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Indiana teachers face uncertainty with new standards, revised test

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Sunday, August 31, 2014 - 11:56 am

INDIANAPOLIS — With the school year underway, Indiana's teachers are still scrambling to bring themselves and their students up to speed on the state's new education standards only months before students take a revamped, high-stakes exam assessing their grasp of the new curriculum.

The Indiana Department of Education hosted 19 summer training sessions to familiarize teachers with the new standards, and also produced teacher resource guides to help them adjust to the changes that will guide student learning for years.

But schools are still awaiting details of the retooled ISTEP+ test — Indiana's standardized test for grades 3 through 8 — that some 450,000 students will take next spring to assess their mastery of the new math and English benchmarks.

J.T. Coopman, the executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said there's more uncertainty and trepidation among teachers and administrators right now than he's seen in his more than 40 years as an educator.

"They are just like, 'Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?'" Coopman said. "Obviously, teachers and administrators want to do things the right way for the right reasons, and that's for their kids. And they feel like their backs are against the wall."

In March, Indiana became the first state to pull out of the national Common Core standards, driven by conservative and tea party concerns that the curriculum ceded too much power to the federal government. The State Board of Education followed in April by adopting the new academic standards that will guide what students should learn in each grade.

Then in June, state education officials learned that the state's ISTEP+ test would have to be revised for Indiana to retain its No Child Left Behind waiver, which received a one-year extension Thursday from the U.S. Department of Education.

Education consultant Schauna Findlay Relue, one of the experts who evaluated Indiana's new standards, said the rapid changes have created confusion for Indiana's teachers as they work to write lesson plans for the new standards and await details of the new test that will be aligned with them.

She said it's created a "troubling" situation for schools, primarily due to uncertainty over the quick implementation of the new ISTEP+ test teachers have received little information about and with no time for a pilot test.

"Normally there's a full school year and at least one or two summers from the time standards are adopted before a test will change, but this time it's happening in only months," Relue said.

ISTEP+ test scores are crucial to schools because they're used to calculate teacher pay and school funding, as well as school grades under the state's "A-F" system.

The Indiana State Teachers Association urged Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday to support freezing Indiana's school accountability system for one year because students are expected to have lower-than-normal scores on the revamped test.

ISTA President Teresa Meredith said federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan's recent announcement that states can apply for extra time before using student test scores to judge teachers' performance gives Indiana "newfound permission'" to pause its accountability system.

"We're diving into a new test this spring not having ever seen it, or having a chance to get our kids ready for it," she said. "Let's make sure we're on the right track and then continue the implementation after next year."

Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said Indiana's accountability system is driven by the state Legislature and decisions made by the State Board of Education, which she said has not had time to "consider all the elements and options."

Rather than a one-year pause, Coopman believes the state's accountability system should be frozen for the next three years because of the time that will be needed to train teachers in the new standards.

He hopes lawmakers act next session to pause the system, saying if they do, "You'll hear a huge sigh of relief" from Indiana's educators.