Future of Schools

Panel's A to F proposal would add new state tests

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz (center) and committee member Steve Baker (foreground)  shared ideas at Monday’s A to F accountability panel.

State testing would be expanded with new exams in grades 1, 2, 9 and 11 in Indiana under a new school accountability proposal.

Other proposed changes include a new method for measuring student test score gains, and giving extra credit to schools when student scores go up, and changing the grading scale for schools from 1 to 4 to 1 through 100.

The recommendations come from a 17-member committee appointed by State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, Gov. Mike Pence and legislative leaders. The group’s plan will be considered by the Indiana State Board of Education, which could accept, reject or revise it, next week.

Then education department staff will do statistical analysis to verify the model works as anticipated.

“This is the first phase of what we need to accomplish,” Ritz said.

By a 16-1 vote, the group approved an amended report with a conceptual framework for the model. The committee will stay in place to follow up after statistical verifications are done, Ritz said.

Only Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, voted no, saying he was not sure there was enough clarity on how growth is calculated.

Ritz, however, hailed the proposed growth measures.

“We do want our kids to be proficient,” said Ritz, who co-chaired the group. “This is a way to give teachers and the students themselves a clear view that you need to be proficiency and we are giving points for growth but you have to work a little harder to get where you need to go.”

At the youngest grades, Ritz said new tests would be reading-based and she hoped they would replace district-level tests that schools use to try to determine student proficiency.

Controversy over A to F grades heated up last year when Ritz’s predecessor, Tony Bennett, proposed adding a growth measure to give schools extra credit when students made gains on state tests, even if they were far above or far below a passing score.

The prior grading system was heavily based on the percent of students who passed. Critics said that unfairly hurt schools with large numbers of children who came to them far below grade level, often because of high poverty and fewer pre-school learning opportunities.

Even when those schools got kids to make major gains on tests they sometimes still fell short of earning a passing score. By ignoring growth, some schools complained they were making great strides but earning the same poor grades as schools where few kids were making much test progress.

But Bennett’s system was almost universally disliked. When hearings were held in 2012 after he proposed it, a parade of speakers from across the political and educational spectrum testified against Bennett’s plan.

The major complaints surrounded the use of a growth measure that was based on a similar model used in Colorado. It judged student growth by comparing each student with peers that met a similar demographic profile. Some opponents argued the measure was so difficult to understand schools could not even calculate their own scores. Others argued it was an unreliable gauge of student academic improvement.

Earlier this year, lawmakers ordered an overhaul of the growth measure so it rewards growth toward a standard, such as a passing score or advanced score, instead of growth as compared to other students. The A to F panel is one of the legislatively-ordered steps to a new system.

Separately, Indiana must alter its standards and testing system by 2015 so it measures whether students are “college and career ready.” That could mean Indiana will follow Common Core standards along with 44 other states or craft its own standards to meet that expectation. If it doesn’t, the state risks losing federal aid under an agreement it struck with the U.S. Department of Education releasing Indiana from some requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

The panel’s proposal to create new tests matches the design of Common Core-linked tests being created for grades 1 to 11 by two consortia known as SmarterBalanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). Indiana could use one of those tests or create its own.

The panel proposed a transition year in which grades would be issued under both the current A to F grading system and the new system.

Under the plan, the growth measure — a critical flashpoint in the debate — would be measured based on the progress students make toward the next rung of the testing scale.

Indiana students would still be rated did not pass, pass or pass plus on state tests under a new school accountability proposal, but schools would get extra credit for gains they make within those categories, too.

Indiana schools would earn bonus points on their state report cards each time a student moved up on one of eight performance levels — three in the “did not pass” category, two in the “pass” category and three in the “pass plus” category.

The first opportunity for the state board to consider the proposal is Nov. 8. The board is expected to approve a new A to F plan and forward it to legislative leaders by Nov. 15.

