School choice

It looks like Indiana’s ISTEP test is toast after 2017

PHOTO: Shannan Muskopf via Flickr
State officials are closing as many 38 Michigan schools with low rankings due to test scores but they might have trouble finding higher scoring schools nearby

Whatever standardized test Indiana chooses to give in 2018, it probably won’t be ISTEP.

After a circuitous journey through the legislature, House Bill 1395, which would end the state’s ISTEP testing program in 2017 and create a panel of educators, lawmakers and policymakers to find a replacement, passed the Senate 50-0 and the House 77-19. It next heads to Gov. Mike Pence for his signature.

But the bill’s final vote came only after serious concerns raised by House Democrats, who passionately asserted on the House floor that they were being left out of future discussions over the test.

“It’s probably going to be one of the most important interim committees of the season, and probably the next decade, and the minority group is not going to get a seat at the table,” said Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson.

(Read “Junking Indiana’s ISTEP test: What might come next and at what cost?“)

Austin said Democrats should have a say in who is appointed to the 23-person ISTEP study panel, but the bill’s author Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the Senate preferred a committee that would be similar to one that created the state’s new 2016 A-F accountability system.

“This is not the panel that the House passed, this is the panel that the Senate liked and was unwilling to move on,” Behning said. “This is not where I wanted to be necessarily.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who has four appointments under the bill, said he would “at least consult with” Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, before he makes his choices.

Behning said Senate Republicans agreed to require business leader, a parent, a state board of education member and a teachers union representative be appointed to the panel, a proposal that originally was in the House version. The other members of the committee will be educators and legislators to be appointed by Republican legislative leaders, Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who will also be part of the committee.

Behning originally introduced the bill as proposal to rescore of the problem-plagued 2015 test. Last year’s exam was beset with scoring delays and technical glitches that Behning thought called for a full review of the scores to make sure the state can accurately determine student progress going forward.

Later, Behning’s proposal to rescore ISTEP was removed in the Senate, partially over concern about the cost. The rescore didn’t make it back in the final version of the bill.

Deadlines for appointing panel members is May 1. The group must recommend options for a new test to the legislature by Dec. 1. The goal is for the panel’s recommendations to become legislation on the General Assembly docket in 2017.

Two other bills that were suddenly given new life yesterday also cleared their last hurdles before being forwarded to Pence to sign.

Popular teacher scholarship proposal moved ahead

A scholarship bill that would allow aspiring teachers to apply for up to four years of college aid in exchange for teaching in Indiana schools for five years passed easily in both chambers — 97-0 in the House and 48-2 in the Senate.

Bosma said he was pleased to see House Bill 1002 move ahead. The program now also will see $10.5 million of funding for scholarships that would begin in 2017.

“I’m thrilled, it was a better result that I had hoped for at the start of session,” Bosma said. “What a great way to reinforce the importance of the teaching profession.”

Austin, along with other Democrats, supported the bill and hailed what it could do for Indiana classrooms.

“This is really one of the most substantive things we’ve done this session to address the teacher shortage,” she said.

Lawmakers remain divided on teacher pay raises

A teacher mentoring bill that became surprisingly controversial also passed.

House Bill 1005 had widespread support, but over the last week two controversial ideas were added to it: one giving school districts flexibility to pay some teachers extra and one to extend the deadline to apply for private school tuition vouchers.

House Bill 1005 narrowly passed the House on Wednesday 51-43 and made it out of the Senate 33-17. But some lawmakers still had misgivings about including the teacher pay langauge in the bill, which the Senate and the House had already rejected in other bills earlier this year.

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, compared the measure to stipends given for extracurricular activities. Plus, Republican lawmakers argued, a similar law already is in place allowing pay bumps for dual credit teachers, establishing a precedent.

“This is not breaking new ground,” Brown said. “This is actually recognizing the hard work that teachers do.”

But extracurricular pay is subject to union negotiations and the extra pay for teaching AP courses is not, said Indiana State Teachers Association spokeswoman Kim Clements-Johnson. Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said she worried that the provision might change teachers’ willingness to work together and collaborate.

