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State facing tests for new standards to keep waiver

– Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said Wednesday federal education officials are mandating that Indiana students take a statewide test on new academic standards in the spring of 2015.

She said the revelation was a result of discussions with the U.S. Department of Education on fixing problems with Indiana’s federal flexibility waiver.

“Clearly we will be in the situation in Indiana where we are going to be holding schools and teachers accountable for new standards and assessments with only seven months’ (notice),” Ritz said at the State Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

The standards were just approved in April. Resource guides for educators on the standards aren’t done yet, and the test hasn’t been created.

The plan by the State Board of Education and Indiana Department of Education was to give adequate preparation time to teachers and students by piloting the new standards and test during the 2014-15 school year and simultaneously using the current ISTEP+ test to meet state and federal accountability rules.

Losing the waiver would mean the state would have to go back to following the No Child Left Behind federal accountability law instead of using its own A-F grading system. And the state and local districts could lose flexibility on how to spend more than $200 million in federal Title I education funds.

The waiver the state received requires states to test students on college- and career-ready standards.

Indiana had adopted Common Core to meet this requirement but then backed away.

After two years of debate, the state created its own standards, which delayed giving students a college- and career-ready test.

Ritz said she was told by U.S. Department of Education officials that Indiana must have a fully operational test on the new standards in the spring of 2015, and the requirement is non-negotiable.

State board members seemed stunned by the news.

Andrea Neal said, “Is it fair to say the federal government is forcing us to do something that is not practical or logical?”

Ritz said other states have shown a large drop in scores the first time the standards are tested.

As a result, she proposed a one-year freeze on issuing A-F grades to schools and using student test performance in teacher evaluations.

She said the data would be calculated and made public but not count toward sanctions.

Ritz also said federal education officials would consider that option but didn’t commit to accepting it.

Several members questioned whether such a freeze would violate existing state laws on A-F grades and teacher evaluations.

Board member Gordon Hendry asked what incentive teachers, schools and students would have to perform well on the 2014-15 test if there would be no consequences.

“If that’s our curve I’m going to bomb it,” he said.

State board staff wouldn’t comment directly on Ritz’s proposal.

Instead, a board attorney suggested sending out a pilot pretest to schools in September reflecting the new standards and test items so students and teachers have some exposure to the new materials.

Ritz said not only is the content new but the test itself will change.

“It’s a total shift in the types of questions. Students will not be choosing answers, they’re going to actually be showing their answers and giving information,” she said. “We’re going to a different type of rigor.”

No decisions were made at Wednesday’s meeting.

A final submission to the U.S. Department of Education regarding Indiana’s waiver renewal is expected June 25. A special meeting of the state board is expected soon but a date hasn’t been chosen.