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State schools chief slams grading system, favors growth testing model

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Updated: October 29, 2013 6:07AM



HAMMOND — Indiana has wasted millions of dollars in testing and remediation under a “pass-fail” system of assessing student achievement, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said Friday.

Speaking to local educators at Purdue University Calumet’s Improvement of Mathematics Teaching Conference, Ritz shared her vision for a new assessment system in Indiana that instead measures student growth.

Ritz, a Democrat, inherited what she calls a “pass-fail” grading assessment system that she does not support. The assessment was part of a wave of 2011 Republican education reforms touted by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former state school chief Tony Bennett, whom Ritz defeated last year.

Ritz’s upset victory — she earned more votes that Gov. Mike Pence — left her as the lone Democratic state officeholder.

Some say Pence is trying to diminish her authority. Recently, without telling Ritz, Pence created a new state agency — the Center for Education and Career Innovation— taking away some duties of the Department of Education and decreasing Ritz’s role.

Even though she has been in office only nine months, Ritz’s backers were scheduled to hold a fundraiser for her Friday night at the Indiana Carpenters Local 1005 Hall in Hobart. It was sponsored by the Indiana Federation of Teachers.

Ritz told the PUC audience that millions of dollars in testing and remediation has been wasted under the current system. Ritz prefers an online “adaptive” assessment test that can offer easier questions when students get a wrong answer and more difficult questions when they get right answers. The software used to create the test would determine a student’s skill level.

She called the ISTEP Plus test “one big long test” that measures bottoms and ceilings in grades 3-8. “If we surveyed teachers, they’d be able to tell you who will pass that ISTEP test before we ever spend $25 million to give it.”

Ritz said schools, saddled with a pass-or-fail testing system, never learn the proficiency levels of Algebra 1 students, then many of those students must take remediatation courses after high school when they discover they aren’t ready for college-level work.

Four-year universities no longer offer remediation courses for students who need more help. Now, it’s left to Ivy Tech Community College at a cost of $35 million, Ritz said.

“We have an issue, but it’s not with the teachers, it’s with the system we’re forced to work in,” Ritz said.

Like many states, Indiana is establishing “college and career ready” standards to meet the terms of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, which waived some testing requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

Ritz said there’s no longer a math gap for students heading to college or directly to careers.

“But we haven’t put a system in place to keep track and know where students are with math proficiency. You have to have a well-rounded math ability level to get into a skilled career.”



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