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.

Not Ready

Memphis students won’t see TNReady scores reflected in their final report cards

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

Shelby County Schools has joined the growing list of Tennessee districts that won’t factor preliminary state test scores into students’ final grades this year.

The state’s largest school district didn’t receive raw score data in time, a district spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The State Department of Education began sharing the preliminary scores this week, too late in the school year for many districts letting out in the same week. That includes Shelby County Schools, which dismisses students on Friday.

While a state spokeswoman said the timelines are “on track,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the timing was unfortunate.

“There’s a lot of discussion about too many tests, and I think anytime you have a situation where you advertise the tests are going to be used for one thing and then we don’t get the data back, it becomes frustrating for students and families. But that’s not in our control,” he said Tuesday night.

Hopson added that the preliminary scores will still get used eventually, but just not in students’ final grades. “As we get the data and as we think about our strategy, we’ll just make adjustments and try to use them appropriately,” he said.

The decision means that all four of Tennessee’s urban districts in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga won’t include TNReady in all of their students’ final grades. Other school systems, such as in Williamson and Wilson counties, plan to make allowances by issuing report cards late, and Knox County will do the same for its high school students.

Under a 2015 state law, districts can leave out standardized test scores if the information doesn’t arrive five instructional days before the end of the school year. This year, TNReady is supposed to count for 10 percent of final grades.

Also known as “quick scores,” the data is different from the final test scores that will be part of teachers’ evaluation scores. The state expects to release final scores for high schoolers in July and for grades 3-8 in the fall.

The Department of Education has been working with testing company Questar to gather and score TNReady since the state’s testing window ended on May 5. About 600,000 students took the assessment statewide in grades 3-11.

State officials could not provide a district-by-district listing of when districts will receive their scores.

“Scores will continue to come out on a rolling basis, with new data released every day, and districts will receive scores based on their timely return of testing materials and their completion of the data entry process,” spokeswoman Sara Gast told Chalkbeat on Monday. “Based on district feedback, we have prioritized returning end-of-course data to districts first.”

Caroline Bauman and Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.

future funding

Trump’s education budget could be bad news for New York City’s ‘community schools’ expansion

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

The Trump administration has proposed eliminating the sole source of funding for New York City’s dramatic expansion of its community schools program, according to budget documents released Tuesday.

Less than two weeks ago, city officials announced its community schools program would expand to 69 new schools this fall, financed entirely by $25.5 million per year of funding earmarked for 21st Century Community Learning Centers — a $1.2 billion federal program which Trump is again proposing to eliminate.

The community schools program is a central feature of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s strategy for high-need schools — a model he called a “game-changer” earlier this month. It is designed to help schools address the physical health and emotional issues that can impede student learning, in part by pairing them with nonprofit organizations that offer a range of services, such as mental health counseling, vision screenings, or dental checkups.

City officials downplayed the threat of the cuts, noting the Republican-controlled congress increased funding for the program in a recent spending agreement and that similar funding cuts have been threatened in the past.

“This program has bipartisan support and has fought back the threat of cuts for over a decade,” a city education official wrote in an email.

Still, some nonprofit providers are nervous this time will be different.

“I’m not confident that the funding will continue given the federal political climate,” said Jeremy Kaplan, director of community education at Phipps Neighborhoods, an organization that will offer services in three of the city’s new community schools this fall. Even though the first year of funding is guaranteed, he said, the future of the program is unclear.

“It’s not clear to [community-based] providers what the outlook would be after year one.”

City officials did not respond to a question about whether they have contingency plans to ensure the 69 new community schools would not lose the additional support, equivalent to roughly $350,000 per school each year.

“Community schools are an essential part of Equity and Excellence and we will do everything on our power to ensure continuation of funding,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in an email.

New York state receives over $88 million in 21st Century funding, which it distributes to local school districts. State education officials did not immediately respond to questions about how they would react if the funding is ultimately cut.

“President Trump’s proposed budget includes a sweeping and irresponsible slashing of the U.S. Department of Education’s budget,” state officials wrote in a press release. “If these proposed cuts become reality, gaps and inequity in education will grow.”