In a surprise move, a state panel pushes using a college entrance exam as Indiana’s high school test

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
The discussions out of the graduation pathway committee have been illustrated by several graphic artists.

Today’s seventh-graders might be required to take college entrance exams in high school, instead of end-of-course tests, to fulfill the state’s obligation to assess schools.

The proposal, suggested by Indiana House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, was a surprise to some members of a state committee that met Tuesday to put together final recommendations for changes to the state’s graduation requirements. Despite concerns about limited ability to review and discuss the proposal, the committee adopted it as part of its larger package.

Read: Graduating from high school could get more complicated in Indiana, and some fear equity is taking a back seat

Behning made the proposal in response to feedback the committee received from educators, who strongly opposed keeping end-of-course exams as a graduation requirement. If the exams no longer count for graduation, their only purpose is state accountability — a pretty abstract incentive for students to do well.

Given that, Behning thought it made sense to make the accountability test something like the ACT or SAT that has clear value to students heading to college. Students would still have to meet the requirements of the new graduation pathways system to earn a diploma.

If adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education and the legislature, the college entrance exam proposal would likely take effect in 2021-2022 for high school juniors, who typically take such tests. The new graduation pathways system would go into effect for the next year’s graduating class — today’s eighth graders. The state would still need to work out the details of the transition.

Although State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick also said she supported the switch to college entrance exams, she had concerns about how the state would pay for them for every student and how eliminating year-end subject tests would change work already underway on ILEARN, the state’s new testing system.

Some committee members, including McCormick, were concerned that such a drastic change was proposed with little advance notice. Today was the committee’s last scheduled meeting, yet the testing proposal was not explicitly discussed in prior meetings or included in previous drafts of recommendations.

“This was a curveball to me,” said John Elcesser, executive director for the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, who voted no on the recommendations. “To say that in an hour we’re changing something that significant.”

But the idea itself isn’t new. As the state has changed tests numerous times over the past few years, the idea of using an SAT or ACT has come up. Proponents like that scores from Indiana students could be compared with students across the country and that it saves the state the cost of creating a proprietary exam. But critics say the test was never intended to be used as graduation exam, and it would have to undergo review and adjustments to align with Indiana’s academic standards.

The test proposal was just one part of a complicated set of recommendations the committee sent to the state board today for what students in the class of 2023 need to do to graduate from high school. The new pathways would take effect for current eighth-graders, but schools could opt-in to the new pathways earlier — and again, it’s not yet clear what that would look like or who would pay for it.

The full proposal — developed over the past few months — still didn’t satisfy the concerns of educators across the state.

Today and at last week’s state board meeting, teachers and administrators said the proposed graduation requirements would be labor-intensive and expensive to implement, are too test-focused and could leave out students who are not college-bound or those with special needs.

“Tests in the pathways are good, but they are only one way for students to access a quality education,” said Fort Wayne Superintendent Wendy Robinson. “(It will) take time to implement, time to plan, time to train and time to fund or find funding.”

Under the proposed recommendations, students would have three areas whose requirements they must complete to graduate:

Potential Indiana graduation pathways

Pathway requirements Pathway options
High school diploma Meet the requirements of Indiana’s high school diplomas
Show employability skills (complete at least one of the options through locally developed programs) — Project-based learning experience
— Service-based learning experience
— Work-based learning experience
Show postsecondary readiness (complete at least one of the options) — Meet all requirements of an Indiana Academic of Technical Honors Diploma
— Meet the “college-ready benchmarks” for the ACT or SAT
— Earn a score of 31 or higher on the ASVAB
— Earn a state- and industry-recognized credential or certification
— Complete a state-, federal- or industry-recognized apprenticeship
— Earn a C average or better in at least 6 high school credits in a career and technical education sequence
— Earn a C average or better in three AP, IB, CLEP, Cambridge International or dual credit courses. At least one course must be in a core content area
— Complete requirements of a locally created pathway that is approved by the state board

The graduation requirement changes were mandated by lawmakers earlier this year. They asked the state board to form a committee to develop better ways to determine if students are ready for life after high school.

The recommendations are expected to head to the state board for approval at its December meeting, but the committee said it would continue to meet to discuss certain topics, including testing and diploma changes. It’s also possible the state vote is delayed — officials wouldn’t confirm a vote would happen.

Board member Steve Yager said last week he is worried the committee is moving too quickly on the recommendations as a whole to properly incorporate feedback from educators.

“I still can’t understand what the rush is,” Yager said. “It doesn’t make sense for us to rush and push that through and cause consternation and distrust” from educators and parents.

