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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 10:16 am

Testing, standards up for vote

Niki Kelly The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers will hear testimony and vote on a bill today that could mean a major shift in Indiana’s K-12 testing system, toward a national focus and away from Indiana-based standards.

National experts are raising alarms over Senate Bill 566, which is being pushed by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, as a way to cut testing costs and enable comparisons of Indiana students with their peers.

One of the main concerns is how it might affect Indiana’s federal waiver from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. But others also worry about tinkering with new math and English/language arts standards that took a year to craft and haven’t been in place for even a full school year.

Indiana moved to state-crafted standards when Gov. Mike Pence and lawmakers opted out of the controversial Common Core standards.

"I think it’s frankly moving testing in the wrong direction for Indiana," said Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, a nonprofit education reform group in Washington, D.C.

"It is built around replacing ISTEP with a nationally recognized test but doesn’t define what that would be or what it would look like."

He will testify today at the House Education Committee that tests under consideration have nothing to do with Indiana standards and that no one from Indiana had anything to do with developing those tests.

Cohen noted that a section in the bill says that if the new national test doesn’t match Indiana’s standards, the State Board of Education is to change the state standards to match the test.

"So after a year of turmoil creating standards and protecting the state’s autonomy and independence, that seems to be rather difficult to reconcile," he said. "It feels like a step backward."

Cohen has a history with standards and testing in Indiana going back to 1999, when his group reviewed the math and English standards. He has also provided advice on improving ISTEP in the past and most recently reviewed the near-final draft of Indiana’s new standards at Pence’s request.

Another concern is that Indiana’s federal waiver requires the test and standards to be aligned.

This would mean districts like Fort Wayne Community Schools would lose flexibility on how to spend hundreds of millions in federal Title I dollars meant to help schools with high poverty levels.

Ann Whalen, director of policy for a national nonprofit group called Education Post, worked at the U.S. Department of Education for five years. She said the requirement that the state have an aligned "high-quality assessment" is important.

She said other states tried an off-the-shelf national test but had trouble getting it past federal peer review.

Whalen also said the question is what should come first – creating standards and then matching a test to them, or picking a test and matching standards to it.

"The consequences of losing the waiver would be the most devastating to urban districts that serve a large number of poor students," said Todd Hausman, director of leadership for Teacher United in Washington state.

Washington lost its waiver in 2014 because lawmakers would not require that student test scores be used in the teacher evaluation process.

Since then, Hausman said, schools receiving Title I dollars were forced to set aside 20 percent of their disbursement for transportation to non-failing schools. Since virtually all the schools are now failing under stringent No Child Left Behind rules, families instead applied for supplemental education services.

He said that means those federal dollars are now being used to pay for private tutoring at for-profit companies instead of in the public schools.

The House Education Committee is expected to consider amendments to the legislation and vote today.