Who Is In Charge

Pence: Indiana needs to take action to improve ISTEP

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Gov. Mike Pence.

Gov. Mike Pence called for a “step back” from the state ISTEP test in tonight’s State of the State address, reaffirming the view he shifted to late last year: that teachers and schools should get a break for lower test scores in 2015.

“Accountability is important, but testing must be reliable, and the results fairly applied,” Pence told an assembly of lawmakers, state officeholders and guests. “Let’s take a step back from ISTEP and improve on the test we use to measure our kids and schools every year. Let’s also take action to ensure that our teachers and schools are treated fairly with the results of the latest ISTEP test.”

Relief from sanctions after a free-fall in passing rates on ISTEP has quickly become the biggest education issue of 2015. Earlier today the Indiana House and Senate each approved a bill to neutralize ISTEP’s effect on teacher evaluations and school A-F grades. Those changes are on a lightning-fast track to the governor’s desk so that he might sign changes into law before the end of the month.

But it wasn’t long ago Pence and Republican leaders balked at Indiana state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s suggestion they do just that.

For months, the governor decried options to “pause” state accountability that would reduce the degree to which lower-than-expected state ISTEP test scores factored into teacher ratings and A-F school grades. Indiana switched to new more challenging state standards in 2014 and then to a new ISTEP test in 2015, which led to school passing rates that were almost uniformly poor.

But Pence’s views slowly came to align with arguments Ritz has made for almost two years to moderate ISTEP sanctions.

Pence wrote a letter to Ritz in October urging that teachers not pay a price for lower 2015 scores. Teachers who receive poor evaluations, based in part on student test scores, can be fired or declared ineligible for pay raises.

Released last week, 2015 ISTEP scores showed that just four of 1,500 public schools that took the exam had more kids pass than the year before. Almost half of all kids who took the test failed math, English or both.

But Pence focused instead on the state’s success on other education measures, such as graduation rates and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national exam given to a sample of students sometimes called the “Nation’s Report Card.”

“In 2015, Indiana made genuine progress in student achievement,” Pence said. “We raised our standards and saw graduation rates go up to seventh highest in the nation. And Indiana kids outperformed the national average in every major category on the Nation’s Report Card.”

Pence touted last year’s budget and its boost to school funding, grants for school safety and push for career and vocational education. He also hailed two favorite programs: the state’s new preschool tuition support pilot and private school tuition vouchers, saying they were “opening doors of opportunity for disadvantaged kids.”

Pence’s yearly address also offered support for a bill from House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, that would award scholarships to Indiana students who commit to teaching in state schools for four years following graduation.

The scholarships would include $7,500 per year for four years of tuition for about 200 students who rank in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating class, Bosma said last week. Students could use the funds at private and public schools.

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”