Twitter storm aims to pause ISTEP accountability

March 9th, 2015 at 3:08 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Letter grades for schools and teacher evaluations will be affected by the results of ISTEP testing now underway in Indiana schools.

The Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education believe it isn’t fair and the organization is calling for a one year pause in accountability.

It’s a suggestion that was first made by state school superintendent Glenda Ritz.

The organization is calling for a twitter storm using the hashtag #pauseaccountability to alert lawmakers and members of the state board of education to what it believes is a misuse of ISTEP scores.

It encouraged followers to tweet all day Sunday and again Thursday when the State Board of Education meets.

Some of the tweets point out that this year’s test is different from last year’s making comparisons difficult.

“Definitely our scores are gonna go down,” said Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary,) “and since we have a flawed A through F system and we’re gonna tie these lower scores to that, what happens to the employment of teachers in this state?”

The governor, meantime, says that the state has the tools necessary to grade the tests fairly.

“We grade our kids everyday in the classroom,” said Mike Pence, “we can grade our schools every year.  I think that accountability is important.”

A spokesman for the state Board of Education, Marc Lotter, says that this is the third year in a row that there has been a call to pause accountability, though it’s the first from Glenda Ritz.

Regardless, it’s not likely that the twitter storm will succeed.

ISTEP to be shortened

February 13th, 2015 at 11:49 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The ISTEP test will be shortened.

The exam that is given to public school students in Indiana was expected to take 12 hours before state school Superintendent Glenda Ritz acted Friday morning.

It’s the result of demands made by the governor earlier this week.

Ritz announced that the test time will be reduced by a little over 3 hours.

It will still be a much longer test than the one given to Indiana students last year.

Ritz made that decision after hearing from 2 outside experts hired by the governor.

They suggested, among other things, that the social studies portion of the test be eliminated this year for 5th and 7th graders.

“Following our guidelines and recommendations we think that testing time can be significantly reduced,” said testing consultant Ed Roeber.

“We are prepared to move forward with the 3 hours and five minutes (reduction)”, said Ritz, “and the suggestion to the General Assembly to suspend social studies, yes.”

That change will require approval by the General Assembly because otherwise the test will not meet state requirements.

Superintendent Ritz also sought to suspend the state’s accountability system this year. It gives letter grades to schools based on test results.

Board members voted to have that item removed from the agenda.

Pence, Ritz agree to a shorter ISTEP exam

February 11th, 2015 at 5:11 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The governor announced Wednesday that he and Glenda Ritz are now cooperating in an effort to shorten the ISTEP exam.

Mike Pence called reporters together to try to put a good face on the crisis that erupted Monday when it was disclosed that ISTEP testing times would double for some students.

He wanted to report that he has hired a second national expert, Bill Auty of Oregon, to help make recommendations on how to shorten the test.

Pence said the state Board of Education will receive preliminary recommendations on Friday.

The GOP governor also reported that he talked with Democratic state school superintendent Glenda Ritz and said she agreed to shorten the test.

However, he rejected a Ritz suggestion that accountability standards be set aside for a year.

“We grade our kids every day.  We can grade our schools every year,” he said. “Accountability is important to the progress that Indiana has made and will continue to make in education.  Our parents deserve to know how their kids are doing in school.  Our parents also deserve to know how their schools are doing.”

Glenda Ritz also met in private with legislative leaders this afternoon. Her staff released a document that suggested federal approval is required to meet most recommendations for shortening the test.

The governor said he spoke with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and asked for flexibility on ISTEP and also he said he’s open to new legislation if it’s required to alter testing requirements.

Ritz blames Pence for ISTEP length

February 10th, 2015 at 5:43 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Edward Roeber, an education consultant from Michigan, is being paid $22,000 to recommend ways to reduce the ISTEP exam that will be given to public school students 15 days from now.  He was appointed by the Mike Pence on Tuesday.

It’s an appointment the GOP governor promised Monday when he signed an executive order demanding that the test be shortened and blamed Glenda Ritz for its length.

Aides to Glenda Ritz Tuesday characterized these events as “personal and false attacks on Ritz (who is a Democrat) made in an attempt minimize her politically.”  They say the length is due in part to new standards requested by Pence.

