Election 2016

McCormick rejects Ritz’s favored ISTEP changes, backs SAT as a high school exam

Jennifer McCormick, a superintendent from Yorktown running for Indiana schools chief, has finally revealed details of how she’d like to see Indiana’s testing system change.

Democratic state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and McCormick, her Republican challenger, both spoke at an event sponsored by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, an organization that backs public education and has lobbied against private school vouchers and other education reforms in recent years.

Until today, McCormick had been vague about her positions on some major education policy questions, but today she offered more specifics and said her full policy agenda would be revealed after Labor Day.

READ: Find more on this year's races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.
READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

Her biggest proposal was keeping state tests in grades 3-8 relatively the same as the ISTEP exam but replacing the 10th grade ISTEP test and end-of-course exams for high school students with the SAT college entrance exam instead.

That differs sharply from changes Ritz has been pushing on a state committee charged with overhauling the state’s testing system and submitting a plan to lawmakers by Dec. 1. She wants shorter tests given throughout the school year, culminating in a single score that could be used for state accountability.

Breaking the test up, Ritz says, would give teachers useful information that they can use to ensure students improve and shift the exam away from being what she considers a punitive one-time pass-or-fail snapshot of student learning.

McCormick said doing it that would would be worse, not better, for kids.

“That makes interim (tests) look very different,” McCormick said. “It’s going to be like having three high-stakes tests all year long.”

McCormick said she thinks testing is important to understanding how kids are doing, but it shouldn’t be as pervasive and take up as much classroom time as it does today.

She said her plan would be to use a simple “summative” exam for grades 3-8. That’s fairly similar to what Indiana is already doing with its ISTEP exam for elementary and middle school students. Such exams give students a score based on one “snapshot” in time.

For high school, McCormick said she’d like the state to explore using the SAT instead of a 10th-grade test or end-of-course exams in Algebra and 10th grade English, which Indiana gives today. Using the college entrance exam could help families by giving students a chance to take a test required for college once for free, she said.

Read: As Indiana officials debate high school tests, SAT and end-of-course exams are on the table

McCormick said she is strongly opposed to tying the state exam to “interim” tests that schools give throughout the year to prepare for ISTEP, such as the Northwest Education Association’s MAP test.

At today’s presentation, Ritz said Indiana shouldn’t keep the status quo of a pass/fail test. Her testing vision, which she said she’d detail more fully at the next ISTEP replacement panel meeting on Sept. 13, is bold compared to what lawmakers and other policymakers have so far suggested.

“I want to take advantage of every piece of flexibility we can (under new federal law),” Ritz said.

The future of ISTEP has been heavily debated as of late, especially since the Indiana General Assembly voted last spring to scrap the decades-old ISTEP exam for a better option. The test had been plagued by computer glitches and scoring delays and had long been resented by educators who thought it took too long to administer and wasted too much valuable classroom time.

Indiana 2016 Election

The biggest donation in the IPS school board race came from an unexpected source

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In the battle for control of the Indianapolis Public School board, the largest single campaign contribution came from an unexpected source: the teachers’ union. But the donation didn’t help the union-backed candidate.

In recent years, IPS board races have been dominated by pro-school reform candidates who have attracted large contributions from deep-pocketed donors. But in other elections — at other times, in other places — it’s common for teachers’ unions to spend big.

That’s what happened this time in Indianapolis.

Critics of the current administration made their first organized bid to unseat incumbent board members in 2016 when they formed the group OurIPS. The group didn’t donate to candidates, but the district-wide candidate the group supported, Jim Grim, did win a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Despite that cash, all four candidates backed by OurIPS lost on Election Day.

The contribution to Grim’s campaign was revealed in final campaign finance reports due to the Marion County Election Board last week. The disclosures detail fundraising and spending for each school board campaign, but they don’t include groups such as Stand for Children, which sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses but is not required to disclose all of its political activity.

