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Members of a committee work on Indiana's new math standards at a meeting on Feb. 13. (Scott Elliott)

Members of a committee work on Indiana’s new math standards at a meeting on Feb. 13. (Scott Elliott)

After Common Core, questions loom about new standards and tests

If Indiana’s process to set new academic standards to replace Common Core are ready, as planned, on April 2, it will mark the beginning — not the end — of a difficult process of getting Hoosier students ready to take the state tests of the future.

The stakes will be high. Those tests are critical to all sorts of key decisions — whether students earn diplomas, how teachers are evaluated and even if struggling schools should be taken over by the state.

But state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s lobbyist, John Barnes, told legislators today as the House Education Committee considered Senate Bill 91, which would void Common Core standards by July 1, implementing the new standards will be a greater challenge than creating them.

“There’s no question that it’s going to be difficult,” Barnes said. “If those standards are adopted in April, it’s going to be difficult for everybody to be ready to use those in the next school year. We are going to do every thing we can, all hands on deck, to make sure everything is ready to go.”

Indiana’s 2010 adoption of Common Core put it among 45 other states that did so with the goal of assuring that high school students graduated high school prepared for college or careers. But Indiana critics have pushed back, saying adopting the standards ceded too much control over what is taught in Indiana to policymakers outside the state. Others argued the standards are not as strong as standards Indiana created in 2009.

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.

The review process over the last few months evolved into an effort to set new, Indiana-specific academic standards to replace Common Core. Committees working toward establishing new standards finished a preliminary draft last week. Groups of educators from around the state went through the standards one-by-one to determine if they fit the state’s definition of “college and career ready” and ferreted out those viewed as biased toward any particular instructional method.

The state board has an aggressive timetable to get the new standards in place. The draft standards will be released Wednesday for public comment and public hearings are already scheduled for next week in Indianapolis, Plymouth and Sellersburg. Ritz has said the state board hopes to approve the new standards on April 2. That would satisfy the requirements in Senate Bill 91, which would void the Common Core and expect new standards to be in place for next school year.

But that is easier said than done.

Democrats on the committee raised concerns about whether it was realistic to believe teachers could be trained and ready to teach new standards by the fall. Students, they pointed out, could also be handicapped when taking state tests based on the new standards if their teachers are not prepared.

“It kind of puts us in limbo,” said Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, a high school chemistry teacher. “With Common Core, we had a phase in. Will we have a phase in for this, or are we just going to immerse the kids in these new standards?”

Barnes said the goal is to begin teaching the new standards next year without a phase in period. The plan is to keep ISTEP, the state exam in grades 3 to 8, mostly as it is for 2014-15 and aim to have a new test, based on the new standards, in 2015-16.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, asked whether there was enough time for the state to pilot a new test in 2014-15 and have it ready for students to take the following school year.

Barnes acknowledged it would be a challenge.

“Now is the time where we lay the ground work to begin working on that preliminary test,” Barnes said. “The deadlines and timelines are going to have to be immediate in terms of getting that done quickly. We’re dealing with a very short amount of time and an awful lot of work.”

Another concern on the Democrats’ minds was whether textbooks aligned to Indiana standards could be created and adopted by school districts quickly.

“Thats going to be difficult for everybody,” Barnes said. “It’s one of the things we can’t know.”

Since last year’s decision to pause Common Core implementation, Barnes said school districts have been calling the Indiana Department of Education asking if they should delay textbook purchases.

Barnes said Ritz believes the textbook problem can be resolved over time.

“The superintendent still believes Indiana is enough of a market that those textbook companies will want to give us a product that reflects those new standards,” Barnes said. “I think that will happen. How quickly will that happen? That’s going to be the tough part.”

The House Education Committee expects to vote on Senate Bill 91 on Thursday, which could lead to a vote of the full House as early as next week. The bill has already passed the Senate.

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