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Indiana cuts number of academic standards with a new statewide test coming soon

Students write with pencils.

In a 9-2 vote on June 7, the Indiana state school board approved cuts to the number of state academic standards put forward by the education department. Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said the department’s cuts went beyond the requirements of a 2022 state law.

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Knowledge is power — but knowledge of idioms is no longer required for Hoosier students. 

That’s because the Indiana state school board on Wednesday approved a major cut to the number of state academic standards in order to prioritize what students must know in every grade level. 

The goal of trimming back the standards — mandated by a 2022 state law — is to help prepare more students who are ready for college and career when they graduate. The Indiana Department of Education will next work on creating a new version of the statewide assessment, the ILEARN, that matches the revised standards and may include informal “checkpoint” tests throughout the year. 

Department officials, working with focus groups, were charged with cutting 25% of standards, and then designating one-third of the remaining standards as “essential.” 

A woman with blonde hair and dark glasses wearing a dark shirt smiles at the camera.

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner

Courtesy of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office.

The changes, which the board approved in a 9-2 vote, affect four core academic areas: language arts, math, social studies, and science. They go into effect for the 2023-24 school year.  

The reduced standards received a mostly warm welcome from members of the board and the public, who said the move would allow teachers to focus on the most important skills. 

“We’ve been wrestling with the myriad of standards that sometimes can be a mile wide and an inch deep,” said Steve Baker, principal at Bluffton High School in northwest Indiana.  “This enormity of standards has overwhelmed my teachers … to guess which ones were the most important, and which ones we have to eliminate.” 

But some board members said the cuts didn’t go far enough, especially in the earliest grades. 

“We have to be more prescriptive about what we want our kids to know,” said board member Pat Mapes, who voted against the slimmed-down standards. 

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said across all grade levels, the board’s review reduced the number of standards by more than what the law required. Kindergarten standards were reduced by 35%, while high school standards were reduced by 29%. 

For example, the number of language arts standards for third grade — a critical year for literacy — has been nearly halved from 62 to 34. Many of the standards cut are those that students should have covered in previous years, such as recognizing alphabetical order or the parts of a sentence. 

The review also merged three sections on reading literature, nonfiction, and vocabulary into a single new section on reading comprehension, with standards on idioms and using reference materials like dictionaries left on the cutting room floor. 

Along with pruning the standards, state officials also approved new STEM standards, as well as updates to standards in early learning, health, and fine arts.  

Jenner said the department will now turn its attention to aligning the statewide assessment in math and reading — the ILEARN — to the new standards. That process must be complete by March 2025. 

One proposal for the revised test from the department would create short “checkpoint” tests throughout the year. These scores would be reported only to teachers and students and their parents, with an opportunity for students to retake the assessments if needed. Schools would still give a final, summative assessment at the end of the year for statewide reporting purposes. 

“What we currently do is just kind of an autopsy,” said Mapes of the current state test. “It’s too late, and those kids move on to the next grade.”

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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