testing talk

State superintendent candidates want to kill ISTEP but differ on what should come next

Both candidates running for state superintendent agree that the state’s ISTEP exam has to go.

But they disagree about what should replace it.

For Incumbent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, the ideal test is one given on a computer in which questions get more difficult as children answer questions correctly and easier as they get them wrong.

In contrast to the current ISTEP model in which students essentially either pass or fail, Ritz’s dream test would be given in parts throughout the year, culminating in a single score that could be used for state accountability. Breaking the test up, she says, makes the results less about punishing students and schools who score poorly and more about giving teachers useful information that they could use to help kids.

“I want to know where children actually do perform and how they grow over time instead of using the pass-fail approach that we’ve been using that does not inform teaching and learning,” Ritz said.

READ: Find more on this year's races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.
READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

Ritz’ Republican challenger, Yorktown Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, had been vague about what kind of test she’d like to see Indiana students take, but recently revealed some key points at a candidate forum in late August. She has been clear about one thing: She’s no fan of Ritz’s leadership on the issue.

“Educators in the trenches are tired of the chaos, drama, and blaming,” she wrote in a press release after a key meeting on the future of testing in the state. “We deserve solutions.”

The future of ISTEP has been heavily debated for years, especially since the Indiana General Assembly voted last spring to scrap the decades-old ISTEP exam for a better option. The test had been plagued by computer glitches and scoring delays and had long been resented by educators who thought it took too long to administer and wasted too much valuable classroom time.

A state committee is now charged with figuring out a new plan for the exam to send to lawmakers by Dec. 1. Ritz serves on the committee and has spelled out a plan for testing that proposes a new structure for ISTEP’s replacement. She’s also lobbied for years to eliminate the state’s reading test and possibly cut the exam now used to determine whether high school students need extra help. In general, she says, she wants tests to take less time and be less redundant.

“You always want to strive to have less assessment and more teaching, always,” Ritz said.

McCormick agrees that testing should take up less classroom time but had not taken strong stands on what future tests should look like before the forum. When asked by Chalkbeat to comment on her vision for what the state should do next, she focused on the process for creating the new exam, not the exam itself, calling the current process “backwards.”

Instead of trying to figure out what the test should look like and then figure out how to use the results it provides, McCormick says the state should think about the process differently. She called for schools to have more say in determining details of their testing programs to best fit their districts’ needs.

“It would be important to look at what do we want to measure, and what does that accountability piece need to look like?” she said. “Then we can have an assessment for what it is we want to monitor.”

At the August forum, McCormick said she would be in favor of adopting the SAT, or something like it, for high school students and keeping a simple, ISTEP-like test for elementary and middle school students.

This story has been updated to reflect some of McCormick’s views on testing.

Indiana 2016 Election

The biggest donation in the IPS school board race came from an unexpected source

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In the battle for control of the Indianapolis Public School board, the largest single campaign contribution came from an unexpected source: the teachers’ union. But the donation didn’t help the union-backed candidate.

In recent years, IPS board races have been dominated by pro-school reform candidates who have attracted large contributions from deep-pocketed donors. But in other elections — at other times, in other places — it’s common for teachers’ unions to spend big.

That’s what happened this time in Indianapolis.

Critics of the current administration made their first organized bid to unseat incumbent board members in 2016 when they formed the group OurIPS. The group didn’t donate to candidates, but the district-wide candidate the group supported, Jim Grim, did win a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Despite that cash, all four candidates backed by OurIPS lost on Election Day.

The contribution to Grim’s campaign was revealed in final campaign finance reports due to the Marion County Election Board last week. The disclosures detail fundraising and spending for each school board campaign, but they don’t include groups such as Stand for Children, which sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses but is not required to disclose all of its political activity.

Although the union donation was easily the largest single contribution any candidate received, other candidates did raise more in total. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce spent more overall but gave to four candidates.

Here are the totals for each race:


Grim raised $20,930 during the election. His opponents were incumbent Sam Odle, who raised $31,893, and challenger Elizabeth Gore, who won a surprise victory in the raise. Gore has not filed a finance report, but she told Chalkbeat after the election that she raised about $1,200.

District 1

Incumbent Michael O’Connor vastly out fundraised his opponent in the race, raising $23,543, according to his disclosure. Challenger Christine Prince raised $100.

District 2

Venita Moore, a newcomer who won the seat with support from Stand for Children, raised $25,712. Ramon Batts, who had the support of OurIPS, raised $3,550. Nanci Lacy did not file a report.

District 4

Long-time board member Diane Arnold raised $16,696. Challenger Larry Vaughn did not file a report.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect a new fundraising total for Michael O’Connor, who submitted a corrected disclosure.

day one

Three new members join IPS board, Sullivan elected president

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Five IPS board members were sworn in. Left to right: Elizabeth Gore, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Diane Arnold, Venita Moore and Michael O'Connor.

Mary Ann Sullivan will lead the Indianapolis Public School board for the second year in a row, bringing a dose of consistency to a board that begins the term with three new members.

At the first meeting of 2017, the seven-member board swore in three new members, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Elizabeth Gore and Venita Moore, and two returning members, Diane Arnold and Michael O’Connor. In a clear sign of the growing collaboration between the city — which oversees dozens of charter schools — and the school district, the members were sworn in by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“The decisions you make here profoundly impact not only the students that attend IPS today but … the future of this great city,” Hogsett said. “As our city strives to always better our schools, your individual rules in that effort are critically important to the long-term health and well-being of this city.”

The new board unanimously elected Sullivan as president, O’Connor as vice-president and Gore as secretary. Sullivan, who was also president in 2016, joined the board two years ago as part of a wave of members who support dramatic changes aimed at improving the lowest performing schools.

“I will do my best to maintain the progress that we are making on so many fronts and to keep our sense of urgency,” Sullivan said. “I am very, very confident that this board is ready to provide the leadership needed to transform lives.”

Two of the new board members won spots following a bruising election fight for control of the board between advocates for radically overhauling the district by embracing policies such as partnerships with charter schools and critics who favor more traditional management. The third new member was chosen by the board to replace LaNier Echols, who resigned following the election.

The three newest board members bring a wide range of experience to the board. Here’s a little about each:

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops is the most mysterious new board member because she was chosen by the board to fill a vacancy, rather than going through the election process. She represents District 5, which covers the northwest section of IPS. Although her positions on many of the biggest issues facing the district are not clearly fleshed out, her personal background gives her a unique perspective on many of the issues facing IPS families. A first-generation Mexican American and fluent Spanish speaker, Hoops is the only Latina board member. She also is the only current parent on the board, with a son enrolled at Center for Inquiry School 27. Her son has special needs, and she said her work advocating for his education renewed her commitment to ensuring educational access.

Elizabeth Gore defeated Sam Odle for an at-large seat representing the entire district. Although she is newly elected, this is not her first time on the board. Gore served a term on the board before losing a reelection bid in 2012, when a wave of critics of former-superintendent Eugene White captured control. In her bid for reelection, Gore was not backed by school-reform supporters or the organized opposition, and her victory was something of a surprise. She is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School and her three children graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, where she led the parent teacher association.

Venita Moore won a three-way race to replace former board member Gayle Cosby, a frequent critic of the administration. She represents District 2, which covers the northeast section of IPS. A business consultant with experience running a state agency, Moore was endorsed by pro-reform groups including Stand for Children. But she does not have a significant record of political work on education, so her approach to the school board is still something of an unknown. Moore is also an IPS graduate, and her daughter graduated from Crispus Attucks High School.