It turns out the legislature’s appetite for making changes to Indiana’s state tests was not as strong as it may have appeared.
Lawmakers did make changes: they rushed a fix that shortened ISTEP just before students began taking the exam last month.
But other new ideas about testing, like adding a civics test students would be required to pass in order to graduate, or moving the IREAD third-grade reading test down to second grade, didn’t catch on. The civics test bill was defeated in the Senate, while the IREAD bill got bottled up in the Senate Appropriations Committee over questions about costs.
The seemingly straightforward idea of studying school test results for evidence of cheating didn’t make it either. That bill was never called for a vote, but its author hopes to revive the idea as an amendment to a different bill.
Even with the legislature eager to make changes to the Indiana State Board of Education — two bills passed to shift away from state Superintendent Glenda Ritz the guarantee in state law that she chair the board — a bill that would have given the board a wider role in overseeing testing was defeated.
Despite Gov. Mike Pence’s call for 2015 to be an “education session” for the legislature, there are actually fewer bills still alive at the session’s halfway point this year — 33 — than the 43 that were still being considered at this point last year. This week the Senate begins considering bills the House passed, and the House will do likewise with bills passed by the Senate.
By the end of April, lawmakers must finish their work and forward to Pence a request that he sign all the bills that both houses ultimately agree on. Chalkbeat will be keeping track of all the education bills as they head to committees for consideration beginning this week. Here’s a look at them:
- Shorten the test. Senate Bill 62 was rewritten and sped through the legislature to shorten ISTEP by at least three hours. It passed the House 94-0 and the Senate 50-0. Gov. Mike Pence signed it into law late last month.
- Funding formula. House Bill 1001, the state budget, includes big changes for school funding. It passed the House 69-29. Included in the budget is the creation of a grant program to encourage schools to work together to reduce costs by sharing services, a program that had been proposed in House Bill 1100, which died.
- Charter shopping. House Bill 1636 is aimed at stopping “charter shopping,” a practice by which some charter schools with failing grades have found new sponsors just before their sponsors moved to close them. It passed the House 85-12.
- Adult charter high schools. House Bill 1438 is aimed at extending changes to charter school funding to adult charter high schools. It passed the House 95-0.
Indiana State Board of Education
- State superintendent powers. House Bill 1609 would remove a guarantee in state law that state Superintendent Glenda Ritz will chair the Indiana State Board of Education come July. It passed the House 58-40.
- State board make-up. Senate Bill 1 would allow the state board of education to elect its own leader. It would also reduce the board to nine members: the state superintendent, four appointed by the governor, two chosen by the Senate president in consultation with the Senate minority leader and two chosen by the House speaker in consultation with the House minority leader. It passed the Senate 33-17.
- Freedom to teach. House Bill 1009 would allow any two teachers or a principal, superintendent or a combination apply for grants to create schools, districts or zones of schools. Those schools would get extra freedoms others don’t have to try out plans designed to raise student test scores and pay higher salaries to effective teachers. It passed the House 95-2.
- Tax credits for teachers. House Bill 1005 would give teachers a $200 tax credit for money they spend out of their own pockets for classroom supplies. It passed the House 94-0.
- Transfers for school employees. House Bill 1056 would require school districts that have space to permit the children of their employees who live outside the school district to transfer into the district’s schools.
- Dual language immersion. House Bill 1635 would create a pilot to establish programs that would allow students to learn half the day in a foreign language, such as Chinese, Spanish or French. It passed the House 95-0.
- Second language literacy certificate. Senate Bill 267 would award a special certificate to students who can demonstrate they are proficient in a second language. It passed the Senate 50-0.
- Required remediation. House Bill 1637 would make changes to a law that requires students who score poorly on state tests to be identified for extra help. It passed the House 94-0.
- Cursive writing. Senate Bill 130 would require all public and private elementary schools teach cursive writing, which was dropped as a requirement by the Indiana Department of Education in 2011. The Senate passed the bill 39-11.
- “Merry Christmas” bill. Senate Bill 233 would add language to current law to allow schools to have displays related to winter holidays, both religious and secular. It passed the Senate 48-2.
