Positive review for Indiana’s ESSA plan

Indiana gets high marks for its plan for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, according to an evaluation by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success. Not that the plan is perfect, but it measures up well against other state plans, the evaluation found.

That’s a credit to Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick and her staff at the Indiana Department of Education, who put the plan together under a tight deadline and against ground rules that keep changing thanks to the Indiana legislature and the State Board of Education.

“Indiana’s plan was a strong one in many respects, particularly its plan for improving low-performing schools and determining when they can exit improvement status and for valuing students’ academic growth as well as well as academic proficiency,” Anne Hyslop, one of the authors of the evaluation, said in an email interview. Unlike some states, she said, “Indiana didn’t have any significant red flags.”

Indiana published its plan in August for meeting the requirements of ESSA, the December 2015 law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. The law gives more flexibility to the states but requires regular testing of students in math and English and measures to hold schools accountable for performance.

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Complying with ESSA ‘should be the floor — not the ceiling’

Anne Hyslop, an independent education consultant and former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, answered questions by email about state plans for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Hyslop was part of a team that reviewed state plans for Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative on Student Success.

 SCHOOL MATTERS: Based on the review, how does Indiana’s ESSA plan match up with other states? What do you see there that looks good or bad?

ANNE HYSLOP: Indiana’s plan was a strong one in many respects, particularly its plan for improving low-performing schools and determining when they can exit school improvement status and for valuing students’ academic growth as well as academic proficiency. And unlike some of the other plans reviewed by the peers in the second round, Indiana didn’t have any significant red flags.

There are some discrete issues, however, that could be addressed to strengthen the plan. For example, Indiana does not specifically incorporate subgroup data when it calculates school grades. As a result, the peers were concerned that schools that did well overall and earned As or Bs in the school rating system could be masking very low-performing individual groups of students, like English learners, low-income students, or students with disabilities. Similarly, there are some concerns with specific indicators that Indiana would like to use to hold schools accountable, such as its measure of student attendance and its graduation rate calculation.

SM: The reviewers seem to give Indiana high marks for a) its plan to provide support for low-performing schools and b) its plan for how schools will exit improvement status. How does that compare with what you’ve seen from other states? Continue reading

Educators give thumbs-down to school choice

Teachers, principals and superintendents don’t much care for charter schools and vouchers. Not even the ones who voted for Donald Trump for president.

That’s a key take-away from a survey conducted by Education Week and reported by the publication last week. The survey was administered to more than 1,100 educators in September and October.

It found that 74 percent fully or somewhat oppose the creation of charter schools. And 79 percent fully or somewhat oppose publicly funded vouchers to pay private school tuition.

Among educators who voted for Trump, 64 percent oppose charter schools and 70 percent oppose vouchers — even though Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, have made expanding “school choice” a centerpiece of their education rhetoric.

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Graduation rate is student success story

Forget, for a while, whatever bad news you’ve heard about education in Indiana. Let’s take a moment to celebrate what Hoosier students have accomplished. When it comes to staying in school and graduating, they’ve been doing about everything we could ask.

According to a recent report from the Indianapolis-based Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation:

  • Indiana had one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country in 2015, at 87.1 percent.
  • It had the narrowest “graduation gap” between low-income and non-low-income students of any state: 4.5 percentage points.
  • It ranked in the top five states for closing the gap between all students and low-income students between 2011 and 2015.
  • It had higher-than-average graduation rates for every subgroup of students except for Asian and Pacific Islander students.

“Indiana has much to be proud of,” the report says, referring to the record rates. “In addition, districts within the state are learning, innovating, and improving their abilities to serve their students and prepare them for the next steps in life. Indiana has taken concrete action over many years, following the evidence of what works to improve student outcomes and it has benefitted as a result.”

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Graduation changes could be approved this week

Indiana educators have begun pushing back against a plan to dramatically reconfigure the state’s high-school diploma requirements. Will it matter? We could know this week.

The State Board of Education will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to consider “graduation pathways” that students follow to earn a diploma. The proposal comes from the Graduation Pathways Panel, created by 2017 legislation, which met nine times from August until November.

The panel’s recommendations would require students to not only complete high-school credit requirements but to demonstrate “postsecondary-ready competencies” and “employability skills” by clearing a set of barriers, such as passing tests, earning college credits or completing internships.

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Five reasons to question mandatory computer science

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants Indiana to be the first state in the country to make studying computer science a requirement for high-school graduation. Here are reasons to be skeptical:

It’s an extreme idea. No other state makes computer science a diploma requirement, according to Jennifer Zinth, high school and STEM director for the Education Commission of the States. (Mississippi requires one unit of computer science or technology; Utah requires a semester of “digital studies.”) As far as I can tell, the primary supporters of tech education are not seriously proposing it.

The big national push for more computer science in the schools is coming from Code.org, an advocacy group backed with more than $60 million from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other powerhouse donors. Its goals include having all public schools offer computer science and to allowing computer science courses to count toward high-school math and science graduation requirements.

Thanks to savvy marketing and celebrity support from the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama, it’s had some success. But Code.org doesn’t advocate making computer science a requirement graduation, co-founder Hadi Partovi says. Continue reading

Why the rush on graduation pathways?

Indiana appears to be in the vanguard when it comes to adopting “graduation pathways” that students can follow to earn a high-school diploma. But two states, Colorado and Ohio, have gone farther down this path. What could we learn from their experience?

In Colorado, lawmakers approved legislation in 2007 calling for a redesign of graduation requirements. Ten years later, it’s starting to implement a system in which schools can choose from a menu of options for earning a diploma. The new system takes effect with this year’s ninth-graders.

Colorado developed its graduation guidelines through a process that included nearly 50 stakeholder meetings across the state, in-depth conversations with most school superintendents, working groups with 300-plus representatives and two years of statewide discussion.

Ohio, by contrast, moved quickly to a system in which students could graduate by earning points on high-school end-of-course assessments, getting a “remediation-free” score on the SAT or ACT exam or acquiring industry or workforce credentials. It was supposed to take effect with this year’s seniors.

But the state changed course when officials realized many students weren’t going to meet the requirements, said Ken Baker, executive director of the Ohio Secondary School Administrators Association. For the class of 2018 only, it added pathways that students could use to graduate.

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