Does growth model measure up to Indiana law?

There’s a lot to be said for the Indiana Growth Model, the statistical method that Indiana uses to calculate year-to-year student growth on math and English test scores. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a much better measure of how schools are doing than looking at how many students pass the tests.

It may be a challenge, though, to use the model while complying with a state law that says Indiana must measure students’ growth in relation to their proficiency on state standards.

That’s especially true now that Indiana has adopted new “college and career ready” standards and will be giving a new version of the ISTEP+ exams, aligned with the new standards, in the spring of 2015. Is it possible to measure growth in proficiency when you give a test for the first time?

The law in question is House Enrolled Act 1427, adopted in 2013. It says accountability measures “must be based on measurement of individual student academic performance and growth to proficiency” and “may not be based on a measurement of student performance or growth compared with peers.”

But the State Board of Education voted this month to use the growth model in 2015. Indiana’s Center for Education and Career Innovation and the state Department of Education recommended the approval.

CECI and DOE staff cited an analysis by testing expert Damian Betebenner, who helped design the Indiana Growth Model and advises the state. He suggests using a statistical adjustment called “equi-percentile concordance” to correlate the 2014 test with the new, 2015 test. That, he says, will make it possible to keep using the growth model to measure students’ test-score gains.

But his report to the board also says that, with the move to new ISTEP+ exams, it won’t be possible to evaluate students’ gains or losses on a single test from one year to the next. “Without gains/losses,” he writes, “growth must be calculated using norm-based metrics that compare like students as they progress from the ISTEP+ to the Career and College Ready Assessment.” (Italics added). Continue reading


Heartbreak in Atlanta

Rachel Aviv’s account of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal in a recent New Yorker is one of the most heartrending stories about education you’re likely to read.

Yes, teachers cheated. They gained access to test questions. They even changed students’ answers. At least 178 educators at 58 schools were caught up in the behavior.

But in Aviv’s telling, teachers weren’t motivated by greed, nor were they especially dishonest. In a culture where test scores were everything, they feared losing their jobs. And they worried about their students: the impact of being judged failures, and what would happen if their schools were closed.

The article centers on Damany Lewis, a math teacher at Parks Middle School with a strong sense of compassion for his students. Lewis says he initially resisted principal Christopher Waller’s suggestion that the school cheat to meet district-imposed test score targets. But he eventually joined a group of teachers who changed students’ answers on standardized tests from wrong to right.

If the close-knit school didn’t succeed, the principal said, it would be shut down and students sent to schools outside their neighborhood. Lewis says that “it was my sole obligation to never let that happen.” Continue reading

Indiana’s NCLB waiver dispute: Is someone playing politics?

The latest and arguably the most disconcerting chapter in the feud between Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the State Board of Education concerns the state’s efforts to keep its waiver under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Recall that the U.S. Department of Education warned Indiana in May that it was placing a condition on the waiver. Ritz’s state Department of Education scrambled to file an amended waiver proposal by a July 1 deadline. Then the Center for Education and Career Innovation, a new state education agency created by Gov. Mike Pence, responded with a blistering, 28-page critique of the IDOE request.

Claire Fiddian-Green, Pence’s assistant for education, emailed the document last week not just to the state education department and state board members, but to federal education officials. Last Wednesday, the state board approved a resolution that harshly criticized Ritz’s handling of the issue.

The CECI critique says the board of education sets education policy in Indiana, and to not weigh in on the waiver request “would be a failure to discharge the statutory responsibilities of the SBOE,” especially since the proposal includes policy changes and conflicts with established rules and statutes.

I’ve read through the CECI document a couple of times, and I don’t see much in the way of alleged violations. Instead, most of the comments seem to boil down to:

  • The agency doesn’t think the state education department can be trusted to do what it says it’s going to do. There are numerous suggestions that the IDOE outreach coordinators charged with working with schools aren’t up to the job.
  • CECI wants to pin the blame on Ritz for the tension that’s erupted at state board meetings in past months. There are statements to the effect that board members tried to raise issues related to the waiver but Ritz wouldn’t let them.
  • Ritz has done things in the past – not part of the waiver proposal – that CECI doesn’t like. The document goes on about her decision in 2013 that schools could go easy on using test scores to evaluate teachers because of the computer glitches that disrupted ISTEP+ exams that year.

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Bennett wins in ethics settlement

Score one for Tony Bennett. The former Indiana superintendent of public instruction not only got off easy for violating state ethics rules, he also got out in front of the news coverage, almost making it seem he was exonerated.

Bennett agreed to pay a $5,000 fine for using state property for political purposes during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election campaign. A report by Inspector General David Thomas said Bennett tracked political events on his state Outlook calendar and used state email for election-related communications, and his staff kept lists of donors on a state server.

The report said Bennett didn’t violate the ethics code by tweaking Indiana’s A-to-F school grading system so a charter school would get an A instead of a C. The school was founded and run by a prominent campaign donor to Bennett and other Republicans.

News of the ethics settlement broke Wednesday when someone leaked a copy to Stephanie Simon of Politico. That someone was almost certainly Bennett or a member of his camp. He’s the only character in this drama with a national profile and an interest in Politico’s influential readership.

And there’s a pretty good irony to that. Bennett’s supporters blame a leak from the staff of his successor, Glenda Ritz, for disclosing the departmental emails that led to the ethics investigation. A plausible interpretation for the political attacks being made against Ritz is that they’re payback for having derailed Bennett’s public-sector career.

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Bennett ethics case a fitting backdrop for Ritz-board spat

It’s an interesting coincidence that news broke of a settlement between Tony Bennett and the State Ethics Commission just as a another dispute between Glenda Ritz – Bennett’s successor as Indiana superintendent of public instruction – and the State Board of Education may be exploding.

The ethics commission opened an investigation of Bennett last year after Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco disclosed emails that show Bennett directed staff to do political work on state time. We won’t know details until Thursday, but Bennett’s high-powered lawyers announced the deal, so it’s likely he’ll face a wrist-slap or less.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s state board meeting could be the ugliest yet in a series marked by nearly open warfare between the elected Democratic state superintendent and the 10 board members appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence. On the agenda:

  • A resolution that criticizes Ritz for her handling of Indiana’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law and seeks to elbow her aside for purposes of responding to a federal critique.
  • A proposal to change procedures so the state board and its staff, not just Ritz, will determine the time, place and agenda items for board meetings.
  • An item that says “initiate rulemaking on accountability.” This could mean almost anything, but one possibility is prescribing how schools evaluate teachers.

Ritz’s supporters, including the Indiana State Teachers Association, have been rallying the troops to attend the meeting and back the superintendent. Ritz issued a statement on the NCLB resolution, saying she’s asked Pence to pull it and warning it “will place our waiver in serious jeopardy.” Continue reading