- Ethnic history. Senate Bill 495 would require elementary and high schools to teach about ethnic minority groups in their social studies curriculum. It passed the Senate 43-7.
- STEM dual-credit pilot program. Senate Bill 259 would create a pilot program to allow students to take classes toward an associate’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math by the time they graduate high school. It passed the Senate 50-0.
- High school diplomas. House Bill 1194 would study the need for changes to Indiana diploma types to ensure they accommodate students in special education and career and technical programs. It passed the House 96-0.
- Dyslexia training. House Bill 1108 would require teachers seeking certification be trained in identifying students with dyslexia. It passed the House 97-0.
- Student teaching. House Bill 1188 would ensure that student teachers are assigned only to be mentored by teachers who are rated effective or highly effective. It passed the House 97-0.
- Union representation. Senate Bill 538 contains new rules that would allow non-union organizations to represent teachers in contract negotiations as long as they are not primarily commercial companies. It also calls for a yearly “teacher bill of rights” to be distributed to teachers. The bill originally would have required all school districts to hold new elections to allow teachers to decide if they wanted to keep their union representatives, but that section was dropped after an amendment to the bill was added in committee. The Senate passed the bill 30-19.
- Union-related rules. House Bill 1483 would make a series of small changes to union-related rules, such as requirements for teachers to attend training after a snow day and allowances for non-union employees to serve on district committees. It passed the House 95-2.
- School climate grants. Senate Bill 443 would prevent schools from suspending or expelling students based solely on attendance. It also provides grant money for schools to adopt positive, “evidence-based” discipline approaches and training for teachers and staff. It passed the Senate 35-15.
Standards and Testing
- Replace ISTEP. Senate Bill 566 would stop the process of creating a new ISTEP for 2016, in favor of using a national test in its place. The bill would eliminate high school end-of-course exams, starting in 2015-16, and the state’s third-grade reading test, IREAD. It passed the Senate 46-3.
- Study of ISTEP alternatives. Senate Bill 470 would look at the future possibility of using a national state test in place of ISTEP over the summer. It passed the Senate 45-5.
- Transformation zones. House Bill 1638, would establish “transformation zones” to allow schools or groups of schools to try out innovative plans at schools with students consistently getting low test scores as an alternative to state takeover. The bill passed the House 66-31.
- Deregulation. Senate Bill 500 was designed to reduce regulations on schools. The bill’s author, Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, said he removed nearly all of the sections of the bill that had raised concerns. That included 27 sections addressing student health care, school safety and worker safety reporting, tax issues and more. Still included in the amended bill are provisions that would make accreditation for public schools voluntary, direct schools on how to maintain or delete records, change the role of the charter school review panel and other requirements about reporting information to the department of education. The bill passed the Senate 31-18.
- College financial assistance. House Bill 1333 makes changes to eligibility for National Guard scholarship extensions. It passed the House 95-0.
- Student loans. House Bill 1042 aims to inform college students about their loan costs. It passed the House 98-0.
- Medical schools. Senate Bill 123 is a technical bill altering the formal names of some university medical schools. It passed the Senate 47-0.
- Scholarships and grants. Senate Bill 509 would allow the Commission on Higher Education to ask the state to transfer money among scholarship and grant funds to meet the needs of students. It passed the Senate 49-0.
- Accelerated degree program. House Bill 1231 would create college scholarships for students who participate in an accelerated degree program. It passed the House 96-0.
- Safety Drills. House Bill 1414 would require schools to hold more safety drills. It passed 72-19.
- Bus Aides. Senate Bill 339 would make a fix to current law so that bus monitors, who mind children but do not drive, are not required to meet the same requirements as the drivers for having strong eyesight. It passed the Senate 48-2.
Bills that died
- Oversight of the education policy. House Bill 1486 would have given the state board, not Ritz or the Indiana Department of Education, authority over testing, standards, student data, state takeover, teacher evaluation and other functions. In particular, it would have given the state board new authority to establish minimum and maximum thresholds for how much test scores should factor into teacher evaluation. This bill was dropped, but the teacher evaluation language was added to House Bill 1072, which made similar, if milder, changes to the state board’s oversight of Ritz and the education department. That bill was defeated in the House 51-42, however.
