Indiana Lawmakers Approve Reform Bill

By Tom Mirga — May 13, 1987 6 min read
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Indiana lawmakers have passed a far-ranging school-reform measure that earned an A+ grade from Gov. Robert D. Orr but an F from the Indiana State Teachers Association.

The bill, one of the few comprehensive reform packages considered by a state legislature this year, includes provisions sought by the Governor that will tie school accreditation to student performance and other “outcomes’'; give financial rewards to the best schools and threaten the worst with the prospect of state takeover; extend the school year by five days; and expand a statewide student-testing program, with mandatory summer remediation for low-achieving students.

The measure, which was adopted on April 30 and signed on May 7, also creates a $20-million program for “at risk’’ children and raises general state aid for schools, provisions lobbied for by the teachers’ association. But Damon P. Moore, the union’s president, described the overall measure as “a political sellout .. that does not go nearly far enough to provide the best for Indiana’s children.’'

Continuation of Drive

The reforms approved by the legislature continue an education-improvement drive that began in 1981, when the state began pilot testing Project PrimeTime, an effort to reduce teacher-pupil ratios statewide in kindergarten through the 3rd grade. Since then, lawmakers and state officials have adopted a variety of other reforms, including additional high-school graduation requirements, changes in teacher licensing, and a restructuring of the state board of education.

The latest set of reforms underwent nearly 40 revisions, one of which drew the attention of Secretary of Education William J. Bennett in a speech last month warning of “backsliding’’ in the school-reform movement.

Lawmakers, who failed to reach consensus on the bill before the closing date of their regular session, finally passed it late in the evening of a one-day special session called by the Governor.

Mr. Orr “is very pleased’’ with the reform measure “and is looking forward to the hard work of implementing the programs,’' said Nancy DiLaura, his chief aide on education matters.

She acknowledged that the Governor’s original proposal was significantly modified during its route through the legislature, but noted that the main components of his plan, “the ones he felt most necessary for his signature, are there.’'

But according to Mr. Moore of the teachers’ association, “in a nutshell, the children of Indiana lost.’'

“The legislators did not have the intestinal fortitude to provide the best for children,’' he said.

“The things that were agreed to at the end of the regular session and in the special session were political sellouts. We had an opportunity to set the tone for the restructuring of schools, and we missed the boat.’'

According to Ms. DiLaura, topics addressed by the reform law include:

  • Student Testing. The Indiana Statewide Test for Educational Progress will be expanded to cover grades 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, and 11. Student achievement in language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science will be tested each spring.

Students scoring in the bottom 16 percent on the test will be required to attend summer school, with the state picking up the full cost of remediation and transportation. Students will be retested at the end of the summer. If they fail to move out of the bottom 16 percent, they will be retained in their current grade.

Schools districts that promote such students would lose a proportionate amount of state tuition support.

  • School accreditation. Beginning with the 1988-89 school year, schools will be accredited not only on the basis of “inputs,’' such as curriculum offerings and the length of the school day and year, but also on the basis of “outcomes,’' including student test scores, graduation rates, and the results of locally developed evaluations of teachers.

Schools that comply with existing “input’’ standards and perform at or above average for demographically similar schools on the new “outcome’’ standards will be accredited by the state board for a five-year period. Sub-par schools will be placed on probation. If the state board determines that improvements have not been made after three years of probationary status, it could ask the state legislature to approve the appointment of a state manager. In the case of low-achieving school districts, the board could ask lawmakers to force them to consolidate with other districts.

  • Merit schools. Schools that demonstrate year-to-year improvements in student academic achievement would become eligible for financial rewards. Beginning in the second year of the fiscal 1988-89 biennium, the state will make a total of $20 million available for the program.

The size of the rewards could vary. The state education department will judge schools’ applications, and make recommendations to the state budget office and the Governor.

Teacher internships and mentor teachers. School districts will be required to develop internship programs for first-year teachers. They also will be required to select mentor teachers to assist in the programs’ supervision. Mentors must have at least five years’ experience, must teach in the same field or the same grade level as the intern, and would be eligible for $600 annual stipends.

Interns will be monitored by their school principal, a mentor teacher, and, at the intern’s discretion, a faculty member of a teacher-training institute. The final evaluation will rest with the principal. Teachers who successfully complete the one-year internship will be eligible for full certification. Unsuccessful candidates will be forced to repeat their internship.

  • Teacher evaluations. All school districts will be required to establish teacher-evaluation systems before the end of the 1989 school year. Systems will be created locally, but must follow state education department guidelines. Existing evaluation systems will be “grandfathered’’ into the state program, provided that they comply with the guidelines. The law does not specify what elements must be considered in the evaluations. It does note, however, that teachers cannot be evaluated on the basis of the student test scores.

  • School year. The school year will be lengthened from 175 to 180 days. For the first time, school districts will lose state tuition support for failing to meet the state requirement. Districts also for the first time will be required to make up days canceled as a result of inclement weather.

  • ‘At risk’ children. A total of $20 million will be provided in the second year of the biennium for programs to assist such children. School districts’ shares of the fund will be determined under a formula that takes into account average family income, the number of single-parent families, and the average level of educational attainment among people living in a district. Districts will have to submit plans to the state education department to qualify for funds. Department officials will judge the plans, and recommend to the Governor which programs should receive funding.

  • Tuition support. General state aid to school districts will be increased in both years of the biennium. In fiscal 1987, the second half of the current biennium, tuition support totals $1.33 billion. It will rise to $1.42 billion in fiscal 1988 and $1.60 billion in fiscal 1989.

  • Taxes. Lawmakers approved a number of tax changes to pay for the reform programs, but rejected Governor Orr’s proposal to lower the state sales-tax rate and broaden its base to cover professional services. Increases in the rates for the personal income tax, supplemental net corporate tax, and the corporate adjusted income tax are expected to generate an additional $750 million in revenue over both years of the biennium.

According to Ms. DiLaura, the legislature approved a fiscal 1988-89 budget that will provide precollegiate education $4.51 billion in the upcoming biennium. That compares with $3.43 billion in the current biennium. Overall state spending will reach approximately $12 billion under the budget approved by lawmakers.

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 1987 edition of Education Week as Indiana Lawmakers Approve Reform Bill


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