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Hoosier Leaders Weigh In On New Federal Education Law

Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana

Last week, state superintendent Glenda Ritz and State Board of Education member Byron Ernest went to D.C. for separate national conferences to learn what the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (the re-write of No Child Left Behind) could meant here at home.

  The national conferences align with ongoing federal negotiations that aim to translate ESSA’s broader mandates to the more specific changes that will be applied in each state.

Even though these national negotiations are still happening, Ritz and Ernest say they can already identify a few changes coming to Indiana’s education system.


ESSA updates how a state holds a school accountable. In Indiana, we use the A-F system for schools, and right now, elementary and middle school grades are mainly based on ISTEP+ scores .

The new federal law says grading criteria needs to be more diverse, and one of the new measures of accountability has to do with school culture.

“I really like a component where you look at the school culture,” Ernest says.

He has spent a lot of his career as an educator working with failing schools and creating plans for how to improve them. While no one yet knows how school culture will be measured, he says a supportive culture contributes to success, and he is glad to see this added to the law.

“You’d like to have a part of an accountability system that really takes a look at – are you doing the things that, I always use this term, make it a real school?” Ernest says.

Another measurement that will be added into the system has to do with English language learners. Right now, students receiving English language services take a test to show their progress learning the language. Growth on this test will now be added as a measure to a school’s performance. This means that a school with a high number of English language learners and lower ISTEP+ scores  could still get a decent overall grade if their ELL education program is succeeding.


ESSA continues the current annual assessment for grades three through eight. It also offers a new option – computer adaptive testing. This type of test adjusts as a student takes it: Each answer determines each next question.

This gives students a more individualized assessment, rather than every student in the state taking the same test.

Superintendent Ritz says she would like to use this for Indiana’s assessment.

“That’s a type of assessment I’d like to be moving toward,” Ritz says. “It will give us not only information about where children do perform but actually show us growth over time.”

The group of federal negotiators must find consensus in the next few weeks. If they do not produce a final set of ESSA regulations, the U.S. Department of Education will create them.

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