The Indiana Select Commission on Education's second meeting is under way. State Superintendent Tony Bennett is opening with one of his favorite approaches – linking his agenda to the Obama administration through U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
I suspect Bennett sees all criticism of the Indiana Department of Education through a partisan lens. Unfortunately for him, the criticism is coming increasingly from his own party. Tying his agenda to Obama's certainly isn't going to appease a growing number of Republican critics.
The latest is Rep. Randy Truitt, who has sent a long and thoughtful letter to Sen. Dennis Kruse and Rep. Robert Behning, the co-chairmen of the select commission. In an interview this morning, Truitt said his concerns are based on extensive conversations he's had with his "education roundtable" in Tippecanoe and Warren counties. His letter – posed as a series of questions – takes the department to task for its implementation of education bills approved by the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
The West Lafayette Republican raises questions about teacher evaluation rules, the A-F grading scale, the school turnaround model, the student growth model, the state's No Child Left Behind waiver and IREAD-3.
Truitt, the father of three public-school students, acknowledges that he voted for all of the education reform bills, but now is unhappy with their implementation.
"I'll call it overreaching," he said. "DOE is not the only department where this is happening – where the legislative intent gets changed, but I just started seeing more and more where I would vote on something based on the way it was discussed and it turned into something very different. … I spent a lot of time in the last session trying to vocalize my concerns. It just kept getting worse and worse."
Truitt said he believes there are about 25 members of his caucus who share his concerns.
"I'm just kind of tired of changing the rules on these teachers," he said. "I've never once had a teacher come up to me and say, 'I don't want to be evaluated.' I've never heard a teacher say, 'I want to teach with bad teachers.' "
He said the legislation makes sense if it is carried out correctly, but questions the speed and volume of the changes.
"When I tell the DOE that people out there aren't trying to derail the reform, just make sure the legislative intent of things we pass is maintained. Give things we pass time to work. It's hard enough to change when things are stationery; moving change is impossible."
Truitt is passionate about the concerns raised. I suspect we'll hear much more from him in the upcoming session.
His complete letter follows:
May 3, 2012
The Honorable Robert Behning
The Honorable Dennis Kruse
200 West Washington Street
Dear Bob and Dennis,
It has been an honor to represent Tippecanoe and part of Warren
County at our statehouse over the past four years. We have dealt with a number of highly publicized issues on many fronts and I firmly believe that many of the measures that we passed will continue to move our state forward. I am confident that with thehard work of our legislators and the hard work of our citizens, we can ensure Indiana is an economic and policy leader in our nation.
As you know, we spend a considerable amount of time talking with those that we represent. I feel it is so important to understand the community in which we represent so that one can help shape policy that not only helps our community but improves the entire state. I feel that TippecanoeCountyis unique when it comes to education. This is due to a number of reasons which is greatly influenced by the presence of PurdueUniversity.
As we were going through the education reform measures over the last few years, I have been regularly meeting with a group of local educators that educate the children, our future, in our area.
As you can imagine, I live and work alongside these people, and I see on a daily basis their hard work and dedication. I have 3 children in public schools (freshman, 8 grade and 4 grade) and what they do for our children should be commended. We all know that the education system inIndianais not perfect, and I am not against true educational reform. However, I have become increasingly concerned about the passage of legislation and the application and interpretation being different from the discussions and the wording that I feel we have carefully placed into the law.
It was our desire to seek educational change and improve the overall system, and in the last two sessions, we have worked to implement changes that would, in our perception, better the educational system for our children for generations to come. One of those changes involved teacher evaluations and after hearing rom the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), we voted to enact wording in Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) that would require teacher evaluation with local control.
After we pass legislation, it takes time to get feedback on the impact of legislation that we passed. This winter, I was contacted by members of my constituency who believed the intent of the legislation that we had passed had been changed via "legislative guidance" by the State Board of Education. This was confusing and concerning to me as I voted for Senate Bill 1 as a way to empower local districts to implement evaluation systems that they had the right to create and implement, based on some common
tenets. We believed this would improve and shine a spotlight on instruction. After reading and listening to "experts", I am concerned that the process is requiring our local teachers be evaluated fromIndianapolisbased on a test score. If this is true, where in the "real" world do we evaluate a person where the evaluator never actually sees the employee in action? I sure hope that this is not being centralized or becoming a one size fits all process. I feel strongly that the wording in SB 1 was written the way it was so this wouldn't be the case. However, I have seen documentation that tells me that the intent of the law as I read it is being interpreted differently by the IDOE and that is concerning to me. The documents from the IDOE are attached to this letter.
