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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