- Investigations of state test cheating. House Bill 1639 would have asked the Indiana Department of Education to work with the state board to craft procedures to investigate unusual ISTEP results. It was never called for a vote in the House. Author Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he might try to get the language amended into a different bill.
- Civics test. A proposal that would have required all Indiana graduates to pass the same civics test that new U.S. citizens are required to pass did not get much traction. Two bills that would have establishing the civics test requirement are now dead. House Bill 1296 passed in the House Education Committee but was not called for a vote of the full House, as Republican leaders were expected to consider the issue through Senate Bill 269, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn. But that bill was defeated in the Senate 33-17.
- Reading test changes. Senate Bill 169 would have moved the state’s reading test, IREAD, from third grade to second grade. The bill passed the House Education Committee, but it did not get a hearing and died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The switch would have come with a one-time extra cost of $1.2 million.
- Student disabilities and teacher licensing. House Bill 1437 would require teachers demonstrate knowledge of teaching strategies for helping disabled children. It was never called for a vote in the House.
- School discipline. House Bill 1640, would have required schools to follow best practices to assure fairness in discipline, but lawmakers preferred Senate Bill 443, which makes grants to schools that want to reduce suspension and expulsion and passed the Senate.
- Cooperative education pilot program. House Bill 1054 would have offered grants to Indiana’s four research universities to encourage cooperative education programs with employers. It was never called for a vote in the House.
- Gary school board. House Bill 1514 would have reduced the size of the school board in Gary and given the city the authority to appoint some members. The bill was dropped. Behning said it likely would not be considered again this year, but the idea could be reconsidered in 2016.
- STEM pathway network. House Bill 1222 would have set aside state funds to support the creation of STEM programs. It was never called for a vote in the House. Author Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette, said he hoped to amend the idea into a Senate bill.
- Return and complete grants. House Bill 1262 would have offered grants for students who completed some college but did not finish to return and seek degrees. It was never called for a vote in the House.
- GAAP accounting. House Bill 1579 would have required school districts to convert to a Generally Accepted Accounting Principles system for managing finances. The possible costs of converting raised concerns. The bill was never called for a vote in the House.
- Principal endorsement program. House Bill 1641 would have created a principal endorsement program at Western Governors University. The university asked for more time to consider the program, Behning said. The bill was never called for a vote in the House.
- School counseling. Senate Bill 277, authored by Kruse, would have required a guidance counselor in every Indiana school. Kruse dropped the bill after a committee discussion over questions of costs and other concerns.
- Donations to education foundations. Senate Bill 187 would have let school districts donate funds to nonprofit charity foundations or endowment corporations if donations were matched by a private donor. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee but was not heard in the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy committee.
- College and career counseling. Senate Bill 271 would have established a grant to help school counselors obtain certificates to better help them prepare students for college and jobs after high school. It died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
- Health and sex education. Senate Bill 497 would have had the Indiana Department of Education and the state department of health to work together to develop updated health and wellness standards and then report back to the legislature on those findings. The bill failed in a committee vote.
- School nutrition. Senate Bill 526 would have asked the department of education work with school districts to ensure they are complying with federal guidelines and policies about student nutrition. The bill failed in a committee vote.
- Required physical exams for athletic association. Senate Bill 119 proposed to change when students had to get physical exams from doctors to within two weeks of the students’ birthdays, rather than at other times during the year. State school and medical officials said the change would create hardships for students and families. Kruse decided to drop the bill after a committee hearing.
- State board of education changes. Two other bills that would have made changes to the state board were not heard in the Senate Rules Committee, but elements of them were considered for inclusion in Senate Bill 1. They were Senate Bill 452, which would have allowed the state superintendent to make an appointment to the state board, and Senate Bill 453, which would have had an appointment by the state superintendent as well as appointments from the Senate and House minority leaders.