As Indiana tries to decide the future of testing in classrooms across the state, it’s also dealing with complicated new federal rules.
After years of adapting its testing program to meet the stringent requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, Indiana officials are figuring out how to take advantage of the new flexibility allowed under the new Every Student Succeeds Act.
The new education law doesn’t take full effect until next year, but state officials are starting to get ready.
Here’s what you need to know about the new law and how it could affect schools in the state:
How will this affect plans for replacing ISTEP?
As a panel of lawmakers and educators meet over the summer and into the fall to come up with a new plan for testing Indiana students after ISTEP is retired in 2017, the new law will give the panel more options.
Like No Child Left Behind, the new law still requires states to give reading and math tests to every student in grades 3-8 as well as once in high school. The law also still requires states to measure whether students are meeting grade-level expectations.
The difference is that now individual schools will be able to petition the state to replace any state high school test with a national test, such as the ACT or SAT. But that option is contingent on state approval.
And up to seven states will have the freedom to request an “innovation pilot” that would let them dream up wildly different tests that could eventually be scaled up statewide, which is work New Hampshire has already led the charge on.
Is there an official way for parents to opt kids out of tests?
No, that hasn’t changed.
The new law keeps in place a requirement that 95 percent of students participate in state exams. Districts and schools must figure out how to handle cases when parents want to opt kids out of tests.
If more than 5 percent of students miss an exam, which hasn’t happened in Indiana at this point, the state must impose consequences for schools. That could means a losing points on the state’s letter grade school accountability system. Or the state could require a school with high opt-out rates to participate in a state improvement plan, which would be up to states to design on their own.
Will the new rules affect the state’s A-F school grades?
Yes. ESSA requires states to judge schools using more than just test scores. Already, Indiana is altering the formula it uses to assign letter grades, adding high school graduation rate, advanced classes and student test score improvement from year to year.
But expect the state to adjust the formula again to better meet the new federal rules. Indiana must add ways to measure how well English-learners are progressing and a “school quality or student success” measure in elementary and middle schools such as the results of parent, teacher and student surveys, something Indianapolis Public Schools is already exploring.
Will politics play a role?
Always. Like with most education policy battles in the state, this could come down to a standoff between state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Republican lawmakers — assuming the 2016 election doesn’t bring in new players.
Ritz and her education department must create a plan by 2017 that tells the federal government how Indiana will change testing and accountability.
The plan has to go to the governor for a review, but there’s no requirement for any formal sign-off — which could make it seem like Ritz has the power here.
But it’s state lawmakers who have the most say in shaping the final testing and accountability plans.
A state test review panel is required by law to deliver recommendations to the General Assembly by Dec. 1. Then, lawmakers must introduce and pass legislation to actually change the parts of state law that deal with testing.
Along the way, federal rules could be adjusted, but current regulations from Congress should give Indiana and other states enough to at least get started with their plans.