Are Children Learning

New state standards will be ready for review this month

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and board member Gordon Hendry at an Indiana State Board of Education meeting in February. (Scott Elliott)

Committees crafting new Indiana state academic standards expect to have a working draft by Feb. 14, state officials said today.

Molly Chamberlin, chief assessment and accountability officer for Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, told the Indiana State Board of Education teams are reviewing Common Core, Indiana’s prior standards and other standards, expecting to borrow from several of them to create new standards intended to go into effect next fall.

Indiana was one of the earliest adopters of Common Core standards in 2010. But lawmakers passed a bill last last year to “pause” implementation and reconsider those standards. Over the past month it became clear Pence, Ritz, legislators and state board members were moving to replace them with new ones.

The Common Core, adopted by 45 states, was designed to assure high school graduates are prepared for college or careers. But Indiana critics have pushed back, saying adopting national standards cedes 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.

The Senate this week passed a bill that would void Common Core as Indiana’s standards by July 1, in anticipation of the state board adopting new standards by that date. Ritz said she expects to present new standards to the board to adopt at its April 2 meeting. Gov. Mike Pence told reporters earlier today he was pleased by the the move to write new standards.

“There has never been, in the state of Indiana, a more rigorous review of education standards in the state before,” Ritz said.

The standards review team is going through Indiana’s current Common Core standards and assigning a plus, a minus or zero to each, Chamberlin said. A plus means the standard meets the team’s definition of “college and career ready;” a minus means it doesn’t. A zero means the standard needs more discussion.

Standards that team members consider “biased” or as having “embedded pedagogy” — an ingrained philosophy of how the standard should be taught — are given a zero and set aside for discussion, Chamberlin said. Some Common Core critics have raised concerns that the national standards go beyonds stipulating what should be taught to essentially prescribing how it is taught.

By month’s end, Chamberlin said, public feedback meetings will begin. All will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. The first will be Feb. 24 at the Ivy Tech Community College campus in Sellersburg, near Clarksville in Clark County. On Feb. 25, a public meeting will be held at the Indiana Government Center South in Indianapolis, next to the statehouse. On Feb. 26, a third meeting will be held at Plymouth High School in Marshall County near South Bend.

State board member Brad Oliver praised the state’s approach to setting new standards and the cooperation between CECI and the Indiana Department of Education, which at times have been at odds when Ritz has clashed with the state board.

Oliver said critics of Common Core should not expect all of the national standards to be expunged by the process. Likewise, he said, Common Core supporters cannot count on most of the standards being maintained and simply “rebranded” as Indiana standards.

“That’s really not fair,” Oliver said. “We have a good process. Now we have to let them do the process.”

more digging

Kingsbury High added to list of Memphis schools under investigation for grade changing

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Kingsbury High School was added to a list of schools being investigated by an outside firm for improper grade changes. Here, Principal Terry Ross was featured in a Shelby County Schools video about a new school budget tool.

Another Memphis high school has been added to the list of schools being investigated to determine if they made improper changes to student grades.

Adding Kingsbury High School to seven others in Shelby County Schools will further delay the report initially expected to be released in mid-June.

But from what school board Chairwoman Shante Avant has heard so far, “there haven’t been any huge irregularities.”

“Nothing has surfaced that gives me pause at this point,” Avant told Chalkbeat on Thursday.

The accounting firm Dixon Hughes Goodman is conducting the investigation.

This comes about three weeks after a former Kingsbury teacher, Alesia Harris, told school board members that Principal Terry Ross instructed someone to change 17 student exam grades to 100 percent — against her wishes.

Shelby County Schools said the allegations were “inaccurate” and that the grade changes were a mistake that was self-reported by an employee.

“The school administration immediately reported, and the central office team took the necessary actions and promptly corrected the errors,” the district said in a statement.

Chalkbeat requested a copy of the district’s own initial investigation the day after Harris spoke at the board’s June meeting, but district officials said they likely would not have a response for Chalkbeat until July 27.

