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Lawmakers debate education standards, testing

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New “college and career-ready” assessments will gradually replace ISTEP over the next three school years, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said Tuesday at a legislative study committee meeting.

But whether those assessments will be based on the controversial Common Core standards, Indiana’s own standards or a hybrid of both is still unclear.

“We do need to have standards in place when we start the (2014-15) school year,” Ritz told the Study Committee on Common Core Education Standards. “Assessments cannot be determined until the standards are determined.”

The committee spent the afternoon taking testimony about Common Core – a set of K-12 school standards created by a group of state education officials and endorsed by President Barack Obama’s administration – and tools that could be used to test whether students are meeting those standards.

The committee’s work is part of a larger effort to determine whether Indiana should stick with Common Core, which it adopted in 2010 and has already implemented in kindergarten and first grade. But earlier this year, the Republican-controlled General Assembly voted to pause implementation of Common Core to conduct a multifaceted study of the standards. That study includes work by the legislative committee, the education department, the State Board of Education and other officials.

For years, Indiana has created and implemented its own standards – which have generally received high marks from groups reviewing them – and have tested student achievement using the ISTEP test.

But as more states are moving to Common Core, they are also looking for new assessment tools that are based on the standards. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – which is a consortium of 19 states, including Indiana – is developing one such assessment.

However, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Ritz moved in July to remove Indiana from the governing board of the group, in part because the state is reassessing whether to use the standards.

On Tuesday, Bob Bickerton, who serves on the PARCC board and is the senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education, said Hoosiers have been essential in helping to develop the PARCC assessment system. But he said it’s understandable that officials in Indiana and Massachusetts – which he said already had strong education standards – would have to think harder about adopting Common Core than other places that had weaker standards.

Still, he told the legislative study committee that officials in Massachusetts ultimately decided that Common Core and the PARCC assessments were “the best choice for our state” and its students.

“And in a state with scant natural resources other than our human capital, our future depends on it,” he said.

Ritz outlined for lawmakers timeline for education officials to make decisions on Common Core or another standards. Advisory teams consisting of parents and education experts from around the state have been developed to give feedback to state standards committees, which will give monthly updates to the state Board of Education.

The state board will also host several public hearings on the issue next spring.

Meanwhile, drafts of state standards will be presented to the Indiana Education Roundtable beginning in January and continuing through February so that group can make recommendations to the state board, which will make the final decision.

Ritz said her goal is to adopt a set of state standards by April so schools can have the standards in place by next fall – and the assessments can be adopted.

“We have (an) opportunity here to set it right,” she said.

Rather than a using a pass/fail system to assess students, Ritz wants to adopt what she called an adaptive assessment that would indicate the grade level at which students perform.  Each time a student answers a question correctly, an adaptive assessment would ask more difficult questions. Conversely, when a student gives the wrong answer, the questions would get easier.

Ritz said she believes an adaptive system could measure student growth and teacher effectiveness at the same time.

“I am all about strong accountability,” Ritz said. “In fact, I’m all about student accountability.”

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