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 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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