Future of Schools

Senate defeats civics test bill, grapples with future of ISTEP

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Both of these bills are coming from lawmakers who are part of the Senate Education Committee.

Indiana students might be off the hook from a proposal asking they pass a civics test to graduate from high school after a bill to require it was defeated in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 269, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, would have required all Indiana graduates to pass the same civics test that new U.S. citizens are required to pass. The bill was originally intended only for public schools, but was amended Monday to include students at private schools accepting vouchers as well.

But it couldn’t muster enough votes in the heavily Republican Senate to pass. It was defeated 33-17.

Lawmakers opposed to the bill said it would have increased testing time in a session where a major goal has been to reduce it.

But Kruse argued it was reasonable to ask students to have knowledge of the U.S. and its history that immigrants are asked to know upon becoming citizens. A one-hour test that students have five years to pass, he said, wouldn’t add a burden to schools and existing testing demands.

“I think this one hour will be appropriate for us to at least have our kids know something about civics,” Kruse said.

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and others who objected said a civics test that can block graduation was going too far.

“I would agree with you that we absolutely need people to know what the laws are … and I wouldn’t mind a test,” she said at the appropriations committee meeting last week. “But for that test to be one that would determine whether or not a student would graduate, for me that is, the stakes are too high.”

The Senate also took up the wider question of what exams should serve as the state test, with somewhat confusing results.

As costs for ISTEP have grown — the Indiana Department of Education estimates a new, more sophisticated exam matched to new standards with higher expectations could cost up to 45 percent more per year — some lawmakers have looked for an alternative plan.

One idea is to replace ISTEP with a basic, national test like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or a test created by the Northwest Education Association that some schools use to prepare for ISTEP. Two bills that passed have contradictory approaches to that idea.

Senate Bill 566, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, and Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, would stop the process of creating a new ISTEP for 2016, in favor of using a national test in its place. The bill would eliminate high school end-of-course exams, starting in 2015-16, and the state’s third-grade reading test, IREAD. It passed the Senate 46-3.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 470, authored by Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, would hold off on that plan in favor of a studying the future possibility of using such a test in place of ISTEP over the summer. It passed 45-5. The House will have to sort out the two approaches.

The Senate must finish its work this week on bills that will be considered in the House starting next month. Bills that passed today included:

  • Cursive writing, Senate Bill 130. The bill, authored by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, would require that all public and private elementary schools teach cursive writing, which was dropped as a requirement by the Indiana Department of Education in 2011. The Senate passed the bill 39-11.
  • Deregulation, Senate Bill 500. The 300-page bill was designed to reduce regulations on schools. The bill’s author, Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, said he removed nearly all of the sections of the bill that had raised concerns. That included 27 sections addressing student health care, school safety and worker safety reporting, tax issues and more. The bill passed 31-18.
  • Scholarships and grants, Senate Bill 509The bill would allow the Commission on Higher Education to ask the state to transfer money among scholarship and grant funds to meet the needs of students. It passed the Senate 49-0.
  • Teacher collective bargaining, Senate Bill 538The bill, authored by Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, contains new rules that allow non-union organizations to represent teachers in contract negotiations as long as they are not primarily commercial companies. The Senate passed the bill 30-19.

Future of Schools

Chicago Schools sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C Sullivan High School

testing questions

‘The needle hasn’t moved’: Regents sound off on racial gaps in 2018 test scores

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

New York State’s top education policymakers raised concerns Monday about whether the state is doing enough to address persistent racial gaps on state exams.

The discussion was the first opportunity the Board of Regents have had to discuss the results of last school year’s reading and math tests since they were released late last month. And while the Regents seemed to be in agreement that the gaps are problematic, there was little discussion of what to do about it beyond requesting more data.

The test scores released in September show just under 35 percent of black students statewide are proficient in reading, 17 points below their white peers. In math, the gap jumps to 25 points. (The gaps are similar for Hispanic students compared with their white peers.)

The gaps are even wider in New York City.

Regent Judith Johnson, who has repeatedly criticized the state tests for not reflecting student learning across different ethnic groups, said the education department is still not doing enough to analyze the causes of racial differences in proficiency on the grades 3-8 exams. Those gaps, Johnson said, will bring down the competitiveness of the American workforce.

“It’s absolutely based on poverty and color,” Johnson said. “That has not changed and that begs for analysis at this point.”

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia acknowledged “troubling gaps” on student achievement, but also said state officials, including the Regents, have been working on it for years. She also pushed back on the idea that the tests themselves aren’t useful, arguing they draw attention to issues of inequity.

“If we didn’t have an opportunity to see this, it wouldn’t be as high up in our mindsets,” she said.

While some gaps have narrowed slightly among certain student groups, it’s happening at a glacial rate, said Regent Luis Reyes. He pointed to a two-year period where the gap between Hispanic students and their white peers shrunk by about 1 percent on both math and English tests.

“One percent is not a revolution, it’s not a reform, it’s not a transformation,” Reyes said. “It’s ice age.”

Reducing an emphasis on state tests in how officials judge overall school performance is part of the education department’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In coming up with school ratings, officials will consider factors such as how often students are suspended, are absent from class, and how prepared they are for life after high school.

Regent Kathy Cashin said she wants to see teaching and learning take the main stage of the state’s education agenda. “The needle hasn’t moved for minority children in decades,” she said.

Elia emphasized that the test includes an essay and that it’s not “just a multiple choice test.” And she reminded the Regents that the math and English assessments are required by the federal government, but there are options to consider performance-based testing on science exams. Elia has previously shown some interest in an alternative science test.