'A Significant Change'

Done doing ‘more with less,’ Brighton district will move to a four-day school week

PHOTO: Seth McConnell/The Denver Post
Students in Alicia Marquez's 6th grade science class at Overland Trail Middle School in Brighton watch a video and work on home work in August 2017. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

Students in the Brighton school district will attend school just four days a week starting next school year.

Officials with the fast-growing district north of Denver announced they were considering the change earlier this year after voters turned down a request in November for more local taxes, the latest in a string of defeats for District 27J. This week, they made it official.

There are already 87 school districts in Colorado that use a four-day week at all their schools, but until recently, the phenomenon was largely limited to rural districts. Brighton will be the largest school district in the state on a four-day week

In response to the concerns of working parents, the district will offer paid child care for elementary-aged children every Monday, when school is closed, officials said. Teachers will work some Mondays on planning and professional development.

The change is expected to save the district about $1 million a year, but Brighton Superintendent Chris Fiedler previously told Chalkbeat that the biggest benefit will be “to attract and retain teachers” in a district whose salaries are among the lowest in the metro area.

“I realize this will be a significant change for our students, their families, and the communities we are so fortunate to serve, but our district can no longer be expected to do more with less financial resources,” Fiedler said in a press release.

A mill levy override, a type of property tax increase, hasn’t been approved in District 27J since 2000. A 16th request for more revenue failed in November.

“We are 100 percent committed to providing our students with the necessary skills and competencies that will enable a future far beyond graduation,” Fiedler said. “To that end, I believe it is in our students’ best interest to provide high-quality, engaged teachers using 21st Century tools for learning four days a week rather than not have them five days a week.”

Local union president Kathey Ruybal told Chalkbeat that teachers showed “overwhelming support” for the change.


‘Everything is different now’: Stoneman Douglas librarian reflects one month after shooting

Stoneman Douglas media specialist Diana Haneski, center, at the school's walk-out event.

One month ago, Diana Haneski was hiding in an equipment closet at Stoneman Douglas High School. She’s the school’s media specialist, and when the lockdown was announced she herded students into the closet, where she texted family members and waited, listening to the sounds of helicopters overhead.

Seventeen people were killed in the shooting that day at her Parkland, Florida, school. In the days that followed, some of Haneski’s students reignited a national movement against gun violence. Students returned to Douglas two and a half weeks ago, and that library is now a counseling hub for traumatized students and teachers.

You might know Haneski’s name because of this chilling story about her longtime friendship with Yvonne Cech, who was the librarian at Sandy Hook Elementary School when 26 were killed there. I reached out to Haneski because I know her — she became close friends with my mother when they worked together at Westglades Middle School, which is next door to Stoneman Douglas.

I wanted to know how she was adjusting to the wrenching changes to her work and her community, and what learning looks like now at her school. Here’s some of our conversation.

There’s such a huge wave of news coverage when something like this happens, and we hear less as people who work with students settle back in to their routines and people have returned to those same spaces. I was hoping we could talk about how you’re thinking about your library, and how you’re thinking about the job that you do every day after something like this.

Everything is different now. The library, half of it is counseling. Everyone needs some help still.

The first few days back there were so many people from the district. I mean, anyone that had a teaching certificate who worked for the district that wasn’t in a classroom, they were asked to come to our school and support us. Anyone who wanted help from someone certified in what they teach could have had someone at their side that first week.

And really, they were not trying to really teach anything. They were trying to heal and help. There was no big push to teach. Now, there are kids who really want to learn and want to have regular classes. There are also kids who are just not ready to learn yet. And there are teachers who are having trouble with what they’re supposed to do as well.

So there’s counseling going on to help with all of this. That’s really the number one thing going on in the library. In addition to all these kids coming in the library, there are therapy dogs. As soon as I realized how important dogs were, I was asking the superintendent, asking everyone, can I have a dog in the library, please, for this week and next week?

Now there are two or three in the library. The kids just want to sit there and pet them — it relaxes them, it gets them in a position where they can maybe start talking to a counselor. It’s helps the counselor get the kids to start talking. I’ve seen it work.