Harris said that no one from Dixon Hughes Goodman has contacted her regarding the investigation as of Thursday.

The firm’s investigation initially included seven schools. Kingsbury was not among them. Those seven schools are:

  • Kirby High
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Bolton High
  • Westwood High
  • White Station High
  • Trezevant High
  • Memphis Virtual School

The firm’s first report found as many as 2,900 failing grades changed during four years at nine Memphis-area schools. At the request of the board, two schools were eliminated: one a charter managed by a nonprofit, and a school outside the district. The firm said at the time that further investigation was warranted to determine if the grade changes were legitimate.

The $145,000 investigation includes interviews with teachers and administrators, comparing teachers’ paper grade books to electronic versions, accompanying grade change forms, and inspecting policies and procedures for how school employees track and submit grades.

Since the controversy started last year, the district has restricted the number of employees authorized to make changes to a student’s report card or transcript, and also requires a monthly report from principals detailing any grade changes.

Silver Lining Playbook

Memphis’ youngest students show reading gains on 2018 state tests — and that’s a big deal

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
A student works on reading comprehension skills at Lucie E Campbell Elementary School in Memphis and Shelby County Schools.

Those working to improve early literacy rates in Shelby County Schools got a small morale boost Thursday as newly released scores show the district’s elementary school students improved their reading on 2018 state tests.

The percentage of Memphis elementary-age students considered proficient in reading rose by 3 points to almost one-fourth of the district’s children in grades 3 through 5. That’s still well below the state average, and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said “we obviously have a long way to go.”

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Tennessee’s largest public school district since 2013.

Strengthening early literacy has been a priority for the Memphis district, which views better reading skills as crucial to predicting high school graduation and career success. To that end, Shelby County Schools has expanded access to pre-K programs, adjusted reading curriculum, and made investments in literacy training for teachers.

Hopson said the payoff on this year’s TNReady scores was a jump of almost 5 percentage points in third-grade reading proficiency.

“It was about five years ago when we really, really, really started pushing pre-K, and those pre-K kids are now in the third grade. I think that’s something that’s really positive,” Hopson said of the gains, adding that third-grade reading levels are an important indicator of future school performance.

TNReady scores for Shelby County Schools, which has a high concentration of low-performing schools and students living in poverty, were a mixed bag, as they were statewide.

Math scores went up in elementary, middle, and high schools in Tennessee’s largest district. But science scores went down across the board, and the percentage of high school students who scored proficient in reading dropped by 4 percentage points.

The three charts below illustrate, by subject, the percentages of students who performed on track or better in elementary, middle, and high schools within Shelby County Schools. The blue bars reflect the district’s most recent scores, the black bars show last year’s scores, and the yellow bars depict this year’s statewide averages.

Hopson said he was unsure how much the scores of older students — all of whom tested online — were affected by technical problems that hampered Tennessee’s return this year to computerized testing.

“From what people tell me, kids either didn’t try as hard in some instances or didn’t take it seriously,” Hopson told reporters. “We’ll never know what the real impact is, but we have to accept the data that came from these tests.”

But students in two of the district’s school improvement initiatives — the Innovation Zone and the Empowerment Zone — showed progress. “We’re going to double down on these strategies,” Hopson said of the extra investments and classroom supports.

In the state-run Achievement School District, or ASD, which oversees 30 low-performing schools in Memphis, grades 3 through 8 saw an uptick in scores in both reading and math. But high schoolers scored more than 3 percentage points lower in reading and also took a step back in science.

The ASD takes over schools in the state’s bottom 5 percent and assigns them to charter operators to improve. But in the five years that the ASD has been in Memphis, its scores have been mostly stagnant.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said she and new ASD Superintendent Sharon Griffin are reviewing the new data to determine next steps.

“We are seeing some encouraging momentum shifts,” McQueen said.

Chalkbeat illustrator Sam Park contributed to this story.