Are Children Learning

No changes expected to IREAD test in 2015

A proposal to shift the state’s IREAD exam — which third graders are required to pass — to be given in second grade was shelved today by a plan to study the idea over the summer instead.

The Senate Education Committee voted today, 9-0, to rewrite the bill so that, if passed, it would create a a study committee later this year to consider the switch. Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said the bill includes language that no changes would be made to IREAD before June 30, 2016. This would mean that this year’s and next year’s third-graders would take IREAD unchanged from years past.

“It turned out to be a bigger issue than I thought, and it’s more controversial than I thought,” Kruse said. “And I think both sides have good merit on their arguments. I just thought if we had a 45-minute hearing on it, I didn’t think that was sufficient, and I didn’t think we had enough information.”

Kruse said he spoke with specialists and educators and heard so much conflicting advice that he didn’t feel comfortable asking the committee to vote. Most notably, he said he was concerned that many educators thought second-graders might not be mature enough for standardized reading tests.

“The littler the kid, the tougher it is for him to even think about a test, or how do you do this, or to concentrate on a high stakes test,” Kruse said.

Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, Senate Bill 169’s author, said the bill was meant to address teachers’ concerns about the number of tests given at third grade. Currently, third-graders have three periods of standardized tests in the spring, two sessions of ISTEP and one of IREAD.

Houchin said moving the reading test would give students more time for reading help and also would allow for teachers to know earlier whether students struggle.

“I continue to believe that our elementary school students would be better served by assessing reading proficiencies in second grade,” Houchin said in a statement.

Proponents of the bill say it could free teachers to give students longer to get reading help before they would be held back from moving onto fourth grade. The bill’s critics say the reading exam doesn’t give teachers much useful information and shouldn’t be given to younger children.

The idea of moving the reading test to second grade could be reconsidered later in the session, but Kruse said he expected it was more likely it would not get serious consideration before 2016.

The education committee considered seven other bills today:

STEM dual-credit associate degree pilot program, Senate Bill 259. Sen. Ronald Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, presented a plan for the creation of a pilot program of five high schools, to be chosen by the Indiana Department of Education, to allow students to take classes toward an associate’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math by the time they graduate high school. A vote is expected next week.

Bilingual recognition, Senate Bill 267. This bill would create a note on high school transcripts of students who are bilingual. Gary Spurgin, President of the Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Association, said such skills are in demand from employers, mentioning Indiana would be just the 10th state to pass such a law.

“We know it is very important to encourage and promote linguistic and cultural proficiency, not only in English, but for a second language,” Spurgin said. “Studying language increases more opportunities not only at higher education, but throughout (students’) lives.”

Schools could decide locally how to test for language proficiency, but Spurgin said plenty of tests exist to determine it, such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and SAT subject tests. A vote is expected next week.

School counselors, Senate Bill 277. Authored by Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, this bill seeks to put at least one school counselor in every elementary school in the state, not including charter or private schools, at an estimated cost of $60 million. Merritt said he realized the move was costly but thought the idea should be discussed.

“We all talk about reading by second or third grade, but I also believe the social makeup of the student plays a role in there as well,” Merritt said. “(The bill) may or may not pass the committee, it may or may not pass Sen. Kenley’s (Senate Finance) committee … We need this sort of service in these schools, and I think the public needs to start talking about it.”

Several school counselors testified that they contribute to the overall health and stability of students in elementary schools. Cindy Cain, a counselor in Crawford County schools, said that money shouldn’t keep an important resource from students.

“The bottom line is that counselors are the first to go come crunch time,” Cain said.

A vote is expected next week.

School bus monitors, Senate Bill 339. The bill is a “cleanup of school bus law,” according to education department lobbyist John Barnes. It makes a fix so that bus monitors, who mind children but do not drive, are not required to meet the same requirements as the drivers for having strong eyesight. Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said the change would allow more people to volunteer as monitors. The bill passed the committee 10-0.

Teaching ethnic history, Senate Bill 495. The bill is aimed at requiring schools to teach about minority ethnicities in their social studies curriculum, although schools will get to decide specifically which ethnicities to include based on their student populations.

Author Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said it’s important to include a guidelines like this in statute, and not just leave it to the suggestion of social studies standards. Barnes, speaking on behalf of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, supported the bill, as did Kruse. A vote is expected next week.

Names and locations of medical education centers, Senate Bill 123The committee passed this bill 10-0 onto the full Senate. It is a technical bill altering the formal names of some university medical schools.

Changes in physical exam requirements to participate in sports, Senate Bill 119Kruse withdrew this bill, which proposed to change when students had to get physical exams from doctors to within two weeks of the students’ birthdays, rather than at other times during the year. State school and medical officials said the change would create hardships for students and families.

Measure of Success

State ratings identify 163 Colorado schools in need of improvement

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Students in kindergarten on the first day of school at McGlone Academy.

More than 160 Colorado schools received one of the state’s two lowest ratings, making them eligible for additional assistance but also vulnerable to intervention if they don’t improve student performance.

