INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s plan to replace the federal No Child Left Behind Act would keep student assessment in place under a new statewide test, take on chronic absenteeism and eventually assess a school’s climate for student achievement.
In addition, the statewide student testing system, which is switching from the beleaguered ISTEP+ to ILEARN, will be offered in Spanish. ISTEP+ has not been offered in Spanish, but students could use bilingual dictionaries.
ILEARN, an acronym for Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network , begins in the 2018-19 school year. It is to measure student achievement in English/language arts and mathematics in Grades 3-8, as well as science for Grades 4 and 6 and social studies in Grade 5. Students will work through ILEARN’s computer-adaptive test based on how they answered previous questions.
ILEARN will be offered in Spanish for mathematics and science. The state is also seeking vendors who can translate the tests into other languages, noting that refugee students in four public or charter schools speak Burmese and Chin.
Indiana’s proposal on the No Child Left Behind replacement — Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA — is on Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk. It awaits his signature before being submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. Even if the governor doesn’t sign off, the plan is due to the federal department by Sept. 18.
Only 17 states have submitted plans so far; U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has approved eight.
Like its predecessor, ESSA, which was signed into law in December 2015, requires state accountability systems, teacher development, support for struggling schools and annual tests for students in Grades 3-8 and in high school. ESSA does not require linking student test scores to teacher evaluations.
ESSA has been touted as giving states more flexibility in decisionmaking. For example, Indiana doesn’t have to pick from federal choices in helping struggling schools or, in another example, the state can add non-academic indicators, such as attendance, to determine student success.
Under the plan, academic progress, graduation rates and student success are to evaluated by student subgroup, based on ethnicity, family income and other factors. Each subgroup must have at least 10 students.
That helps increase the plan’s transparency in reporting student achievement, said Amar Patel, executive director of Teach for America - Indianapolis. He attended public sessions held by the Indiana Department of Education in formulating the plan.
“A key place where that comes to play most is, among others, transparent reporting, how subgroups of students are learning relative to the average, relative to each other,” Patel said. “The reporting is important because transparency can help over time lead to greater equity of educational opportunity.”
The state could have required that all students in a subgroup achieve a 90 percent proficiency rate.
Instead, the state plan has a goal of cutting student achievement gap rates in English/language arts and in mathematics for all subgroups by half by 2023.
“Some states have taken the tact that every student in all subgroups will attain 90 percent proficiency,” said Patrick McAlister, director of policy for the Indiana Department of Education. “When we looked at our data, that sort of measure wouldn’t be fair.”
McAlister said the goals are “ambitious but achievable.”
As part of a school’s accountability record, Indiana’s ESSA tackles students with chronic absenteeism by adding the definition of “model” students as either “persistent attendees” for those with a 97 percent daily attendance rate or “improved attendees” for those who improve attendance by 3 percent over the previous year. The goal is for schools to have at least 50 percent of the student body defined as model attendees.
The plan was developed through a series of public meetings with administrators, educators and community members.
“One of the greatest things that has come of it, in my opinion, is that there has been a lot of teacher voice,” said Jean Russell, a Southwest Allen County Schools instructional coach in reading who was the state Teacher of the Year in 2016. “It felt like recommendations were organic and authentic.”