Although the union donation was easily the largest single contribution any candidate received, other candidates did raise more in total. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce spent more overall but gave to four candidates.

Here are the totals for each race:


Grim raised $20,930 during the election. His opponents were incumbent Sam Odle, who raised $31,893, and challenger Elizabeth Gore, who won a surprise victory in the raise. Gore has not filed a finance report, but she told Chalkbeat after the election that she raised about $1,200.

District 1

Incumbent Michael O’Connor vastly out fundraised his opponent in the race, raising $23,543, according to his disclosure. Challenger Christine Prince raised $100.

District 2

Venita Moore, a newcomer who won the seat with support from Stand for Children, raised $25,712. Ramon Batts, who had the support of OurIPS, raised $3,550. Nanci Lacy did not file a report.

District 4

Long-time board member Diane Arnold raised $16,696. Challenger Larry Vaughn did not file a report.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect a new fundraising total for Michael O’Connor, who submitted a corrected disclosure.

day one

Three new members join IPS board, Sullivan elected president

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Five IPS board members were sworn in. Left to right: Elizabeth Gore, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Diane Arnold, Venita Moore and Michael O'Connor.

Mary Ann Sullivan will lead the Indianapolis Public School board for the second year in a row, bringing a dose of consistency to a board that begins the term with three new members.

At the first meeting of 2017, the seven-member board swore in three new members, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Elizabeth Gore and Venita Moore, and two returning members, Diane Arnold and Michael O’Connor. In a clear sign of the growing collaboration between the city — which oversees dozens of charter schools — and the school district, the members were sworn in by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“The decisions you make here profoundly impact not only the students that attend IPS today but … the future of this great city,” Hogsett said. “As our city strives to always better our schools, your individual rules in that effort are critically important to the long-term health and well-being of this city.”

The new board unanimously elected Sullivan as president, O’Connor as vice-president and Gore as secretary. Sullivan, who was also president in 2016, joined the board two years ago as part of a wave of members who support dramatic changes aimed at improving the lowest performing schools.

“I will do my best to maintain the progress that we are making on so many fronts and to keep our sense of urgency,” Sullivan said. “I am very, very confident that this board is ready to provide the leadership needed to transform lives.”

Two of the new board members won spots following a bruising election fight for control of the board between advocates for radically overhauling the district by embracing policies such as partnerships with charter schools and critics who favor more traditional management. The third new member was chosen by the board to replace LaNier Echols, who resigned following the election.

The three newest board members bring a wide range of experience to the board. Here’s a little about each:

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops is the most mysterious new board member because she was chosen by the board to fill a vacancy, rather than going through the election process. She represents District 5, which covers the northwest section of IPS. Although her positions on many of the biggest issues facing the district are not clearly fleshed out, her personal background gives her a unique perspective on many of the issues facing IPS families. A first-generation Mexican American and fluent Spanish speaker, Hoops is the only Latina board member. She also is the only current parent on the board, with a son enrolled at Center for Inquiry School 27. Her son has special needs, and she said her work advocating for his education renewed her commitment to ensuring educational access.

Elizabeth Gore defeated Sam Odle for an at-large seat representing the entire district. Although she is newly elected, this is not her first time on the board. Gore served a term on the board before losing a reelection bid in 2012, when a wave of critics of former-superintendent Eugene White captured control. In her bid for reelection, Gore was not backed by school-reform supporters or the organized opposition, and her victory was something of a surprise. She is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School and her three children graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, where she led the parent teacher association.

Venita Moore won a three-way race to replace former board member Gayle Cosby, a frequent critic of the administration. She represents District 2, which covers the northeast section of IPS. A business consultant with experience running a state agency, Moore was endorsed by pro-reform groups including Stand for Children. But she does not have a significant record of political work on education, so her approach to the school board is still something of an unknown. Moore is also an IPS graduate, and her daughter graduated from Crispus Attucks High School.