse.

Before the November 2012 election, the state’s governor, state superintendent and key legislative leaders all supported Common Core. Then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett was an active promoter of Common Core nationally.

But after Bennett’s defeat by Ritz and the election of Gov. Mike Pence, the state’s commitment was in question. Both were noncommittal about Common Core. Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, announced in early 2013 he changed his mind and aligned with Common Core opponents.

Push back resulted in a 2013 bill that “paused” implementation of Common Core, which the state had been implementing a grade per year starting with kindergarten in 2011. The bill instructed the Indiana State Board of Education to review the standards, take new public testimony and vote by July 1, 2014, as to whether Indiana would continue with the Common Core.

As a result, Ritz and the board initiated a process by which all academic standards are being reviewed with recommendations coming this spring as to whether each should be kept as is or changed. Momentum swung against Common Core earlier this month when Gov. Mike Pence called for “uncommonly high” standards that were “written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers” in his state-of-the state speech, statements widely interpreted as moving away from the national standards.

After the speech Ritz said she did not expect Common Core standards to emerge unchanged from the review process and Common Core supporters said instead they hoped Ritz would propose new standards that incorporated many of its elements. Common Core supporters echoed that sentiment today.

Warren Township Superintendent Dena Cushenberry cautioned that the new standards must reflect Common Core so that students will be able to perform well on college entrance tests like the SAT and ACT, which are moving to connect the tests with the standards.

“If we are not careful, Indiana students will actually lose scholarship money because their standards are not aligned with Common Core,” she said.

But Schneider, and opponents, said the state board should interpret Senate Bill 91 as rejecting Common Core and not try to adopt most of its principles under a new name.

“If some want to say this is an advancement of Common Core and through this process trying to make that happen, so be it,” Schneider said. “But I will tell you there is as a whole group of parent in this state, many of them in this room, that will be watching.”

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