Testing Testing

Senate votes to reject Common Core

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indiana legislators took a substantial step toward doing away with the Common Core today when the Senate voted to void the state’s 2010 decision to adopt the learning standards.

The 36-12 vote saw only Democrats vote against it. Under the bill, Indiana can no longer follow Common Core standards as of July 1. The move came after a year of fast-moving debate that saw many Republicans shift their positions from supporting the Common Core to opposing it.

Debate about the value of the standards, which are meant to ensure that students are ready for college and work, have centered on whether the allow the state enough freedom to decide what children are taught. Legislators and others across the state have pushed back against the Common Core because they didn’t like the way schools were changing to new teaching methods, which some have argued are being pushed by the federal government.

“This is a benefit to us all,” said Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author. “This is obviously a benefit to the students of Indiana. It’s a positive step.”

But Common Core supporters argue the move is unnecessary, fueled by misinformation and a potentially costly mistake, citing an estimate by the state’s Office of Management and Budget that changing standards could cost Indiana $24 million.

Sen Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said opponents misunderstand the purpose of Common Core. The standards, she said, only dictate what topics are learned, not how the information is taught.

“There is a difference between standards and curriculum,” she said. “A lot of times parents get mixed up between the two, and not just parents but legislators also.”

The July 1 Common Core expiration date in the bill coincides with the dictates of the of a bill passed by the legislature last year, which called for a “pause” of implementation of Common Core. That bill required a review of Common Core standards and a new vote of the state board by July 1.

The Indiana Department of Education and Indiana State Board of Education began a review of standards last fall. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said last month the review would result in recommendations for new standards and that the department would deliver them in time for the board to approve them by the deadline.

If the House ultimately supports the bill, it would complete a stunning reversal of fortune for the Common Core. Indiana was one of the earliest and strongest supporters of the academic standards, which 45 states have agreed to make their state standards. The aim was to to set a common standard for what qualified students as ready for college or careers. The standards were promoted in Indiana and nationally by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett, who was state superintendent under Daniels. The Indiana State Board of Education adopted them as the state’s standards in 2010.

But opposition grew beginning in late 2012. It was led by conservatives, who worried that the Common Core ceded too much authority over what Indiana students learn to the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education under President Obama has endorsed Common Core and sought to persuade states to adopt the standards. Some liberals raised concerns that Common Core represented a deeper commitment to standardized testing, which they oppose.

Even Common Core supporters in recent months have begun to acknowledge the state would likely have to write its own standards because of eroding support. They are advocating for those new standards to still incorporate many of the concepts of the Common Core.

But Schneider said he doesn’t want that to happen either. Parents who oppose the Common Core don’t want the standards renamed, he said. They don’t want to see changes they’ve seen over the past two years in the way their children are taught reversed, Schneider said.

“I share those concerns,” he said. “But at some point we have to trust this process. I think parents will be the eternal watchdogs of this. They’re watching.”

new testing plan

ISTEP panel proposes mostly tweaks after months of work

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

After months of meandering conversation, a state committee charged with finding a replacement for the hated ISTEP exam seems to have fallen short of its goal of revamping the test and instead has only been able to propose minor changes and tweaks.

The new test program endorsed by the state’s ISTEP panel this morning calls for students in grades 3-8 to take one exam in English and math at the end of the year, and for 10th-grade, students would return to taking exams in English, Algebra I and biology at the end of the year. The main differences would be that tests are given in one period, rather than two spread throughout the winter and spring.

“It has been a long and tedious process,” said ISTEP replacement panel Chairwoman Nicole Fama, a principal in Indianapolis Public Schools. “But without everyone’s input and support we wouldn’t be where we are today.” Other panel members include lawmakers, policymakers and educators.

There was no discussion today about the recommendations, crafted mostly over email in the past week.

Read all our coverage of ISTEP and other testing issues here.

Formed by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year, the panel was asked to address lawmakers’ concerns that ISTEP was not credible and was administered poorly. Members cited lack of public trust in the test and scoring and technical problems that have plagued ISTEP since it was retooled for 2015 to match new, more rigorous state standards.

The panel now suggests that the state consider using off-the-shelf tests or questions rather than create an entirely new test. Using existing questions from outside vendors, which could include Common Core-linked exams, is a cheaper option, and one that lawmakers have indicated they’d support.

That’s a big change from what Indiana lawmakers decided in 2013 and 2014, when they voted overwhelmingly to leave Common Core and its associated PARCC test.

“There’s no question that under current state law we have the flexibility (to use other questions or our own),” said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, a panel member and leader of the House Education Committee. “You can use other products that are out there. PARCC, Smarter Balanced all are selling bits and pieces.”

Behning also said federal testing requirements could change under the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. For example, states might have more freedom to create innovative testing models like New Hampshire’s project-based local exams, which Behning has said he might support. Those tests, however, are expensive to create and take years to develop.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Ayana Wilson-Coles, a teacher in Pike Township, were the only two panel members who voted against the plan. Ritz has called for a completely different kind of test that would be given in multiple parts throughout the year and rely heavily on computer-based technology. She says such a test would be more helpful to educators and students.