As you begin your process this summer of studying this and other issues, I encourage you to think about a number of items that hopefully will cause you to think about the true impact of what we passed, the legislative intent and most importantly what the impact will be on the children ofIndiana. Some questions for you to ponder:
• Why would the state want to rank teachers who they have never seen in action by a test score?
• Why is it permissible for the IDOE to override a local evaluation?
• Why is the IDOE issuing "legislative guidance" such as the above that was not part of the actual legislation?
• Why would the IDOE use only "negative growth" rather than the wording in the law of "negative growth and achievement" as part of the legislative guidance?
Another concern I have heard was the A-F Grading Scale and the School Turnaround Model. Although the IDOE insists that "quotas" and bell curves are not built into this model, when one looks at this with practical common sense, and looks at documents it does seem as if there are quotas for evaluation. In addition, when the growth model is explained, there seem to be more questions than answers.
• Why would the IDOE want to move D and F schools into the "bottom category"? This would have increased the amount of schools in "school turnaround" dramatically. With a larger amount of schools labeled as "failing," wouldn't this hurt our communities? While we decided to remove this provision from legislation last session, I was surprised to see the exact wording and methodology in our Waiver application to the Federal Government submitted well before we convened last session.
• Why was there a State Board hearing on this rule in January...before the legislature voted on the school turnaround language? This seems to signal a strategy of moving a concept first and then following after the fact with legislation. I can't tell you how many times I heard last session that we need to do this to allow what is already happening to happen. This would indicate that we are simply enforcing what the State Board of Education wants to do, rather than the State Board of Education being a vehicle to help implement legislation that the General Assembly passes.
• Why can a parent not know how much each child needs to "grow" in order to be typical growth? Isn't this something we would want a parent to know?
• Why are schools not given credit for typical growth? It seems to me that if a child has typical growth, they have made a year's growth. Why would this not be accurate?
• How can students who are pass plus on ISTEP+ be low growth? When you are pass plus on ISTEP+ you have made more than a year's worth of growth. How can these students be low growth?
• Why are students being compared to other students around the state who score the same score they do? Why are students not being compared to themselves? Isn't this a true measurement of an individual's growth? Isn't that what we are trying to accomplish?
• When there are State Board of Education hearings, whyis there only one state board representative there to listen to the public? Why, in the past, have there been no state board representatives there to hear the public's opinion?
• Why are there no proposed changes to the State Board of Education rules based on feedback from the public? This leads me to believe that public comment and testimony is meaningless.
I have been approached by local educators who have questions about the No Child Left Behind Waiver that was submitted andrecently made public.
• Who wrote the waiver? Did they collaborate with a wide variety of educators from across the state? If so, what educators did they collaborate with?
• Why are educators telling me that IMAST, the test for students who have special needs, will no longer be used? Why would we not want our students who have special needs to be able to show what they know?
• Why are there less special education children (from 2% to 1%) who will be eligible to take ISTAR in each corporation under the new waiver? ISTAR is an assessment for students with more severe special needs. This would penalize corporations who have a larger population of students with severe needs as they would have to take failures for students over the 1 % of scores allowed.
Why, in the waiver, do schools have to watch for all of the following:
- School grade (total percentage of students passing ISTEP+)+ high growth in language arts and math, Progress with the bottom 25%, AND any subgroup over 30 students. If a subgroup grade is 2 letter grades below the school grade (example: School is an A, special education students are at 70% on the ISTEP- C), the school can be a reward school (because they are an A) and also a focus targeted school (in school improvement)
AT THE SAME TIME. I thought the school grade was supposed to make it easier for parents to understand. How are they ever going to understand that a school can be an A AND be a failing school at the same moment?
