Testing Testing

Pence signs bill voiding Indiana’s Common Core adoption

Gov. Mike Pence speaks before signing several education bills today at the Indiana State Library. (Scott Elliott)

It’s official: Indiana has pulled out of Common Core.

But what impact that move actually has on what kids learn in the classroom is still uncertain.

Gov. Mike Pence today signed into law a bill that void’s Indiana’s 2010 adoption of Common Core. At the time, 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. The effort was led by then Gov. Mitch Daniels, and Tony Bennett, the former state superintendent. Like Pence, both are Republicans.

The just-signed law calls for new standards to be established by July 1. Democratic State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, and the Republican-appointed Indiana State Board of Education, are working toward approving new standards in April.

Pence said he expected the new standards will be of greater quality than Common Core and a better fit for Indiana, as they will have been created by committees of Indiana educators.

“I’m very confident, having signed that legislation today that formally ends Indiana’s use of the Common Core standards, that the process we have underway today will achieve that objective,” he said.

After Daniels left office and Ritz defeated Bennett in 2012, momentum began to turn against Common Core.

Urged on by Common Core opponents, the legislature last year approved a bill to “pause” implementation of Common Core to allow time for a new review of the standards and a new vote of the state board by July 1, 2014. The review process over the last few months evolved into an effort to set new, Indiana-specific academic standards to replace Common Core.

But the question remains, how different will Indiana’s new standards be? Already critics of the draft standards have said there is huge overlap with Common Core.

Pence said he did not think Indiana should focus on what percentage of the new standards are similar to Common Core.

“We’ve got to stay focused on the kids here,” he said. “The question we ought to be asking at every grade level is, what are the standards for academic attainment should be in that grade level? Where we derive them, to me, is of less significance than are we actually serving the best interests of our kids?”

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