Are Children Learning

Senate bill aims to kill Common Core in Indiana

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Lawmakers could move to dump Common Core as Indiana’s official state standards under a bill the Senate Education Committee will consider Wednesday.

A provision in Senate Bill 91, written by Sen. Scott Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, is focused squarely at killing Common Core in Indiana.

“This is the legislature speaking finally about this issue once and for all,” he said. “Indiana is going to write its own standards.”

But a spokesman for state Superintendent Glenda Ritz warned today that such a move could threaten a critical agreement between Indiana and the U.S. Department of Education that released the state from sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Language added last week to Senate Bill 91 would void Indiana standards adopted after June of 2010. The Indiana State Board of Education adopted Common Core as the state’s standards on Aug. 3, 2010, and has been implementing them in stages a grade per year starting at kindergarten.

Schneider said he is frustrated by two years of legislative debate and testimony and motivated by what he sees as a widespread change of heart about Common Core.

“We’re putting a capstone on two years of waiting,” he said. “There’s been a lot of discussion on this.”

In 2013 there was a backlash against Common Core, as conservative legislators raised concerns that the standards were too closely aligned with the priorities of the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama, ceding too much local control. Others felt Indiana’s previous standards were stronger.

The legislature in 2013 passed a bill to “pause” implementation of Common Core. It required new public hearings and additional study of Common Core, setting July 2014 for a new vote of the state board as to whether to continue with it or write new Indiana standards.

The state board and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz have responded by embarking on a process to set new standards. Ritz said earlier this month she did not expect Common Core standards to emerge from the process as the state’s sole standards, but instead new standards may incorporate Common Core elements along with locally-created standards.

Ritz has said the standards will be ready for the board to vote on them by the July deadline.

Daniel Altman, Ritz’s spokesman, said Senate Bill 91 could violate Indiana’s agreement with the federal government. That deal requires the state to adopt “college and career ready” standards in order to be released from the accountability requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law. If the state were subject to the those sanctions, a significant number of schools that did not meet NCLB’s goals for test score gains could be forced to take dramatic actions, like replacing the principal and replacing teachers.

“As this bill is written right now, we think it will put the waiver in pretty significant jeopardy,” Altman said. “The U.S. Department of Education is watching very carefully right now what is happening in the Indiana legislature.”

That’s something Schneider said he will aim to avoid, even if it means changing the bill. He said he’s already begun conversations with Ritz’s office to find a solution.

“I think she has legitimate concerns and I’m willing to work on that,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in the building wants to jeopardize that waiver.”

Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and a Common Core supporter, said the bill language also could force Indiana to revert to its 2000 standards, which are 14 years out of date. The 2009 standards Indiana created, which some Indiana critics of Common Core argue are superior, were never formally adopted by the state board, he said.

But Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he thought there would be a way to restrict the bill to fit its intention was to revert to the standards written in 2009 only if Ritz fails to deliver on new standards by the July deadline.

“I’m told we’re on task right now to have our new standards in place,” Behning said. “I think the bill is out there just in case something breaks down.”

Gail Zaheralis, of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said teachers need the state to resolve its standards debate so teachers can know what to teach.

“We want as quickly as possible to resolve this issue,” she said. “We’re supportive of college and career ready standards. We also support more Hoosier involvement in setting the standards.”

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.