“It sets up an adversarial atmosphere,” Rogers said. “What we try to do is keep the learning atmosphere one in which we work together, teachers and administrators.”

year two

Tennessee high schoolers post higher test scores, but some subjects remain a struggle

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen presents 2017 high school test scores to the State Board of Education.

High school students in Tennessee saw their state test scores rise in 2017, the second year that a new test aligned to the Common Core standards were given in the state.

The increases were modest on average, but sharp for some of the students who have historically struggled most. Just one in five poor students scored at the lowest-level on the ninth-grade English exam, for example, compared to one in three last year.

But in most courses, especially in math, students continued to fall far below the state’s expectations. Even as the state estimates that 11,000 more students met the English proficiency bar this year, two thirds of students still fell below it. And in two advanced math courses, scores actually declined slightly.

The upward trajectory across most subjects puts Tennessee in line with other states that have seen their scores plummet in the first year of new exams, but then rise incrementally afterwards as students and teachers adjust to tougher standards.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen touted the results Thursday during a brief presentation to the State Board of Education in Nashville.

“These results are encouraging because they show that we’re on the right track,” McQueen said. “As we have moved our standards forward, our teachers and students are meeting those expectations.”

She singled out improvements with historically underserved groups, particularly students with disabilities, and a reduction in the percentage of students performing at the lowest achievement level.

“This positive movement is showing we are taking seriously the work we’re doing with all of our student groups,” McQueen said.

High schoolers scored best on their science exams, which was expected since Tennessee has not yet switched to more rigorous science standards. Those standards will reach classrooms in the fall of 2018.

The statewide scores are the first batch to be released. District- and school-level high school scores come next in August, while results for students in grades 3-8 are due out this fall. Grades 3-8 took TNReady for the first time last school year after their 2016 exams were scuttled amid technical failures.

 

problems and solutions

6 problems the NAACP has with charter schools — and 5 of its ideas for how to reshape the sector

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Alice Huffman, chairwoman of the NAACP's National Task Force for Quality Education, speaks during a public hearing in January in Memphis.

After calling for a temporary ban on new charter schools last year, the NAACP has revealed what would it would take to get the civil rights group to support the privately run, publicly funded sector.

The lengthy report, released Wednesday, allows for the fact that some charters are doing well, but also relates an exhaustive list of concerns. About 5 percent of the country’s public school students attend charters, with an even larger share of black students, the focus of the NAACP report.

To address the concerns, the group offers a set of recommendations that could dramatically curb the sector if adopted. The recommendations are aligned with the country’s two major teachers unions, which have ramped up their criticism of charter schools amid U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s advocacy for them. Here’s what the NAACP is worried about, what we know about those issues, and what the group’s recommendations could mean for the charter school world.

NAACP’s problems with charters

1. Charters schools have mixed performance.

The NAACP argues that “research finds mixed outcomes for charters as a group—with some doing better and others were doing worse than district-run public schools.”

It’s generally true that charters perform comparably to district schools, as measured by standardized test scores. Charter schools do seem to perform especially well in urban areas, including in Boston, New Orleans, and New York City, as well as specific charter networks.

2. Charter schools close frequently, sometimes leaving students in a lurch.

The report points out that charters close relatively frequently, particularly schools serving many black students. “While school closures are sometimes seen as evidence that charter schools are in fact more accountable than public schools, charter school closures can seriously disrupt students’ learning, especially when closures occur during the school year,” the NAACP analysis states.

In one recent example, three Detroit charters closed to the surprise of families, leaving them scrambling to find a new school. However, there is evidence in Ohio and New Orleans that when charters are closed based on low performance, students benefit in terms of achievement.

3. Charters suspend black students at high rates and have been accused of pushing out certain students.

During the NAACP’s hearing across the country, the report says, “many participants testified about students with special needs, those perceived as poor test takers, or those who pose as a behavioral challenge are either not accepted, or once enrolled, disciplined or counseled out of many charter schools.” A report by the California ACLU found that one in five of the state’s charters had explicit and illegal discriminatory policies, though there is limited research on this issue more broadly. Some studies have not found evidence that charters push out students — at least not at greater rates than district schools.

