Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #237 – November 24, 2015

Dear Friends,

Legislators came to the Statehouse last Tuesday (Nov. 17) for Organization Day.

The Speaker of the Republican House and the President Pro Tem of the Republican Senate who hold all the supermajority power talked about helping teachers and schools.

They left the Statehouse without doing so.

Continued uncertainty hangs over the dual crisis related to ISTEP+ tests:

1) Will teachers be punished in their performance bonuses for the lower scores of the transition to new ISTEP+ tests?

2) Will schools be punished in their school letter grades for the lower scores of the transition to new ISTEP+ tests?

The amazing contrast between how well Indiana students achieved in 2015 according to the National Assessment and how low Indiana students scored on the new, more difficult ISTEP+ test was clearly documented in my previous “Notes #236”. According to the National Assessment, known as “the nation’s report card”, Indiana students have never achieved better. Clearly students, teachers and schools are performing well. They do not deserve to be punished for the transition to new ISTEP+ tests which have produced such low pass rates that the uninformed might claim that Indiana students have never performed worse.

With NAEP as the best yard stick in the nation, it is clear that Indiana’s recalibration of the new ISTEP+ test should not negatively impact either teachers or schools. Without legislative action, however, the new test will negatively impact both.

Fewer teachers will get bonuses.

More schools will get D’s and F’s.

There was no legislative action to ease this crisis last Tuesday. While promises for action in January were made by the leaders of the Republican supermajority, the dual crisis remains, an apparent unwanted holiday burden given to the teachers and schools of Indiana by the Indiana General Assembly.

The Impact on Teacher Evaluations and Teacher Performance Bonuses

Senator Mark Stoops, a Democrat, pushed a plan before Organization Day to take action to beat what he said was a December 5th deadline so that teacher performance bonuses are not reduced because of the test transition.

Speaker Bosma instead will wait until January. As quoted in the Indianapolis Star (Nov. 18th), he said, “The House will take up decoupling ISTEP from teacher raises for a year as its first order of business when lawmakers return in 2016.”

Apparently, when Governor Pence said on October 27th that he was asking legislative leaders to fix the problem of teacher bonuses, Speaker Bosma decided that this issue was not a high enough priority for Organization Day action.

If Senator Stoops was correct about the December 5th deadline, questions abound:
  • Will bonuses be figured and distributed based on the current law and the low test scores by December 5th?
  • Then will they have to be refigured and redistributed based on the “January fix” that Speaker Bosma has promised?
Once again, an effort to help teachers was given no priority, and teachers were told to wait.

The Impact on School Letter Grades

Senator Lanane, the Senate Minority Leader, in his remarks on last Tuesday said that he was hoping Senator Stoops’ “hold harmless” proposal on school letter grades would be approved that day. He described it as a proposal whereby each school would keep the grade they received last year in this transition year except in cases where the new scores actually raised the grade.

Senator Long, leader of the Republican Senate, however, claimed “we have limitations on what we can do on A-F” because the “federal government has thrown handcuffs on us on this.” He has apparently ignored the fact that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan months ago gave the green light to a transition year for accountability when it became obvious that new testing programs would require such a move across the nation.

Speaker Bosma gave a lower priority to a fix for school letter grades. After promising a fix to teacher bonuses as the first order of business in January, he said that “potential revisions to school A-F accountability grades because of an anticipated drop in ISTEP scores will take more time to weigh,” as quoted in the Indianapolis Star (Nov. 18th).

Punishing schools for letter grades based on the lower passing rates of this unprecedented transition to a new test would be a travesty of justice, for three reasons:
1) The school letter grade formula to be used again this year is the same flawed formula pushed in place by Dr. Bennett in 2012 and voided by a displeased General Assembly in a law passed in April 2013. Despite the words of the 2013 law and the consensus that the current A-F system is deeply flawed, it is still in use for this one more round of school letter grades. That is just wrong.