It all happens as lawmakers move to take away her chairmanship of the State Board of Education.

“That’s obviously one of the bigger political issues that’s arisen in the state right now,” said Ritz aide Daniel Altman, “and so for him to use that as evidence, again, to use claims that aren’t factually correct as evidence of why she should be removed from the job she was elected to do by the voters certainly seems political to me.”

And a state Senate committee voted 9-to-4 in favor of a Senate bill to remove Ritz as chair of the State Board of Ed.

The full House passed a similar measure Monday.

Meantime, aides to Ritz say that if the exam is to be meaningfully reduced it will require action by the General Assembly to change state standards.

She has scheduled a meeting of the State Board of Education for Friday to discuss all of this.

Indiana House passes bill to grab power from Glenda Ritz

February 9th, 2015 at 5:36 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The Indiana House of Representatives has voted to remove Glenda Ritz as chairman of the State Board of Education.

It’s the latest development in a battle between Ritz and the governor.

It was an interesting vote in the Indiana House, 58-to-40, with most but not all of the Republicans voting to remove the Democratic state school Superintendent from what previously was an automatic appointment as chairman of the State Board of Education.

It came just hours after the GOP governor announced that he has issued an executive order demanding that the ISTEP test be made shorter.

Pence blamed dysfunction on the state board and also blamed the state Department of Education which are both led by Glenda Ritz.

In a rare floor speech House Speaker Brian Bosma tried to connect the testing problems to the power grab.

“This has gone from dysfunctional to now detrimental to students,” said Bosma. “And when we put out something, a proposal that our policy making body doesn’t even have an opportunity to weigh in on to increase testing by 3 times there is something dramatically wrong, not dysfunction, detriment.”

“You’re saying that the people don’t matter,” said Minority Leader Scott Pelath. “You’re saying that the bureaucrats, the bureaucrats, hand-picked people oughta be the ones who determine what happens in classrooms like mine in Michigan City.”

The bill to remove Ritz now goes to the state Senate.

The governor, meantime, has hired outside experts to figure out how to shorten the ISTEP test.

They will make recommendations to Glenda Ritz but she doesn’t have to follow them.

Pence demands shorter ISTEP test

February 9th, 2015 at 3:39 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Mike Pence says he learned last week it would take double the time for some students to complete the ISTEP exam this year.

The governor says that’s too long and he issued an executive order demanding shorter test times, something like 6 hours instead of 12.

He has hired outside experts to find out how to make that possible.

Pence made that announcement in what amounts to the latest battle between the Republican governor and Democratic state School Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

Pence blamed the longer test times both on dysfunction on the State Board of Education and the Department of Education.

Glenda Ritz is charge of both of them.

“I don’t want to make this personal,” said Pence. “But the Indiana Department of Education is completely responsible for crafting the test and conducting the test in the state of Indiana.  That is their responsibility.”

Ritz responded through spokesman Daniels Altman, who said, “Obviously we’re disappointed we’re disappointed to see that he’s apparently again attempting to work around the superintendent and around the Deparment of Education instead of with them.”

The governor is using the bully pulpit in this case but only the Department of Education can change the ISTEP test and it’s not clear if Glenda Ritz will follow his wishes.

Meantime, the Indiana House is schedule to vote Monday on a bill to remove Ritz as chairman of the State Board of Education.

CEO promises no ISTEP interruptions in 2014

August 7th, 2013 at 5:14 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The CEO of the company responsible for the ISTEP exam promised Wednesday that there will be no interruptions next year.  Ellen Haley of CTB/McGraw Hill addressed the State Board of Education and reported that improvements are being made to the servers that are used when ISTEP is administered online.

Those servers will, Haley said, be able to support twice the number of Indiana students taking ISTEP next year.

Haley told the Board of Education that a lack of memory caused the first day of interruptions in April and a lack of virtual memory caused problems the second day.  78,000 students had their test-taking postponed and, as a result, every student in Indiana and all of the schools are still waiting for this year’s scores.

“So, now we know the infrastructure that we need to put in place,” said Haley, “and that’s what we’re doing right now.  We’ve brought in a third party and several experts from McGraw Hill themselves to look at everything.”

