Testing Testing

Indiana has new academic standards

Protesters at an April 21 rally against Indiana's new standards, which were approved by the state board Monday. (Scott Elliott)

Indiana has new academic standards, but Common Core opponents are still fuming.

By a 10-1 vote, the Indiana State Board of Education adopted the new standards today, following the lead of the Education Roundtable, which voted overwhelmingly in support of the new standards last week.

“I’m pleased we can finally bring this debate to a close and adopt a set of standards that will prepare Hoosier students for graduation,” board member Gordon Hendry said before voting yes. “I hope that, with this conversation behind us, we can stick with the standards and make sure we are not continually moving the goalposts on our students and teachers.”

The forces who led the charge against Common Core in Indiana, however, were dispirited by what the state will get in their place. The group held a rally last week with more than 150 demonstrators who packed the Roundtable meeting before leaving disappointed.

“I’m here to tell you I’ve lost faith,” said Heather Crossin, one of the founders of Hoosiers Against Common Core, calling the standards setting process a sham. “There was an end result in place from the very beginning and this process was designed to give that end result, which was rebranding Common Core.”

Andrea Neal, the lone no vote, said both the English and math standards are a step back for the state, but she was particularly critical of the math standards.

“It’s malpractice to adopt math standards that make no sense to mathematicians,” she said to a big cheer from the Common Core opponents in the audience.

That was the minority view on the board, however. B.J. Watts, a board member and elementary school teacher from Evansville, said he felt most teachers joined him in supporting the new standards.

“I’m proud of them because I honestly think we are doing the right thing,” he said.

Indiana, once an early champion of Common Core, has stepped back from the standards that 45 states agreed to follow. In 2013, lawmakers ordered a pause in implementation of Common Core and this year followed up with another bill voiding the 2010 decision to adopt them and ordering new standards by July 1.

Gov. Mike Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz hailed the new standards as created “by Hoosiers and for Hoosiers” at last week’s roundtable meeting. Since February, committees of educators and experts selected the new standards from among several sets of standards they reviewed, including Common Core, the state’s prior standards, standards followed by other states and those offered by professional organizations.

“As I’ve watched and listened, it seems that fear can outpace fact,” board member Brad Oliver said before voting for the new standards. “The question I keep coming back and asking myself is: do these statement reflect the most critical knowledge and skills that children need?”

To critics, the new standards look much the same as Common Core to them.

“I still wear my ‘say no to Common Core” button,’ ” opponent Stephanie Engleman told the state board prior to the vote. “That’s because we still have Common Core and we will continue to have Common Core if you adopt the standards before you today.”

But Ritz backed the team the led the standards process, who argued Common Core’s architects actually incorporated many Indiana standards as they built Common Core standards. That helps explain the similarity, Ritz said.

“Indiana did play a pretty integral part, their standards being rated so high to begin with, in the formation of the Common Core,” she said. “There are things all kids need to know and be able to do that are found in all of the sets of standards that we reviewed. That’s what people need to keep in mind.”

Common Core was designed to assure all high school graduates are ready for college or careers, but Indiana critics have said they worried that the shared standards ceded too much control over the states’ education systems to the federal government. Creation of Common Core was led by the state governors but the standards were later endorsed and promoted by the U.S. Department of Education.

One of the few educators to speak during the public comment portion of today’s meeting was Tim McRoberts, principal of Speedway High School, who said it was time to move on from the standards debate so teachers could do their work.

“We’ve been preparing and working toward this for a few years now,” he said. “We’re ready to move forward.”

 

more tweaks

For third straight year, TNReady prompts Tennessee to adjust teacher evaluation formula

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced last April that she was suspending TNReady testing for grades 3-8 for the 2015-16 school year. Now, her department is asking lawmakers to make more adjustments to the weight of student test scores in Tennessee's teacher evaluation formula.

First, Tennessee asked lawmakers to make temporary changes to its teacher evaluations in anticipation of switching to a new test, called TNReady.

Then, TNReady’s online platform failed, and the state asked lawmakers to tweak the formula once more.

Now, the State Department of Education is asking for another change in response to last year’s test cancellation, which occurred shortly after the legislative session concluded.

Under a proposal scheduled for consideration next Monday by the full House, student growth from TNReady would count for only 10 percent of teachers’ evaluation scores and 20 percent next school year. That’s compared to the 35 to 50 percent, depending on the subject, that test scores counted in 2014-15 before the state switched to its more rigorous test.