One reason it was considered flawed was that it relied almost completely on the percent passing the test and gave only minor attention to year-to-year student growth. With the percentage passing falling precipitously this year as expected due to higher standards and a more difficult test, school letter grades are sure to drop as well, an artificial drop due to the reset of the test.
2) The Sheldrake-Grew report in 2013 reviewed Dr. Bennett’s actions on the A-F system and wrote on page 19: “For the 2012-13 school year and subsequent years until the new accountability system required by HEA 1427-2013 is implemented, state policymakers should consider not subjecting a school to state interventions described in IC 20-31-9-4 due to a sixth consecutive year of placement in the lowest category or designation of school performance. (p. 19)”

No school should be moved further on the state takeover list based on letter grades from this transition year. This is a second reason to hold schools harmless due to the reset of the test.
3) ISTEP+ pass rates have plummeted this year due to the more difficult tests despite the fact that NAEP tests have shown Indiana students to be performing better than ever. No independent observer would agree that it would be fair to apply the old A-F system under these unprecedented pass rate drops.
That’s three strikes against using this year’s ISTEP+ scores to give letter grades for schools.

Schools should not be punished for school letter grades this year. The General Assembly has made filing a lawsuit over such in injustice to schools very difficult. We are left with the need to persuade Governor Pence and all legislators that schools should not be punished just because the state wanted to reset to a much more difficult test.

Governor Pence visited Longfellow Elementary in Muncie on the same day as Organizational Day and was reported in the Star on Nov. 19th to have told teachers “not to take this year’s low ISTEP scores personally.” His press secretary later clarified his comment by saying: “The Governor was explaining to a dedicated third-grade teacher that we are in a transition year and that the decline in scores was fully anticipated.”

Third grade scores dropped from 80% to 61% passing math and from 83% to 71% passing English.

It is amazing that the Governor would acknowledge this transition year to teachers in this way without telling them that he will take strong action to press the General Assembly and the Governor’s members of the State Board of Education to make sure that the low ISTEP scores do not personally impact teachers or schools regarding performance bonuses or school letter grades. He should use his powers to protect teachers and schools during this crisis that he “fully anticipated.”

I urge you to share these points with your legislators or with all legislators at your earliest opportunity.

Thank you for your advocacy for public education!


Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!


ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support ICPE lobbying efforts. As of July 1st, the start of our new membership year, it is time for all ICPE members to renew their membership.

Our lobbyist Joel Hand continues to represent ICPE and was present on Organizational Day. Our work in support of public education in the Statehouse goes on as we prepare for the short session beginning in January. We welcome additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to www.icpe2011.com for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!


Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #236 – November 12, 2015

Dear Friends,

This is a crucial moment in the history of education in Indiana. Three developments are colliding:

1) The 2015 National Assessment scores recently announced have shown that Indiana schools have never performed better.
2) The new, more difficult ISTEP+ tests have produced some of the lowest pass rates ever seen since annual comparisons began in 1997.
3) Governor Pence faces a crucial decision about whether to punish Indiana schools with low letter grades due to the drop in pass rates during this transition to a more rigorous test.
Three historic story lines have converged to put Governor Pence’s education policies and the future of our teachers and schools in crisis mode. Here are details about each story.