Why does the priority status for the school include the following "Schools that are in the D and F category for 2 years). I thought we were not combining schools into the bottom two categories.
It seems, if we eliminate IMAST, decrease our percentage of students who can participate in ISTAR, and add in confusion for parents, as well as monitoring every subgroup, we've really not waived anything at all. This waiver seems to be less beneficial for our struggling students and we are still monitoring exactly what we did in No Child Left Behind.
I have also heard local concern over the current testing of students.
• Why are 3rd grade student passwords, log ins and access codes for a practice test 40+ characters long?
• Why are teachers threatened about losing their license several times throughout the state paperwork that is released about the testing?
• Why are teachers concerned if their students erase? They have been told the IDOE has "normed the erasure marks" and school districts and teachers have been talked to by IDOE personnel about a higher than normal number of erasure marks on tests. Elementary children like to erase, and they do make mistakes.
Unfortunately we now have a situation where guidance and policy is being released by the Indiana Department of Education and the timeline has already begun before educators saw the policy. For example, the Waiver information has been recently released to educators. However, they have been told this is now year 1 ...in April! How is that fair to school corporations, teachers, students and our communities?
There is a new assessment that was mandated by legislation called IREAD-3. We created this to assist with ensuring we would create an educated population for businesses to employ as adults. Schools that do not have 90% of their students pass this test must use the Indiana K-6 Reading Framework created by the Indiana Department of Education.
• Why is there not an enrollment day limit for students who take this test? For example, students who move into a school the day before or even during the IREAD-3 window must take this test. Their score counts in the school's total. The school might have not had an opportunity to teach the children at all, but is held accountable for the consequences of the move in student's score. Students who do not speak any English are also required to take this test. In the area I represent, a child moved in from Mexico two weeks before the test. The child not only could not complete the test, but cried the entire time. How is that moving our state forward?
• The K-6 Reading Framework requires schools to replace their reading series if they do not have one that is on the "approved list," which was just released this week. Isn't this a financial hardship for schools? A strong concern for local educators is the seeming elimination of the improvement requirement for PL221. It does not appear that the new grade calculation uses improvement (the passing percentage of students). It uses student growth (high, typical and low ...again, the same concerns as stated above). The law states that schools are to use the following:
The Indiana State Board of Education first adopted category placements for the state's public and accredited non-public schools beginning with the 2005-2006 school year. Thresholds for category placements changed as of 2009-2010 and category placements changed to reflect letter grades (A-F) as of 2010-2011(511 IAC 6.2-6-5). Category placements are based on three factors:
1. Performance: percentage of all students who pass the state's English and math ISTEP+ (also ISTAR or IMAST) tests (for grades 3-8) and English 10 and Algebra I ECAs (also ISTAR) (for the class of 2013). AND
2. Improvement: improvement in the passing percentage of students passing ISTEP+ and ECAs (also ISTAR or IMAST) over a three-year period
• Where in the school grade calculation does it indicate the calculation of the improvement in the passing percentage of ISTEP+ . The grading document released from the IDOE isattached.
If our educators are required to be evaluated by data and are required to be given a school grade, quite possibly our IDOE leaders should be equally accountable for the state data. They should be graded on the number of turnaround schools they have.
This would be a motivator to encourage IDOE to work to prevent these rather than give the perception that educators currently have, which is the IDOE wants to take over more schools faster.
One great idea is to give our local schools (our community) the flexibility to improve instead of waiting to some arbitrary length of time and then give that same flexibility to an outside source with no community "skin" in the game.
There is a concern from our local educators and our community that policies and procedures from the IDOE are not school friendly (no day requirement for students taking the IREAD). I continue to see our community and education leaders testify in Indianapolis on a regular basis and see very little movement on the topics at hand. It is my desire that all of us really think about what we are trying to accomplish and that we listen to those who are doing the work every day with very little thanks from those of us who are I, for one, am very thankful for the educators from my county and what they do for the children of our area. I appreciate the opportunity to send you these thoughts and hope that we can hold everyone accountable in this process in a fair way so that the end result is exactly what we intended it to be!
Submitted with respect,
making all of these changes.
District 26 -West Lafayette
Cc: Dr. Tony Bennett