The bill, carried by Rep. Eddie Smith of Knoxville, is meant to address teachers’ concerns about being evaluated by a brand new test.

Because testing was cancelled for grades 3-8 last spring, many students are taking the new test this year for the first time.

“If we didn’t have this phase-in … there wouldn’t be a relief period for teachers,” said Elizabeth Fiveash, assistant commissioner of policy. “We are trying to acknowledge that we’re moving to a new assessment and a new type of assessment.”

The proposal also mandates that TNReady scores count for only 10 percent of student grades this year, and for 15 to 25 percent by 2018-19.

The Tennessee Education Association has advocated to scrap student test scores from teacher evaluations altogether, but its lobbyist, Jim Wrye, told lawmakers on Tuesday that the organization appreciates slowing the process yet again.

“We think that limiting it to 10 percent this year is a wise policy,” he said.

To incorporate test scores into teacher evaluations, Tennessee uses TVAAS, a formula that’s supposed to show how much teachers contributed to individual student growth. TVAAS, which is short for the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, was designed to be based on three years of testing. Last year’s testing cancellation, though, means many teachers will be scored on only two years of data, a sore point for the TEA.

“Now we have a missing link in that data,” Wrye said. “We are very keenly interested in seeing what kind of TVAAS scores that are generated from this remarkable experience.”

Although TVAAS, in theory, measures a student’s growth, it really measures how a student does relative to his or her peers. The state examines how students who have scored at the same levels on prior assessments perform on the latest test. Students are expected to perform about as well on TNReady as their peers with comparable prior achievement in previous years. If they perform better, they will positively impact their teacher’s score.

Using test scores to measure teachers’ growth has been the source of other debates around evaluations.

Historically, teachers of non-tested subjects such as physical education or art have been graded in part by schoolwide test scores. The House recently passed a bill that would require the state to develop other ways to measure growth for those teachers, and it is now awaiting passage by the Senate.

 

deja vu

Last year, Ritz’s computer-based testing plan was largely dismissed. Today, McCormick adopted part of it as her own.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Glenda Ritz and Jennifer McCormick debated in Fort Wayne during the 2016 campaign this past fall.

Although she wasn’t on board with former-state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s entire testing plan during last year’s campaign, current Indiana schools chief Jennifer McCormick today expressed support for a computer-based test format Ritz lobbied hard for during her last year in office.

These “computer-adaptive” exams adjust the difficulty-level of questions as kids get right or wrong answers. McCormick explained the format to lawmakers today when she testified on the “ILEARN” proposal that could replace the state’s unpopular ISTEP exam if it becomes law.

Computer-adaptive technology, she said, allows tests to be more tailored around the student. Test experts who spoke to Indiana policymakers this past summer have said the tests also generally take less time than “fixed-form” tests like the current ISTEP and could result in quicker turnaround of results.

During the summer, members of a state commission charged with figuring out what Indiana’s new testing system could look like largely argued against this testing format, including the bill’s author, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis. At the time, he said he was concerned about investing in a technology-heavy plan when much of the state struggles to get reliable internet and computer access. Today, Behning didn’t speak against the concept.

Overall, McCormick was supportive of House Bill 1003, but she pointed out a few areas that she’d like to see altered. More than anything, she seemed adamant that Indiana get out of the test-writing business, which has caused Hoosiers years of ISTEP-related headaches.

Read: Getting rid of Indiana’s ISTEP test: What might come next and at what cost

“Indiana has had many years to prove we are not good test-builders,” McCormick told the Senate Education Committee today. “To continue down that path, I feel, is not very responsible.”

The proposed testing system comes primarily from the recommendations of the state commission. The biggest changes would be structural: The bill would have the test given in one block of time at the end of year rather than in the winter and spring. The state would go back to requiring end-of-course assessments in high school English, Algebra I and science.

The bill doesn’t spell out if the test must be Indiana-specific or off-the-shelf, and McCormick suggested the state buy questions from existing vendors for the computer-adaptive test for grades 3-8, which would have to be aligned with state standards.

For high school, McCormick reiterated her support for using the SAT and suggested making the proposal’s end-of-course assessments optional.

The ILEARN plan, if passed into law, would be given for the first time in 2019.

“Spring of 2019 is a more realistic timeline no matter how painful it is for all of us.” McCormick said. “We could do it for (2018), but it might not be pretty. We tried that before as a state, and we couldn’t get it right.”

You can find all of Chalkbeat’s testing coverage here.