I had nearly concluded that Governor Pence, Speaker Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Long were using the crisis of plunging school letter grades caused by tougher ISTEP+ tests to make more students eligible for private school vouchers.
After all, they had pushed through a voucher expansion law in 2013 that gives students living in the attendance area of an F school eligibility for a private school voucher even if the students have always attended a private school. Preliminary school letter grades printed in the Indianapolis Star on December 5th showed a potential leap in this ISTEP crisis from 84 F schools (4%) to 359 F schools (18%).
Then the landscape completely changed yesterday (Jan. 4th), when Senator Kruse and the Republican leadership unveiled Senate Bill 200 and scheduled it for a hearing this Wednesday, January 6th, in the 1:30 pm Senate Education Committee meeting.
This bill deserves the support of all public school advocates. Senate Bill 200 says a school’s letter grade “may not be lower than” the letter grade received in the previous 2013-14 school year.
I urge you to send messages of support for Senate Bill 200 to your Senator and all Senators and also to members of the House, who will need to take quick action on the bill when it passes the Senate. This bill needs to pass quickly in January to keep schools from being unfairly punished in the ISTEP crisis.
There are two issues that could punish teachers and schools stemming from the transition to more rigorous academic standards and ISTEP tests:
1) teacher compensation could be reduced due to the impact of lower ISTEP passing rates on teacher evaluations and on the formulas for performance bonuses; and
2) school letter grades could go down when lower ISTEP passing rates are calculated into the letter grade formula, a formula already rejected by the General Assembly in 2013 legislation but preserved until this final year by actions of Governor Pence’s appointees on the State Board of Education.
Governor Pence declared on Oct. 27th that that first issue should not happen, that teacher compensation should not be reduced because of the tougher standards and tests. Speaker Bosma promised on Organization Day in November that fixing teacher bonuses in the ISTEP transition would be the first order of business in January, but he said revisions to A-F accountability “will take more time to weigh.” (Star, Nov. 18)
Until yesterday, no promise had been made by Governor Pence, Speaker Bosma or President Pro Tem Long to protect school letter grades from the ISTEP changes, the second issue.
Now with Senate Bill 200, the Republican leaders have aligned themselves with State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has asked repeatedly for the past year and a half for changes that would hold schools harmless in the transition to tougher ISTEP tests.
Damage Has Already Been Done to School Reputations
To protect schools from the lower passing rates of the ISTEP transition, the corrections should have been in place before preliminary letter grade results were issued for review by schools in late November. No public announcements about letter grades were to be made until mid-January. Instead, the Indianapolis Star received a summary of the preliminary results and published it on the front page on December 5th.
The results of course showed lower grades than ever before. This is an invalid result, but the general public has not followed the nuances, and when quick media stories simply say F schools have gone from 4% to 18%, as I saw on one TV report, the general public starts thinking there is something wrong with our schools.
Instead, as many can see now, the fault lies not with our schools but with our letter grade formula and our testing program. Our schools are actually performing better than ever according to results of the highly respected National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) just released in late 2015.
Support Senate Bill 200 and Senate Bill 4
I urge you to send overnight messages of support for Senate Bill 200 to members of the Senate Education Committee, to your Senator and to all Senators. Then send a similar message to members of the House, since this bill needs to quickly move through the process and be signed into law in January.
Senator Stoops has filed Senate Bill 4 which is similar to Senate Bill 200 and also deserves your support. The main difference is that Senator Stoops is a Democrat in a Republican controlled Senate, so his bill will not get much attention. He has worked hard to correct the looming unfair punishments to teachers and schools which have accompanied the ISTEP crisis, and you should let legislators know that you support Senate Bill 4 as well.
I urge all public school advocates to communicate with Governor Pence and with their 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. Senate Bill 200 and Senate Bill 4 both serve this cause.
Thank you for your advocacy for public education!
Vic Smith email@example.com
“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.
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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.