But other board members argued the recommendations need to be approved soon so that the legislature can include them in bills when the session starts in January. Lawmakers would need to approve any changes to testing, accountability or diplomas.

Read: Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

McCormick said the state board needs to keep focused on what it is ultimately trying to accomplish with the pathway system, especially as schools grapple with how to implement such complicated plans.

“Are we playing a game or are we changing things?” she said. “We’re impacting generations of kids.”

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.

testing testing

McQueen to convene third task force as Tennessee seeks to get testing right

PHOTO: Creative Commons/timlewisnm

For a third straight year, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will convene a task force to examine Tennessee’s testing program in the wake of persistent hiccups with its TNReady assessment and perennial concerns about over-testing.

McQueen announced Monday the members of her newest task force, which will assemble on Dec. 11 in Nashville and complete its work next July. The group includes educators, lawmakers, and parents.

At the top of the agenda: evaluating the first full year of TNReady testing for grades 3-8 and the second year for high schoolers, the latter of which was marred by scoring problems for a small percentage of students.

Five things to know about the latest brouhaha over TNReady

The group also will look at district-level “formative tests” that measure student progress to help teachers adjust their instruction throughout the school year. The goal is to support districts so those tests align with TNReady and the state’s newest academic standards.

The transition to online testing and concerns about over-testing will be on the minds of task force members.

This marks the first school year that all high schoolers will take TNReady online since 2016, when a new platform buckled on its first day. State officials are more confident this time around under a phased-in approach that began last school year with 25 districts. (Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019.)

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Candice McQueen

On over-testing, McQueen has highlighted 11th-grade as a concern. The junior year of high school is intense as students explore their post-graduation options while taking the ACT college entrance exam, the state’s end-of-course exams, and for some, Advanced Placement tests. All are high-stakes.

McQueen told Gov. Bill Haslam earlier this month that the upcoming task force will seek to strip away tests that don’t align with Tennessee’s priorities.

“We’re looking for testing reductions … but also setting a path toward (our) goals, which is a new test that’s aligned to new standards that really matter,” she told Haslam during budget hearings.

During its first two years, task force work has led to a number of changes.

Recommendations in the first year resulted in the elimination of a test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as the shortening of TNReady tests for math and reading.

In the second year, the task force contributed to Tennessee’s education plan under a new federal law and slimmed down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders.

Members of the third task force are:

  • Candice McQueen, Tennessee commissioner of education
  • Sara Morrison, executive director, State Board of Education
  • Sen. Dolores Gresham, chairwoman, Senate Education Committee
  • Rep. John Forgety, chairman, House Education Instruction and Programs Committee
  • Rep. Harry Brooks, chairman, House Education Administration and Planning Committee
  • Rep. Mark White, chairman, House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee*
  • Wayne Blair, president, Tennessee School Board Association*
  • Barbara Gray, president, Tennessee Education Association
  • Dale Lynch, executive director, Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents*
  • Sharon Roberts, chief strategy officer, State Collaborative on Reforming Education*
  • Audrey Shores, chief operating officer, Professional Educators of Tennessee
  • Gini Pupo-Walker, Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition and senior director of education policy & programs, Conexión Américas*
  • Lisa Wiltshire, policy director, Tennesseans for Quality Early Education*
  • Shawn Kimble, director, Lauderdale County School System*
  • Mike Winstead, director, Maryville City Schools
  • Jennifer Cothron, assessment supervisor, Wilson County Schools*
  • Trey Duke, coordinator for Federal Programs and RTI2, Rutherford County Schools*
  • Michael Hubbard, director of performance excellence, Kingsport City Schools*
  • LaToya Pugh, iZone science instructional support manager, Shelby County Schools*
  • Bill Harlin, principal, Nolensville High School, Williamson County Schools
  • Laura Charbonnet, assistant principal, Collierville High School, Collierville Schools*
  • Tim Childers, assistant principal, L&N STEM Academy, Knox County Schools*
  • Kevin Cline, assistant principal, Jefferson County High School, Jefferson County Schools*
  • Kim Herring, teacher, Cumberland County High School, Cumberland County School District*
  • Jolinea Pegues, special education teacher, Southwind High School, Shelby County Schools*
  • Stacey Travis, teacher, Maryville High School, Maryville City Schools*
  • Josh Rutherford, teacher, Houston County High School, Houston County School District*
  • Cicely Woodard, 2017-18 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, West End Middle Prep, Metro Nashville Public Schools*
  • Virginia Babb, parent, Knox County Parent-Teacher Association
  • Jennifer Frazier, parent, Hamblen County Department of Education*
  • Student members will be invited*

*new members