Are Children Learning

Bill to void Common Core passes Indiana House

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The Indiana House today overwhelmingly approved a bill that would void Common Core standards in Indiana 67 to 26.

Senate Bill 91, passed by the full Senate last month, now heads to a conference committee to resolve differences with the Senate version, as it was amended earlier this month by the House Education Committee.

The bill sets a July 1 deadline for new standards to be adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education to replace Common Core. In 2013, the legislature approved a bill to “pause” implementation of Common Core to allow time for a new review of the standards and a new vote of the Indiana State Board of Education by July 1, 2014.

That review process has become an effort led by the Indiana State Board of Education and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to set new, Indiana-specific academic standards to replace Common Core. Draft standards were released last week for public comment and public hearings were held this week in Indianapolis, Plymouth and Sellersburg. Ritz has said the state board hopes to approve the new standards on April 9.

Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, blasted the bill before the vote as the product of conservative paranoia, pointing to a provision in the bill aimed at ensuring Indiana’s “sovereignty” when it comes to setting standards.

“We are doing all this so we can maintain our sovereignty?” he said. “I’ve seen no threat to the sovereignty of the state of Indiana. This is just an attempt to separate ourselves from rest of the country because we’ll feel better about ourselves.”

But Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, said the threat was real. The U.S. Department of Education, she said, steered states toward the Common Core with the promise of relief from the consequences of the federal No Child Left Behind Law when it signed a deal with Indiana to waive some of NCLB’s accountability requirements.

“That’s the government involved unconstitutionally,” she said. “We’ve been told the federal government isn’t involved in dictating standards but I don’t think that’s true.”

Indiana was among the earliest states to adopt Common Core in 2010. Now 45 states have signed on with the goal of assuring that high school students graduate prepared for college or careers. Indian’s NCLB waiver was granted in 2012.

Common Core came under increasing critics mover the past year from conservatives who argued it ceded too much control over what is taught to policymakers outside the state or that the standards are not as strong as standards Indiana created in 2009.

 

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McQueen declares online practice test of TNReady a success

PHOTO: Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Getty Images

Tennessee’s computer testing platform held steady Tuesday as thousands of students logged on to test the test that lumbered through fits and starts last spring.

Hours after completing the 40-minute simulation with the help of more than a third of the state’s school districts, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen declared the practice run a success.

“We saw what we expected to see: a high volume of students are able to be on the testing platform simultaneously, and they are able to log on and submit practice tests in an overlapping way across Tennessee’s two time zones,” McQueen wrote district superintendents in a celebratory email.

McQueen ordered the “verification test” as a precaution to ensure that Questar, the state’s testing company, had fixed the bugs that contributed to widespread technical snafus and disruptions in April.

The spot check also allowed students to gain experience with the online platform and TNReady content.

“Within the next week, the districts that participated will receive a score report for all students that took a practice test to provide some information about students’ performance that can help inform their teachers’ instruction,” McQueen wrote.

The mock test simulated real testing conditions that schools will face this school year, with students on Eastern Time submitting their exams while students on Central Time were logging on.

In all, about 50,000 students across 51 districts participated, far more than the 30,000 high schoolers who will take their exams online after Thanksgiving in this school year’s first round of TNReady testing. Another simulation is planned before April when the vast majority of testing begins both online and with paper materials.

McQueen said her department will gather feedback this week from districts that participated in the simulation.

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Tennessee students to test the test under reworked computer platform

PHOTO: Getty Images

About 45,000 students in a third of Tennessee districts will log on Tuesday for a 40-minute simulation to make sure the state’s testing company has worked the bugs out of its online platform.

That platform, called Nextera, was rife with glitches last spring, disrupting days of testing and mostly disqualifying the results from the state’s accountability systems for students, teachers, and schools.

This week’s simulation is designed to make sure those technical problems don’t happen again under Questar, which in June will finish out its contract to administer the state’s TNReady assessment.

Tuesday’s trial run will begin at 8:30 a.m. Central Time and 9 a.m. Eastern Time in participating schools statewide to simulate testing scheduled for Nov. 26-Dec. 14, when some high school students will take their TNReady exams. Another simulation is planned before spring testing begins in April on a much larger scale.

The simulation is expected to involve far more than the 30,000 students who will test in real life after Thanksgiving. It also will take into account that Tennessee is split into two time zones.

“We’re looking at a true simulation,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, noting that students on Eastern Time will be submitting their trial test forms while students on Central Time are logging on to their computers and tablets.

The goal is to verify that Questar, which has struggled to deliver a clean TNReady administration the last two years, has fixed the online problems that caused headaches for students who tried unsuccessfully to log on or submit their end-of-course tests.


Here’s a list of everything that went wrong with TNReady testing in 2018


The two primary culprits were functions that Questar added after a successful administration of TNReady last fall but before spring testing began in April: 1) a text-to-speech tool that enabled students with special needs to receive audible instructions; and 2) coupling the test’s login system with a new system for teachers to build practice tests.

Because Questar made the changes without conferring with the state, the company breached its contract and was docked $2.5 million out of its $30 million agreement.

“At the end of the day, this is about vendor execution,” McQueen told members of the State Board of Education last week. “We feel like there was a readiness on the part of the department and the districts … but our vendor execution was poor.”

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

She added: “That’s why we’re taking extra precautions to verify in real time, before the testing window, that things have actually been accomplished.”

By the year’s end, Tennessee plans to request proposals from other companies to take over its testing program beginning in the fall of 2019, with a contract likely to be awarded in April.

The administration of outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam has kept both of Tennessee’s top gubernatorial candidates — Democrat Karl Dean and Republican Bill Lee — in the loop about the process. Officials say they want to avoid the pitfalls that happened as the state raced to find a new vendor in 2014 after the legislature pulled the plug on participating in a multi-state testing consortium known as PARCC.


Why state lawmakers share the blame, too, for TNReady testing headaches


“We feel like, during the first RFP process, there was lots of content expertise, meaning people who understood math and English language arts,” McQueen said. “But the need to have folks that understand assessment deeply as well as the technical side of assessment was potentially missing.”