The watch list comprises 9 percent of Colorado’s 1,800 schools and educate roughly 74,000 students, or 8.5 percent or the state’s almost 900,000 students. That means the vast majority of students in the state attend a school with one of the two higher rankings on the four-point scale.

The State Board of Education finalized the ratings Wednesday. The state gives separate district-wide ratings, which were finalized last month.

“The state’s accountability system is built on the premise that all students should receive a high quality education and graduate ready for college or careers,” Katy Anthes, Colorado’s education commissioner, said in a statement. “Our goal is to give all students a chance to excel. These designations allow us to identify struggling schools that may need more support to help students achieve their highest aspirations. And they also highlight successful schools so that other schools can learn from them.”

All public schools receive a state rating, known as the School Performance Framework report, each year. It’s based largely on student scores on the state’s English and math tests. Student growth, or how much students learn year-to-year compared to peers with similar results on state tests, carries most weight. High school graduation and dropout rates are also factored in.

Colorado Department of Education

There are four ratings: performance (the highest), improvement, priority improvement and turnaround (the lowest).

Schools and districts that have one of the lower two ratings are placed on a watch list and have five years to improve before facing state intervention. Schools on the list are eligible for grants for leadership training and help from outside consultants, but if change doesn’t come fast enough, the state could hand over control to an external manager, require conversion to a charter, or close schools.

Earlier this fall, the State Board of Education ordered the Adams 14 school district, based in Commerce City, and two schools in Pueblo in southern Colorado to turn over control to external managers after earlier intervention efforts did not produce enough improvement.

Colorado is still figuring out what effective intervention looks like and if outsiders can make a difference for students that existing leadership has not been able to achieve.

Most Colorado schools maintained the same rating they had in 2017, with 15 percent moving down at least one level and 14 percent moving up at least one level. Eighteen schools improved enough to get off the state watch list, which is often known as the “accountability clock,” some after initial state intervention last year.

Six schools are entering their eighth year on the watch list: Aurora Central High School, Adams City High School, Aguilar Junior-Senior High School in the tiny Aguilar district in southern Colorado, Hope Online Learning Academy Elementary School in Douglas County, Heroes Middle School, and Risley International Academy of Innovation, the last two both in Pueblo.

Two are entering year six: Central Elementary School in the Adams 14 district and Minnequa Elementary School in Pueblo.

Another four are entering year five, now the last year to improve before state intervention: Manual High School and Montbello Career and Technical High School in Denver, Mesa Elementary in the Montezuma-Cortez district in southwest Colorado, and EDCSD: Colorado Cyber School in Douglas County.

In the past, some schools received more time to improve because the “clock” was paused for several years as the state changed assessments. But now there are no more extensions beyond year five.

Of the state’s 42 online schools, a little more than half received one of the top two ratings, and 31 percent did not report enough data for the state to grant a rating. Colorado has more stringent regulations of online schools than many states, but there is an ongoing debate about how well these schools serve students.

About 84 percent of the state’s 247 charter schools received one of the top two ratings, compared to 89 percent of all Colorado schools. Twenty-six charter schools, or 10.5 percent, received one of the lowest two ratings.

Look up your school here:

Literacy tutors needed

Detroit enlists volunteer tutors before third-grade reading law takes effect

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

Detroit’s school district is asking the community for help getting students reading at grade level. The superintendent is hoping volunteer literacy tutors will prevent a critical mass of third-graders from being held back under the state’s tough new reading law.

“We need your help,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said, making an appeal for volunteers during a school board meeting Tuesday night. “Our teachers and our principals and our schools alone will not be able to ensure that every student is at third-grade level without your help.”

Which is why the district is working with two community advocacy groups, Keep the Vote/No Takeover and the National Action Network, to launch the Let’s Read program, geared to K-3 students. The program is slated to begin in February — less than a year before the reading law takes effect. Once it does, during the 2019-2020 school year, Michigan third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level will be held back.

In the Detroit district, where proficiency levels on state exams are extremely low, the consequences could be dire. During a community forum last week, Vitti said that the law could hold back as many as 90% of Detroit third-graders, though Michigan’s education department has yet to define what it means for a student to be reading at grade level. At the forum, though, he noted exemptions from the law for such as students with special education needs and those who speak little to no English.

The Let’s Read volunteers will be assigned to individual students based on need. They will read with the children and help them with book selections.

Helen Moore, a longtime community activist who represents the two community organizations behind the volunteer effort, urged people to sign up during the public comment period of the meeting.

“I know our students will succeed, because they’re brilliant,” Moore said. But they and their parents need help, she said.

Vitti said the volunteer cohort is one of many literacy-building efforts underway. In addition, he said that every district school will hold family literacy nights and that its Parent Academy will expand its classes that teach parents how to help their children with reading. A community-wide event to teach Detroiters about the reading law — and what they can do to help — will also be held.

Moore said the word is starting to get out about the Let’s Read program, noting: “The telephone has been ringing like crazy. And now the suburban districts want to be part of it.”

The focus, though, is on Detroit, she said.

Want to volunteer: You can fill out a form here, or call 313-873-7884.