Story #1: Student achievement has reached historically high levels in 2015.
  • According to the National Assessment of Educational Progressive, known as “the nation’s report card”, Indiana 4th and 8th graders have scored higher than ever in reading. The federal NAEP testing program first reported Indiana scores in 1992, and the 2015 results for Indiana are the best ever.
  • In 2015, 75% of Indiana 4th graders passed the basic standard in reading, compared to 68% in the US as a whole. On the proficient standard, 40% passed compared to a US mark of 35%. In 8th grade, 80% passed the basic standard compared to 75% nationally, and 37% passed the proficient standard compared to the national mark of 33%.
  • In math, the 2015 results for Indiana nearly matched the historically high marks set in 2013, and actually surpassed previous results on the proficient standard. On the basic standard, 89% of Indiana’s 4th graders passed compared to 81% in the US, and 50% passed the proficient standard compared to 39% nationally. In 8th grade, 77% passed the basic standard compared to the US mark of 70%, and 39% passed the proficient standard compared to 32%.
  • These high marks have improved Indiana’s ranking among states to historic highs: 10th in 4th grade reading (up from 15th) and 16th in 8th grade reading (up from 27th). In math, 4th graders remain 4th in the nation and 8th graders are now 11th (up from 19th).
  • The complete table showing all of Indiana’s NAEP results since 1990 can be seen in Table 6 in the attachment. It is worth a look and a moment of celebration for great work by our students and educators!
Story #2: The new ISTEP+ scores for 2014-15 show historically low passing rates due to the new cut scores just adopted for the more difficult ISTEP+ tests. Ironically, these historically low results come in the same month as the historically high results on the national NAEP exam.
  • In English, pass rates approved by the State Board on October 28th plunged by an average of 15% for grade 3-8 from the previous year (2013-14) in a year that NAEP declared to be a superb year of achievement in Indiana.
  • In math, pass rates dropped even more, by an average of 23% in grades 3-8 from the previous year.
  • The State Board approved adjusting cut scores to compensate for those taking ISTEP+ online, which has been found to be more difficult than paper and pencil tests. These adjustments will bring pass rates up a bit, but the historic drop in pass rates remains clear.
  • To get the full impact of the enormous and historic drop in pass rates in this transition, take a moment to examine the pass rates for each grade level in Tables 7 and 8 in the attachment, which show complete ISTEP results for each grade level going back to the first year, 1997. After reviewing these data, it is absolutely clear that this transition is unlike any year Indiana students and schools have ever experienced in this era of testing.
  • The new ISTEP+ results must be treated as a new baseline and must not be compared to the previous year. Comparisons to the previous year are simply not fair. Since A-F grades include comparisons to the previous year, they would not be fair. Educators must make every effort to help the public and to help politicians understand this concept.
Story #3: With record setting high achievement on NAEP proving to all observers that the dip in ISTEP+ pass rates is due to a tougher new ISTEP+ test and not due to poor teaching or poor performance, Governor Pence has been put on the spot to reverse his opposition to a transition year “hold harmless” plan which would prevent penalties to teachers or to schools due to higher expectations and low pass rates.
  • Under pressure to prevent these low pass rates from harming teachers, Governor Pence announced with great fanfare a letter on October 27th sent to the State Board of Education saying that at his request “legislation is being crafted to ensure that test results will not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses this year.”
  • His letter did not directly say that school letter grades would be protected in the same way. The Indianapolis Star reported on November 12th (page 3A): “The Republican governor also said this week his administration is exploring ways A-F accountability grades could be modified because of the scores.”
  • Legislative leaders did not leap to quickly endorse the Governor’s plan for legislation. Indeed, some voucher-supporting legislative leaders wouldn’t mind seeing more schools get F’s because more students would then be eligible for private school vouchers in those F school attendance areas.
  • Representative Behning, chair of the House Education Committee, said in the same November 12th article in the Star regarding the A-F system: “It would be my personal opinion that we don’t totally suspend it, but maybe we have a position of where we minimize the amount of fall (a school) could have if they had a fall.”
  • State Superintendent Ritz has called for a “hold harmless” policy for over a year, but the Governor’s State Board of Education members control the policies. At one State Board meeting earlier this year, the Governor’s members curtly voted to take the subject off the agenda as the meeting opened to eliminate even a discussion of the problem.
  • Months ago, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that a one year pause in accountability due to the increase rigor of tests would be understandable to federal officials.
  • Dr. Gregory Cizek, a testing expert from North Caroline brought in by Representative Behning and Senator Kruse to the Interim Study Committee on Education on September 29, 2015 recommended that new tests should not used for accountability purposes for three years.
These three stories provide the context for three questions to be answered soon:

1) Will the General Assembly take action to protect teacher evaluations and teacher bonuses from the lower ISTEP+ passing scores, as the Governor has requested?
  • Action could be taken as early as Organization Day on November 17th as recommended in a proposal by State Senator Mark Stoops, described in the November 12th Star article. He states that the “law requires the state to send performance pay to school districts before December 5.”
  • Representative Behning, according to the same November 12th article, “plans to introduce a proposal that he feels is consistent with what Pence has outlined—but to expect it when the legislature returns in January.”
2) Will the General Assembly take action on Organization Day or in January to protect schools from sharply lower school letter grades based on the lower ISTEP+ passing scores, as the Governor has hinted but not directly requested?
  • Many do not realize that the school letter grade formula to be used again this year is the same flawed formula pushed in place by Dr. Bennett in 2012 and theoretically voided by a displeased General Assembly in 2013.
  • Despite the 2013 law and the consensus that the current A-F system is deeply flawed, it is still in use for this one more round of school letter grades.
  • One reason it was considered flawed was that it relied almost completely on the percent passing the test and gave only minor attention to year-to-year student growth. With the percentage passing falling precipitously this year as expected due to higher standards and a more difficult test, school letter grades are sure to drop as well, an artificial drop due to the reset of the test.
3) Will the Governor change his mind and finally agree with State Superintendent Ritz that this year should be treated as a transition year in testing with no negative consequences either for teachers or for schools?
  • For Statehouse posturing, there is no doubt that Governor Pence does not want to appear to be changing his mind to agree with State Superintendent Ritz on this.
  • His October 27th statement has already shown that he has changed his mind enough to agree with her regarding protecting teacher evaluations and teacher bonuses. He apparently did not want individual teachers to blame him for their failure to get a bonus.
  • If he doesn’t extend the same protection to school letter grades, he will be blamed for the low grades given to many schools and for helping private schools get more voucher students due to many schools receiving F’s for the first time. Under the voucher law, all students living in the attendance area of an F school, including those already enrolled in private schools, become eligible for a free voucher to attend private schools.
  • If he does extend the same protection to school letter grades, he will be chided for waiting for a full year before seeing the light and agreeing with the State Superintendent.
The Governor has painted himself into a corner on school letter grades. Regardless of that and now that the huge drops in passing rates are clear, he should do the right thing and endorse a transition year plan which will not hurt schools with an artificially low letter grade in a year when the National Assessment has told us that Indiana students are achieving higher than they have ever achieved on the highly respected “nation’s report card.”

I urge all public school advocates to communicate with Governor Pence and with their legislators or with all legislators to say that transition year test scores should not penalize teachers in their performance bonuses and also should not penalize schools in their letter grades.

The status of both teachers and schools should be held harmless while new baseline test scores are reset.

Thank you for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith


“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!


ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support ICPE lobbying efforts. As of July 1st, the start of our new membership year, it is time for all ICPE members to renew their membership.

Our lobbyist Joel Hand continues to represent ICPE during the interim study committee meetings. Our work in support of public education in the Statehouse goes on as we prepare for the short session beginning in January. We welcome additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to www.icpe2011.com for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!


Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #235 – November 2, 2015

Dear Friends,

Did the Indiana General Assembly really think it would be right for Grace College and Theological Seminary, a private religious college in northern Indiana, to intervene controversially in the public education climate of Monroe County, 150 miles away, against the wishes of the Bloomington-Ellettsville community?

On January 19, 2011, just twelve days after ICPE was born, Joel Hand gave testimony for the first time on behalf of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, opposing a bill to allow private colleges to authorize public charter schools.

He said that private colleges should not be authorizers of public charter schools because they are not accountable to public tax payers.He was joined by three other public school advocates including me in opposing this provision, but the General Assembly passed the bill anyway with the strong support of State Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Now four years later, the Seven Oaks charter school proposal that was turned down twice in 2014-15 by the Indiana Charter School Board could be given life by the privately appointed trustees of Grace College, of Winona Lake, Indiana, near Warsaw.

