By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Big changes could be coming to Indiana’s education system.
Glenda Ritz, state superintendent of public instruction for Indiana, presented an outline of her top priorities for education reform in Indiana over the next few years at the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce Third House meeting in Elkhart Saturday. Ritz, who won out over incumbent Tony Bennett in last fall’s election, has been the state public schools leader since January.
A topic of major concern for Ritz is early education, or, more specifically, the lack of a solid early education plan in Indiana’s overall education framework.
“There are a couple bills that are going forth on early education, and I’m going to take a very unusual position as the chief of the schools to really say I’m not supporting either of the bills on early education, and here’s why,” Ritz said. “In Indiana, number one, we don’t have a plan for how we want to actually implement early education.”
As an example, Ritz saidIndiana does not have a fully-funded full-day kindergarten program established.
“In terms of early education, we don’t have established standards, and we need to get those established,” Ritz said. “We don’t have a good base of programs already being offered and really knowing what those are all about.”
Ritz also pointed to the fact that a growing number of school corporations — such as Goshen Community Schools — have recently begun implementing their own preschool program using federal day care and Title I funding.
“I want to know what those are about,” Ritz said. “I want to know how they’re making those work. I want to know what types of partnerships they’re getting in place with community preschools that are already in action. So in essence, I would really like to be able to go to the Legislature next year and say, ‘OK, here’s what’s happening in Indiana. Here’s the standards that we’ve formalized. Here’s a plan for how we would actually implement it, and how the Legislature might assist with that.’”
A-F School Grading
Ritz also discussed what she hopes will be the eventual reform of the state’s current A-F school accountability system.
“I’m hoping that that will still find a place, find a home, within this legislative session,” Ritz said, “so that we can redo the accountability system.”
That said, Ritz was quick to reaffirm her support of holding schools accountable for their performance, just not in the way it is currently done in the state.
“I’m all about accountability,” Ritz said. “I want school improvement processes to be fluid and active and to mean something, and I want them to be all about what makes great schools, what do we need to have in place and how can the Department of Education support that as well as the legislature.”
As to the potential for such a change, Ritz said she sees very strong support for school accountability reform coming from both the Senate and the House.
“So I’m looking for the Legislature to still act on this,” Ritz said. “We need information at the school level, for parents as well, of the percentage of students that actually achieve the benchmark. But we also need individual student growth measures on how students improve, and we need that at the individual level instead of comparing our students with their peers around the state of Indiana. We need to look at our own individual students at our own individual schools and have that type of raw data to be able to make good school improvement programs.”
Ritz said remediation — the act or process of correcting a deficiency — is one area of Indiana’s education system that needs some serious scrutiny, particularly when it comes to students attempting to get into four-year colleges.
“Remediation is a big issue,” Ritz said. “In the state of Indiana, in mathematics for sure, we have some issues that we need to address.”
As an example, Ritz noted the fact that Indiana has several four-year colleges that are not accepting anyone into their programs who need remediation, especially in the area of math.
“So that has been relegated down to the community colleges, and Ivy Tech gets the brunt of that,” Ritz said. “And we’re talking about $40 million worth of remediation at that level. So in the state of Indiana, we have to have some serious dialogue amongst our educators and our delivery systems regarding mathematics, and I hope to begin that conversation very soon, and remediation is part of that.”
New growth model
Ritz also spoke on her support of a new “growth model” system for Indiana’s students, a system which she says will provide significantly more individualized information and data on student achievement than can be obtained through the state’s current pass-fail method of assessment.
“I ran initially on the platform that we need more time for instruction in our classrooms and less time for testing, and so I’m not necessarily in favor of putting more pass-fail exams in place along the way,” Ritz said, “but rather morphing that and transforming that into what I call growth model measures.”
In explaining what she means, Ritz first gave an example of a typical reading assessment administered through the ISTEP-Plus test given to all students in grades three through eight in Indiana.
“At a fourth-grade level, if a student takes the test, let’s just pretend that the cutoff is 75,” Ritz said. “So a student who scores a 75 passes that test, where a student who scores a 74 fails that test, just as surly as a student who scored a 35. What we don’t really know is the student’s real capabilities and real performance levels.
“So a fourth-grade teacher doesn’t know from that test that they may have seventh -rade readers in their classroom, fourth-grade readers in their classroom, second-grade readers in their classroom... information that is needed in order to provide the appropriate resources and materials to be sure that those students are going to advance in their reading.”
By transforming to a true growth model measure, Ritz said, teachers will be able to see the actual performance level of their students.
“So I’m hoping to transform our actual assessment system to be that type of model,” Ritz said, adding that such a model will also help to catch struggling students before they require remediation.
“That has a great deal to do with remediation, because it allows us to not always have a pass-fail remediate kind of mode that we’re in,” she said. “Instead, it allows us to know where students are on a continuum of learning, and provide interventions along the way. So it’s a different way to look at it that I think will transform how we service students to be sure that we don’t have students that need remediation when they get out of our K-12 system.”