Are Children Learning

Dumping ISTEP? Legislators are at a crossroads

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
On the last day of the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers move ahead with plans to ditch ISTEP.

Will Indiana stick with ISTEP, as planned, or move toward a national “off-the-shelf” test as soon as next year?

Gov. Mike Pence and legislative leaders in the Indiana House said this week that they’d seriously consider scrapping ISTEP for a cheaper, shorter alternative. Two bills have already passed the Indiana Senate and would push the state in the direction of a national test.

But the bills conflict — should ISTEP be replaced next year, or the change come later, allowing lawmakers to continue conversations over the summer?

Senate Bill 566, which passed the Senate 46-3, would get rid of ISTEP in favor of a national test, and Senate Bill 470, which passed 45-5, proposes to study the issue of test alternatives over the summer. Originally, Senate Bill 470 was written to allow private schools accepting publicly funded vouchers to replace ISTEP if they chose to, but that language was dropped when the bill was amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz in December told a state budget committee that an overhauled 2016 ISTEP test could cost more than $65 million, almost 45 percent more than in recent years. That led Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, to propose Senate Bill 566, co-authored with Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen.

The bill would scrap the Indiana Department of Education’s plan to hire to create a new ISTEP test to fit Indiana’s new, more demanding academic standards for next year. The department is reviewing proposals from companies bidding to make the test. Instead, the bill would direct the department to adopt a test used by other states, like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or a test created by the Northwest Evaluation Association that educators already use to prepare kids for ISTEP.

Gov. Mike Pence said the future of ISTEP, though not on his agenda for education this year, was worth discussing now if Senate Bill 566 gains more traction in the legislature this year. Pence said he’s supported in the past measures that would let private schools opt to use a standardized test that isn’t ISTEP for state accountability.

“There’s proposals that we have strongly supported know as ‘freedom to test,’ where our administration came out in favor of allowing private schools opt for a different standardized test, and I think that’s a very sensible proposal,” Pence said. “Other proposals to replace the ISTEP we’ll consider in due course.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he still needs to learn more about the bills, but would welcome options that would make testing cheaper and more efficient.

“The $65 million proposal that the superintendent made I think has shocked us all,” Bosma said. “We’ve talked about having an Indiana test — we’ve had one since 1987 — it’s not inexpensive. There may be some nationally normed alternatives we can turn into Indiana tests with more efficiency and less cost.”

House minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he thought Kenley, who chairs the budget-making Senate Appropriations Committee, was taking a pragmatic approach. Testing shouldn’t be overly complicated or needlessly costly, he said.

“Making testing simpler and less expensive and less long — those are generally positive goals, and I think they merit some degree of pursuit,” Pelath said.

But as to whether ISTEP could vanish sooner or later — it will be up to lawmakers to decide.

Senate Bill 470, if passed by the legislature and signed by Pence, would hold off on changing the test and create a committee of legislators to discuss and study the issue over the summer, leaving the state to move forward with its plans for a brand new test.

But Bosma said he wasn’t ready to rule anything out.

“If we can find a solution now in the time that’s left (in the session), I’m favorable to that,” Bosma said. “I’m not unfavorable to taking a harder look at it over the summer. Either one of those could be possibilities.”

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.