Should privately appointed trustees, living far away and not accountable in any way to public voters and taxpayers, have the power swoop in to commit public tax dollars to establish charter schools resisted by the local community and already turned down by the Indiana Charter School Board? I say no.

You can say no also in two ways:
1) Speak against the charter school proposal at the only public hearing on this charter school plan. It will be held on Wednesday, November 4, 2015, 5:30 to 7:00pm at the Holiday Inn Express, 117 S. Franklin Rd., near 3rd Street and 37 on the west side of Bloomington.
2) Let your own Senators and Representatives know that this power obviously undermines local control and the wishes of the local community to point where this law should be changed and the power to shop failed charter school proposals to private colleges should be reined in.
Meanwhile, the private trustees of Grace College should withdraw this proposal so as not to prompt a legislative initiative to end authorizer shopping for failed charter school proposals.

Authorizer Shopping

This charter school was reviewed by the Indiana Charter School Board in the fall of 2014 and rejected by the board, a rare event. The proposal was resubmitted to the same body in the spring of 2015 but was withdrawn without a vote after the ICSB staff recommended that it be declined a second time.

Then the same proposal was shopped to other authorizers, and Grace College got involved. Grace College sponsors two other charter schools, one in Dugger new this year and one in Fort Wayne with a two year track record of F in 2013 and F in 2014. Grace College gets 3% of the tuition for authorizing a charter school. Thus, for example, if the state tuition for a charter school is $6000 per student, Grace College would get a cut of $180 per student.

Is Grace College doing this for the money or are they out to make a name for themselves, and I would say, muddy their name with public school advocates across Indiana?

Documentation

In the first attachment to “Notes #235”, you can read for yourself the numerous problems found by the Indiana Charter School Board staff in their recommendation saying this proposal should be declined by the ICSB in the spring of 2015.

In the second attachment, Steve Hinnefeld of Bloomington has documented that no significant changes were made in the proposal before shopping it to Grace College. Steve has carefully detailed in a blog dated October 27, 2015 the shortcomings of the charter proposal, providing an excellent summary that need not be repeated by me. If you are not familiar with Steve’s work, he does a masterful job of analyzing public education issues, and I highly recommend his blog, entitled School Matters.

Local Opposition

For two years in a row, the leaders of the Monroe County Community School Corporation and the Richland- Bean Blossom School Corporation in Ellettsville have opposed this ideologically driven school proposal linked to an out-of-state charter school network based at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Judy DeMuth, superintendent of the Monroe County Schools, has written a strong letter objecting not only to the charter school but to the frustrating fact that the same proposal was turned down twice after a thorough review by the Indiana Charter School Board but was then revived controversially by shopping the proposal to Grace College.

The Indiana Coalition for Public Education – Monroe County has opposed this proposal for two years and is actively looking for public school advocates who will speak at the November 4th hearing. You can email them at icpe.mc@gmail.com for more information about speaking out against this proposal at the hearing.

If you don’t live close enough to get to Wednesday’s hearing, raise this issue with your own State Senator or your own member of the House of Representatives. This practice of authorizer shopping should stop.

If the Indiana Charter School Board rejects a proposal, it should not be shopped ad infinitum around the private colleges of Indiana. Ask the General Assembly to revisit and correct that part of the charter school law.

Private colleges should not have the power to commit public tax dollars to public charter schools without giving tax payers who want to hold the private officials accountable a recourse for their objections.

This practice muddles the lines between private and public authority and in this case between church and state, and it further fragments our local school communities and our society in general.

I hope you can attend the November 4th hearing or else communicate with your legislators about your opposition.

Thank you for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!


ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support ICPE lobbying efforts. As of July 1st, the start of our new membership year, it is time for all ICPE members to renew their membership.

Our lobbyist Joel Hand continues to represent ICPE during the interim study committee meetings. Our work in support of public education in the Statehouse goes on as we prepare for the short session beginning in January. We welcome additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to www.icpe2011.com for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!


Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.

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