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Indiana’s education leaders are revising the state’s academic standards by reducing current requirements and streamlining the content teachers must cover in a school year.
However, determining what is most important for Indiana students to learn is no easy task, members of the Indiana State Board of Education said during a meeting Wednesday.
At the beginning of this year, the Executive Board was commissioned by the legislator to revise the standards. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has so far led the charge by evaluating current standards and presenting preliminary findings.
The agency’s research has already focused on identifying skills and attributes students need “for lifelong success,” Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said. These include communication, collaboration, a growth mindset, problem solving, self-advocacy, perseverance and integrity, as well as information, digital and financial literacy.
“Our goal in June is to hit aggressively across the board and be ready — so not just start high school, but look at all[grade levels]— and be ready to get that sanctioned,” Jenner said. “It’s an overly aggressive schedule.”
Debate on a new approach to state educational standards
Charity Flores, IDOE’s Chief Academic Officer, said the eight core characteristics for students identified by the department were determined by reviewing academic research, conducting surveys and considering what skills work best for students in the professional field are suitable. IDOE is also looking for contributions from companies and academic institutions.
The state agency is now working to identify 25% of existing standards that can be trimmed – meaning teachers no longer need to teach that specific content. A third of the remaining standards are then identified and designated as essential, critical or fundamental.
“These essential standards, which are to be identified, are intended to reflect the basic skills – the skills that are most needed,” Flores said. “We really need to make sure we’re mastering those skills and traits, on top of the other standards that will remain, but we’re going to have a set that’s explicitly defined as essential.”
Nonetheless, some members of the State Board of Education expressed concern that teachers still had to cover too many standards in any given year. Other board members recommended the inclusion of certain academic standards in elective or specialty classes.
“There is such valuable learning – particularly the relevancy that students find in the elective – that brings the core work to life and makes it more meaningful. If there is a disconnect between these two definitions of success, we will discourage co-teaching, we will weaken the integration between electives and core areas,” said Board Member Katie Mote. “My strong belief is that the more we can connect these courses and pedagogies and experiences that give relevance to this content, and on standardized tests … go in the direction that we are going to see performance, we will see performance.”
Jenner said rigor is “first rule” as the board weighs what is best for the new academic standards, adding that the IDOE and other project stakeholders continue to listen for recommendations and input.
“There are concerns that with a reduction (of standards), we would lower the stringency in Indiana,” Jenner said. “We will continue to focus on rigor in this process even as we seek to streamline and focus our standards.”
The IDOE is expected to submit a new list of standards to the Board of Education by June 2023. If approved, these will come into effect in the 2023-24 academic year, and a further review – designed to adjust and improve the standards – would take place for the 2025-26 school year.
New data reflects decline in reading and math scores among Hoosiers students
Discussion of standards followed the release of new data showing a decline in reading and math scores among Indiana’s fourth and eighth graders.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments are conducted every two years by the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the US Department of Education. The results show students’ academic performance and progress and were published in The Nation’s Report Card last week.
Between January and March, NAEP assessments were given to sample students in each state and territory. Indiana Department of Education officials said about 7,000 Hoosiers in grades four and eight took the tests.
Nationally, the data showed the largest declines in math performance in grades four and eight since assessments began in 1990. In reading, grades four and eight declined in all states compared to 2019.
Indiana students did better in math than most states, with 40% of fourth graders and 30% of eighth graders doing at least as well.
On reading, Hoosiers scored similar to most states. Approximately 33% of Indiana fourth graders and 31% of eighth graders achieved at least mastery.
While average scores for Indiana students are equal to or slightly higher than scores nationally, the state has seen some of the largest declines in 4th grade math compared to the rest of the nation.
And while Indiana’s reading has been ahead of the national average for nearly a decade, fourth-grade reading scores have been declining since 2015.
Comparable to the state’s ILERN and IREAD-3 ratings, certain student populations, including black students, Hispanic students, and students receiving free or discounted dining rates, are still struggling. Hoosiers in these student populations performed significantly below the state and national averages.
In 2022, black eighth-grade students had an average math score that was 38 points lower than white students. Students who qualified for free and discounted meals scored 26 points lower than ineligible students.
Jenner called the drop in the score “alarming” and stressed that more support — including additional funding — is needed for English learners. For example, she pointed to a 20-point drop in reading performance in eighth grade among English learners in Indiana. Nationally, English learners scored four points more in 2022 than in 2019.
“In 2011, as a fourth-grade state, we were moving in the right direction. In 2015 we started this downward momentum towards the national average. And today we’re in the national average,” Jenner said. “We all want to get even better. You will continue to hear that our board, our educators, are really pushing to read, read, read and make sure all our children are literate.
State officials have announced numerous new funding opportunities this year as part of a larger statewide push to better educate all Hoosiers. These included an August announcement that the Indiana Department of Education and the Lilly Foundation will jointly spend up to $111 million to improve reading outcomes in Indiana schools.
A separate statewide scholarship program, announced in August, will provide funds to Indiana’s low-income families to support tutoring for students struggling to recover from academic setbacks sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the 2023 legislative session approaches, Jenner said state education officials will meet with lawmakers to lobby for more funding and other resources to improve literacy and numeracy skills, especially for the state’s youngest students.
Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. If you have any questions, contact Editor Niki Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.
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