INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz is seeking to move up a testing program based on new curriculum standards by one year in an effort to extend the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver.
But she also wants to freeze the state’s A-F grading system so that schools aren’t punished if the quick transition to a new test causes poor performance.
Ritz proposed the changes Wednesday at a meeting of the State Board of Education, where members questioned the idea. They did not vote but planned a special meeting on June 23 to tackle the issues.
“We must give a fully operational exam in 2015 to extend the waiver,” Ritz said. “There is no other state that is behind in implementation and (the federal government) are not flexible on that timeline.”
Federal education officials have put conditions on the state’s NCLB waiver, which runs out on June 30.
“To be blunt, every single state is in this position with waivers,” Ritz said. “We’re all in the same waiver predicament. It really goes back to the U.S. Congress not really doing what they needed to with No Child Left Behind.”
Indiana has until the end of the month to submit its application to request a one-year extension of the state’s waiver or it won’t be renewed for the 2014-2015 school year. If it is taken away, schools will lose the flexibility for how they use some federal funds they receive to help disadvantaged children.
The state was evaluated in August 2013 on how well it complied with the waiver. The Department of Education was scheduled to hear back from the U.S. Education Department within 45 days, but because of the government shutdown the results were delayed until spring, which put state officials into a rush to meet federal expectations.
The No Child Left Behind waiver allows Indiana to set different state standards for education without having to fully comply with the standards set by the federal law.
Some DOE members questioned Wednesday if the waiver was worth complying with the federal government’s requests.
“The waiver is absolutely worth it,” Ritz said.
The waiver allows schools to utilize 20 percent of their federal dollars in a flexible format. Without it, Ritz said the state would lose the flexibility on those dollars and face tougher accountability standards.
“I don’t think it’s an accident the second we got the waiver and the local control we started helping our must struggling learners and test scores started going up,” said board member Brad Oliver.
Ritz said Florida recently asked for a similar consideration to extend its waiver and officials announced they were holding their grades constant, but the request has not been approved yet.
Historically, the state had more than a year to transition between education curriculums, but this transition will occur in just seven months. Indiana lawmakers this year repealed the controversial Common Core standards and the education board approved its own standards.
The new state standards are a combination of Common Core, the state’s previous standards and work from other states and subject matter experts. They represent the skills or knowledge a student should know – without assigning a method for teaching that skill.
Originally, students were to be tested on those standards in the 2015-2016 school year. But Ritz said federal officials are insisting they be implemented in 2014-2015 and that’s “non-negotiable.”
That’s why she’s pushing to freeze the A-F grading system.
“Teachers would be evaluated on a test that will likely show a drop in student performance,” Ritz said.
But board members were skeptical about freezing the state’s A-F grading system.
“That’s not going to get us a waiver,” said board member Tony Walker.
Also, board members had questions about when the grading system would resume.
Currently, the state uses and A-F grading system – one that’s based more on student improvement than raw test scores – to evaluate a school district’s effectiveness. Schools receiving an “F” grade for six consecutive years will be taken under state control.
Oliver said he had concerns about what would happen to schools receiving an “F” grade for five years and then having a year with no grade. He questioned if the sixth year would be the one in which the grading resumed.
Board member Gordon Hendry asked if the freeze was necessary because the DOE was criticized that the new standards did not change that much.
But Michele Walker, director of student assessment for the DOE, said it will be a “pretty large change for students and teachers” and a more rigorous test.
The board didn’t make any decisions Wednesday. But Ritz said there will be a final draft of the proposal by the week of June 23. Also, she said there will be a survey on the DOE website for further input. That way the board will have additional board feedback and stakeholders’ input before making a decision.
Ritz reminded board members the changes were just “considerations, not proposals.”
“We had a lot of dialogue today,” she said. “And we still have a lot of work to do.”
Paige Clark is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.