It’s unbelievable to see the things coming our way from around the country and around the world, from schools and from random people. I get handwritten notes from people I don’t know who just want to write to me and say how bad they feel and want to send their love and support.

In general, kids still need to talk. Fourth period is when this horrible thing happened to us. We’ve had two fourth periods since we’ve had full days. And they’re hard. You end up with more kids in the library. They just want to hang, and be really close to each other, and to talk.

What was it like after the walkouts on Wednesday?

It was really great. A lot of people went to the football field. Some kids felt compelled to walk to where the memorials are, north of our school. And then some of them came back. That caused a little bit of mayhem, kids leaving and coming back. But they want to be part of something.

They ended it with the song the kids wrote. It was really moving. And as we were out there on the field, we see the Westglades [Middle School] kids coming on the other side of our fence. They’re making noise and they’re waving at us. And as we were first coming out onto the field, there were people from the community on the other side of the fence waving at us and supporting us. So that was kind of nice. And then we ended it with a group hug.

As I came back in, the classrooms were very empty. Then I passed the front office and saw a crowd of kids trying to come back. This is what it is now. We were taking care of business, making sure kids are doing OK and getting what they need.

What’s surprised you about everything that’s happened since the shooting?  

The whole controversy with, should a teacher have a gun. The fact that you can actually have a conversation with someone and they could be like, well, of course they should have one. I mean, I don’t know if I should say this, but I looked for my keys and my phone yesterday for a little longer than I want to admit to. For me to be responsible for a gun? I went to school to be a librarian, media specialist, teacher.

Here’s what’s surprising me. That this could happen — and our kids are being vocal, and sound very logical, and I’m very proud of them — and they go up to Tallahassee with this optimism and enthusiasm, and they think that they’re going to get their voices heard because the legislature is in session. And they get there, and it’s like a slap in the face.

How can it be so hard to say, you shouldn’t sell an AR-15 to an 18-year-old? Why is that so hard? The realization of the power of the NRA, that has surprised me. I didn’t really pay attention to that before.

My life is really different now. No one wants to be a part of that club, surviving a mass shooting. And I’m also an activist. I didn’t really think about myself as an activist. I did learn from my father, rest in peace. He was in politics, and I learned from watching him and helping him. And I learned that you’re supposed to talk when you can make a change.

And knowing that if we’re quiet, it’s just going to go away. Really, if little children in Sandy Hook getting killed didn’t make much of a change, if 50-odd people in Las Vegas at a concert, if that didn’t make much of a change? We have to do something.

I saw you asked for book recommendations for your students — or maybe teachers? — on Facebook. Have you gotten responses? Is that still on your mind, what they will want or need to read?

Yes, teachers really need more material and different resources than they needed before. We do yoga in the library on Monday afternoons, and I was stretching and I looked up at a shelf and there was this book on display — “The Gun Fighter.” That is not a book I want on display right now!

People have been amazing, especially media specialists. FAME, the association for Florida media specialists, has been so kind to me. They’ve started compiling resources, nonfiction and fiction — anything that might help in this area, so that we can help with coping and healing, and also stories that might be inspiring, show kids going through a struggle or pain or hurt and coming out OK.

I know reading is really important to you. Have you managed to read anything yourself this last month?

The first week I didn’t even want to eat. And I really couldn’t get my head to read, which was very unusual. That took me a while; I think it was two weeks before I could. And I started with listening to a book.

I did that because people have been so nice — media specialists have sent me gifts, sharing an audio book, giving me an Amazon gift card and saying, get the books you need to read. I’m also on the Florida Teens Read committee, which means I have to read a lot of books. I told one of them, I don’t know I’ll be able to read the books I need to, since they’re in the school. So they shared their audio books, and I got lucky — one was “Letters to the Lost,” about writing letters to those who have gone.

So yes, I have read three books in these last two weeks. It’s part of moving forward and living my life. And I know there are 17 that couldn’t, and then their heartbroken families.