The NAACP report also raised concerns about high rates of suspensions in charter schools, particularly of black students. One recent study found that charter schools were significantly more likely to be suspend black students than white students — but this is also the case in district schools. Civil rights advocates including the NAACP fear that this sort of exclusionary discipline make students more likely to drop out of school and create a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

4. Charter schools have been accused of lacking financial transparency and accountability.

“The extent to which charter schools are financially accountable and transparent often varies depending upon the strength of individual state charter laws,” the NAACP says, citing a number of examples.

Thorough reports in North Carolina, Michigan, and Ohio have raised concerns about financial impropriety.

A national analysis highlighted ways that charter schools could profit off of lax oversight requirements. “The multiple layers of private school operations and management, governing boards of private citizens, and in some cases, authorization by private entities, presents far greater opportunity to shield documents and avoid constitutional and statutory protections in the charter sector,” according to the report.

It is unclear, though, to what extent the charter sector differs in this respect compared to district schools and how widespread improprieties are.

5. Charter schools may increase segregation.

Most studies have found that charters are more racially and economically segregated than public schools generally,” the NAACP writes.

That’s true, though charter supporters note that this may be because charters are more likely to be located in cities that are themselves segregated. Careful analyses in a number of cities that examine how students transfer to and from schools over time do find evidence that charter schools exacerbate segregation, though the findings are not uniform.

6. For-profit and virtual charter schools are especially troubling in light of low performance.

The NAACP said that in the listening tour concerns about for-profit and virtual charter schools repeatedly came up, with the report describing “widespread findings of misconduct and poor student performance in for-profit charter schools.”

As the report points out, recent studies have shown that virtual charter schools produce dramatically worse results than public schools, and that for-profit charters perform modestly worse than non-profit charters. Some states like New York already bar for-profit charters, but they make up a large sector in other places, such as Michigan and Florida.

NAACP’s recommendations for charters

1. Eliminate for-profit charters

The NAACP recommends getting rid of for-profit charter schools — a position that is in line with many left-of-center charter school advocates. About one in five charter students attend a school run for profit, with even more doing so in certain states like Michigan and Florida.

2. Ensure that only school districts can authorize charters.

About 90 percent of authorizers right now are school districts, though it’s unclear what percentage of charter schools they authorize. Many states also allow state boards, universities, or independent commissions to approve and oversee charters. The NAACP wants to see those alternative authorizers eliminated in favor of a single overseer that can “monitor the supply of schools across the district … and ensure that high-quality schools open in neighborhoods that most need them.”

In response to the NAACP position, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers argued that school districts do not provide consistently strong oversight of charters. And it’s unclear what would happen in places, such as New York City, where relatively few charters are authorized by the district.

3. Mandate that only certified teachers be hired at charters.

“Charter schools should not be permitted to waive any licensing requirements for teacher and leaders working in their schools,” the NAACP report says, a position in step with the teachers unions. State policy on this issue varies. One authorizer in New York City has recently started a controversial move to allow charters to certify their own teachers. Research suggests that certification is only a modest predictor of teacher performance.

4. Tighten authorizing and accountability requirements.

The NAACP wants tougher oversight on charter schools’ disciplinary rules, recruitment and retention of students, financial practices, and academic performance. A number of these recommendations might be well received by progressive charter backers. For instance, on the issue of school discipline the NAACP highlights the approach of Washington, D.C.’s independent charter board, which many charter advocates have also praised. (Notably, though, this board would not be allowed under the NAACP’s recommendation that only districts can operate charters.) More conservative charter advocates — who already believe that charters are subject to too much regulation — are unlikely to support these ideas.

5. Improve the public school system as a whole.

A number of NAACP recommendations have nothing — directly — to do with charters. For instance, the report suggests “more equitable and adequate funding for schools serving students of color.” The group also backs the idea of community schools and pre-kindergarten.

Perhaps ironically after devoting an entire report to the topic, the NAACP suggests that charter schools may be a distraction: “It is a concern that charter schools have had a larger influence on the national conversation about how to improve education in communities of color than these other well-researched educational investments.”