The interruptions have led to delays in the release of 2013 ISTEP scores and one teacher showed up to protest.  “We need ISTEP information to inform placement decisions,” said Jason Sipe.  “I need that information to make early interventions.”

State School Superintendent Glenda Ritz reported that her office is still negotiating with McGraw Hill over fines and penalties tied to the interruptions.

ISTEP scores up despite interruptions

July 29th, 2013 at 4:54 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The typical interruption faced by thousands of students who took the ISTEP exam in April lasted one day.  But for one student that interruption lasted 15 days.  The Department of Education hired an outside expert to figure out the effects and in a report issued Monday he found that overall scores were not affected.

Dr. Richard Hill of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment did an extensive study of all of the ISTEP results both from students who endured interruptions and those who didn’t and he came to a simple conclusion.  “It does appear looking at the data,” he said, “that the net impact of the interruptions was nil.”

That’s right.  Despite interruptions caused by overloaded computer servers that affected 78,000 students statewide, ISTEP scores went up.  Why?  Hill has a theory.  “An obstacle was thrown in the way of school people and students,” he said, “and they found a way to overcome it.”

But it’s not a case where state officials declare “no harm, no foul” because teacher evaluations are tied to the results and some students likely were affected.  “Yes, the data turned out ok,” said State Superintendent Glenda Ritz.  “Are we going to be able to drill down to the individual students to really know that if they hadn’t had those interruptions, would their scores be the same?  The answer’s probably no.”

And that’s why the state is still looking for answers from the test maker, CTB/McGraw Hill.  A company representative says its study is not yet complete.  It is still negotiating with CTB/McGraw Hill to recover costs and fines.  In the meantime, the company will be permitted to administer the test next year.

The Department of Education now plans to develop guidelines for handling computer interruptions in the future.

ISTEP review underway

June 10th, 2013 at 11:51 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

An independent review of ISTEP scores began Monday.  It could lead to some tests being invalidated.

State school Superintendent Glenda Ritz just announced that a third party will review the test of every student who was interrupted by server problems in April and May.  That applies to 78,000 students statewide.

Ritz says she hired the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment in New Hampshire led by Dr. Richard Hill to determine if test scores are valid.  In all 482,000 students took the test, so a majority will likely be validated, but Ritz says the results need to be above reproach.

“Like all Hoosier parents students and educators I was extremely frustrated with the alarmingly large number of interruptions during the taking of Indiana’s high stakes test,” said Ritz.  “These interruptions were simply unacceptable and they call into question the validity of the test scores.”

The review will cost as much as $53,000, money that could come from fines against test maker CTB McGraw Hill.

Glenda Ritz also says that she hopes this will lead to changes in the use of the ISTEP exam.  She says the stakes involving teacher compensation and evaluation are too high.

State lawmakers order ISTEP investigation

May 23rd, 2013 at 4:13 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

State lawmakers want to know why computer problems interrupted the ISTEP exam and who is responsible.  They ordered an investigation Thursday that will begin in mid-June with a day long hearing at the Statehouse.  Both the test maker, CTB/McGraw Hill, and state education officials will be called on the carpet.

Computer problems first interrupted test taking for students in a variety of schools earlier this month and then forced school districts to reduce the number of students taking the test at one time by half.  Lawmakers want CTB/McGraw Hill to explain.

“To come to Indianapolis and explain how the problems occurred,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, “why they weren’t prepared for those problems, what they’re doing about it to assure these problems don’t arise in the future.”

The announcement was made in a meeting of the Legislative Council, a group made up of leaders from both Houses and both parties in the General Assembly.  State Education officials will also be questioned, as will school superintendents.  House Speaker Brian Bosma said, “We need to get to the bottom of it.”

This was the first time that schools were encouraged to have students take the test online whenever possible and CTB/McGraw Hill is the main target of the probe.  “And for a highly paid vendor to have this occur is totally unacceptable,” said Sen. Long.  “The schools have a right to be upset about it.”

Lawmakers also hope to determine whether the test results are tainted by the interruptions that took place.  The Fort Wayne schools have already decided that test results there won’t be used unless they can be verified by a third party.