Tired of waiting on state for test results, IPS considers giving students a new exam

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Students in the Indianapolis Public Schools might soon have to take yet another exam.

District leaders are so tired of the wait for state test scores, which have been coming out months after they are given, that they are considering adding another test to the crowded roster. The idea is to give teachers and district leaders more immediate feedback on how students and schools are performing.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee suggested the district could purchase an off-the-shelf test such as the ones produced by ACT or the College Board, which make tests for younger students as well as college readiness exams.

“If we continue to have the challenge that we’ve experienced the last couple of years with getting timely and reliable assessment data, there may become a time where we would have to create our own measures,” Ferebee said.

Students in IPS already take regular assessments, such as Acuity or the MAP test from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which are designed to give teachers prompt feedback on how students are doing. In the past, administrators have pointed to those assessments as tools the district uses instead of the controversial state tests.

But the district’s growing innovation school program is putting some new urgency behind the need for fast and accurate test results.

The now exam would be used to help assess whether schools have such bad performance that the district might choose to restart them as innovation schools, which are considered part of the district but run by outside managers.

District policy says that schools that receive three consecutive failing grades from the state could be converted to innovation schools. But administrators fear that delays in receiving state letter grades could slow the process of discussing problems with families and staff at persistently failing schools.

Board president Mary Ann Sullivan said the district shouldn’t rely on state data that consistently comes late. She suggested the district could use new tests or other measures of school quality like suspension rates, parent involvement, attendance and college persistence.

“We should lead,” she said. “Let’s just go ahead and take control of our own fate here and do what’s right for kids.”

(Read: Beyond test scores: Indianapolis considers new ways to measure school quality)

The idea comes at the same time that state education leaders are looking to make required state tests shorter due to concerns that students are spending too much time taking assessments. A committee of educators and political leaders have been meeting since May to find an alternative to the problem-plagued ISTEP but the group has reached few conclusions and is now talking about postponing testing changes until 2019 or later.

If IPS doesn’t want to wait for the state to figure things out, a local exam is one option, the board members said.

Some members raised concerns that adding another assessment could contribute to over testing but still seemed open to the idea.

“I’m not sure that we are going to get state data any quicker, just based on their inability to make decisions,” said board member Michael O’Connor.

Update (October 19, 2016): This story was updated to clarify Sullivan’s interest in measures of school quality other than test scores.


Week in review: A raise for some Detroit teachers — no pay for others

PHOTO: John/Creative Commons

The situation at the Detroit charter school where teachers won’t get their summer paychecks is a reminder about the precarious finances that can affect both district and charter schools.

Charters don’t typically have historic debts like those that nearly drove the Detroit Public Schools into bankruptcy last year, but Michigan does not provide charter schools with money to buy or renovate their buildings. Unlike districts, charter schools can’t ask voters to approve tax hikes to pay for improvements. And when charter schools borrow money, that debt isn’t supported by the state or backed up by district taxpayers the way some school district debt is. So when a charter school shuts down and money stops coming from the state, there could be many people — that includes teachers — who simply won’t get paid.

Scroll down for more on that story as well as updates on the just-ratified teachers contract and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent


Paying teachers — or not

  • Detroit teachers who mailed in ballots this month have narrowly approved a new three-year contract in a vote of 515 to 474. “We certainly deserve more,” the union’s president said in a statement “but the package offers us the opportunity to build our local, move our school district forward and place students first.”
  • The new contract, which will now go to a state financial oversight board for approval, would raise teacher salaries by more than 7 percent over the next two years but would not increase wages enough to bring them back to where they were before pay cuts a few years ago.
  • Meanwhile, teachers at the shuttered Michigan Technical Academy charter school — which had a lower school in northwest Detroit and a middle school in Redford — were furious to learn that they won’t get money they’re owed for work they did during the school year. The money will instead go to pay off debts. More than 30 teachers are collectively owed more than $150,000.
  • The school is the second Detroit-area charter school to run into financial problems affecting teacher pay. Educators at the Taylor International Academy in Southfield say they haven’t been paid since their school shut down abruptly in early June. Taylor and MTA also have this in common: Both schools had their charter authorized by Central Michigan University.
  • Meanwhile, across the state, Michigan’s average teacher salary has dropped for the fifth year in a row, and many districts say they have trouble retaining high quality teachers because of low pay. The finding is included in a six-story series on state teacher pay from Michigan Radio that already has detractors.
  • An investor service says the controversial changes Michigan made to its pension system are a “positive” for the state.
  • A University of Michigan economist says substitute teachers are paid less in Michigan than other states — part of why the state has a sub shortage.
  • A suburban district got 952 applicants for a single teaching job but the district’s superintendent says that doesn’t mean there’s not a teacher shortage.

On the home front

In Detroit

Across the state

  • A judge has blocked the state from spending public money on private schools. A Catholic leader explains why he thinks private schools should be entitled to the money.
  • MIchigan has dumped its school ranking system in favor of a dashboard.
  • An advocate who wants schools to face tougher consequences for poor performance slammed Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent school reform efforts. “Parents are tougher on their kids when they don’t eat their vegetables than Detroit’s turnaround plan is with its hometown failure factories,” he wrote.
  • Many of the hurdles that make it difficult to provide enough early education in Detroit also exist in rural Michigan communities.
  • A New York writer says Betsy DeVos might be powerful and influential in Michigan but in Washington without her checkbook, she’s “like a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

In other news

money money money

New York City teachers get news they’ve been waiting for: how much money they’ll receive for classroom supplies

New York City teachers will each get $250 this year to spend on classroom supplies — more than they’ve ever gotten through the city’s reimbursement program before.

The city’s 2017-18 budget dramatically ramped up spending for the Teacher’s Choice program, a 30-year-old collaboration between the City Council and the United Federation of Teachers. More than $20 million will go the program this year.

On Thursday, the union texted its members with details about how the city’s budget will translate to their wallets. General education teachers will each get $250, reimbursable against expenses. (Educators who work in other areas get slightly less; teachers tell the union they spend far more.)

Money given to New York City teachers for classroom supplies, measured in dozens of tissue boxes.

The increase means that Teacher’s Choice has more than recovered from the recent recession. In 2007, teachers were getting $220 a year, but that number fell until the union and Council zeroed out the program in 2011 as part of a budget deal aimed at avoiding teacher layoffs. (Some teachers turned to crowdsourcing to buy classroom supplies.) As the city’s financial picture has improved, and as the union lobbied heavily for the program, the amount inched upwards annually.

“With this increase in funding for Teacher’s Choice, the City Council has sent us a clear message that they believe in our educators and support the work they are doing,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a time where we see public education under attack on a national level, Council members came through for our teachers and our students.”