The committee made no move to address the state’s third grade reading test, which is currently given in addition to ISTEP.

In order to graduate, students would still be expected to pass tests in English and math. The state would, for the first time, pay for students to take a college or a career readiness test, such as the SAT, ACT or military entrance exam.

The recommendations next go to the legislature, which goes into session in January. But lawmakers are not required to follow them. Behning wasn’t specific about how the panel’s work might be used in a future bill.

“We haven’t discussed it,” Behning said. “There’s no question I’ll probably have some language (for a bill), yes, at some point in time.”

Testing Testing

Indianapolis charter high schools rank near the bottom on the 2016 ISTEP

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Find our all our stories and databases on the 2016 ISTEP test results, as well as other testing coverage, here.

Of the Indianapolis public high schools that saw the lowest ISTEP passing rates this year, most were charter schools, including some that were taken over by the state years ago for consistently low test scores.

High schoolers took the ISTEP for the first time last spring rather than subject-specific exams in Algebra I, freshman English and biology. The inaugural high school ISTEP, which was given to 10th-graders in math and English, didn’t go well for many schools across the state. When the results were released last week, only 32.2 percent of Hoosier students passed both exams.

The scores were even lower for some charter high schools in Marion County including Hoosier Academy’s hybrid virtual school. Not a single student passed both exams at the school, where students have the option of working from home or in a school building.

Scores also bottomed out at Carpe Diem Shadeland charter high school, which was temporarily closed in August due to low enrollment. The students were merged with those at Carpe Diem’s Meridian campus. The school was one of three high schools run by the Carpe Diem charter network that ranked among the worst performing high schools in the county.

These are the 10 Marion County public high schools with the lowest ISTEP passing rates. Chalkbeat included demographic information about the schools since research shows that schools with more white and affluent students tend to do better on standardized tests because of biases in the way tests are created and different levels of resources at schools attended by lower-income kids.

Howe High School. This former IPS school has been managed by the Florida-based for-profit Charter Schools USA since the school was taken over by the state in 2012 after years of low test scores. This year, just 5.9 percent of students passed both ISTEP exams.

Demographics:

  • 53.5 black, 31 percent white, 8.2 percent Hispanic, 7.1 percent multiracial
  • Data is not available on the percent of students who qualify for meal assistance.

Carpe Diem Meridian. At this charter school, 5.9 percent of students passed both tests.Demographics:

  • 69.6 percent black, 20.6 percent white, 5.2 percent multiracial, 4.1 percent Hispanic.
  • 69.6 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Arlington High School. This IPS school, which was returned to the district last year after the Tindley charter network declined to continue managing it, saw 5.1 percent of students pass both exams.

Demographics:

  • 86.5 percent black, 7.2 percent Hispanic, 3.7 percent white, 2.6 percent multiracial.
  • 61.2 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

George Washington High School. At this IPS school, 4.9 percent of kids passed the two tests.

Demographics:

  • 34.5 percent black, 32 percent Hispanic, 28.3 percent white, 4.9 multiracial.
  • 71.9 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Carpe Diem Northwest. Only 4.5 percent of students passed the test at this charter high school.

Demographics:

  • 67.2 black, 15.6 Hispanic, 9.4 percent white, 6.3 percent multiracial, 1.6 percent Asian.
  • 84.4 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Northwest High School. The IPS school saw 4.3 percent of students pass both tests.

Demographics:

  • 58.3 percent black, 29.7 percent Hispanic, 6.7 percent white, 2.6 percent Asian, 2.4 percent multiracial.
  • 63 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Manual High School. At this charter high school, which like Howe, has been managed by the Florida-based Charter Schools USA network since it was taken over by the state in 2012, just

3.8 percent of students passed the two exams.

Demographics:

  • 55.3 white, 23.1 black, 12.2 Hispanic, 7.7 multiracial, 1.7 percent Asian.
  • Data is not available on the percent of students who qualify for meal assistance.

John Marshall High School. At this IPS school 2 percent students passed both the two tests.

Demographics:

  • 75.9 percent black, 13.1 percent Hispanic, 8.2 percent white, 2.2 percent multiracial.
  • 65.5 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Hoosier Academy-Indianapolis. At this hybrid virtual charter school, no students passed both ISTEP exams.

Demographics:

  • 72.1 percent white, 20.8 percent black, 3.8 percent multiracial, 1.7 percent Hispanic.
  • 19.6 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Carpe Diem Shadeland. No students passed ISTEP at this charter school, which was closed by the state in August.

Demographics:

  • 73.9 percent black, 15.9 percent white, 4.3 percent multiracial, 2.9 percent Asian, 2.9 percent Hispanic.
  • 81.1 percent percent of students qualify for meal assistance.