INDIANAPOLIS – As the first state to drop the national Common Core learning standards, Indiana is rushing to approve new state-crafted benchmarks in time for teachers to use them this fall, and education leaders from across the nation are closely watching.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in March signed legislation requiring new standards to replace the Common Core, even though the state was among 45 states that in recent years adopted the national standards spelling out what students should be learning in math and reading at each grade level.
Some conservatives have criticized the initiative as a top-down takeover of local schools, and about 100 state bills were introduced this year to pause or repeal the standards, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"Since Indiana is the very first state that has actually gone in this direction, I view this situation as incredibly important to get it as right as they possibly can," said James Milgram, an emeritus professor of mathematics at Stanford University and former Indiana resident who reviewed earlier versions of the standards.
Although officials are scurrying to finish the guidelines by the end of June to meet a demand from the Legislature, some have warned the stakes are too high to rush. The approved standards will determine what Indiana public students will be learning for the next six years.
The Indiana Education Roundtable is scheduled to vote on the standards Monday before sending them to the State Board of Education, which has final approval. Monday's meeting is the last chance to request changes to the proposed standards before the state board meets April 28 to either approve or reject the plan.
If either the roundtable or Board of Education rejects the standards, the process of crafting the standards would start again. That could delay getting them to teachers, who typically use their summers to prepare for the opening of the school year in the fall.
And getting higher institution leaders' approval of those standards is vital for Indiana to keep a waiver exempting the state from strict accountability measures in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The current draft already has the thumbs up.
The tight timeline has frustrated some education officials, who note that the process already has been delayed.
The public had four weeks to digest the first draft and give input, which ultimately delayed the final board meeting about three weeks as drafters sifted through nearly 2,000 online comments. Milgram said he took 10 days to do a complete review of part of the math standards. Three weeks were devoted to finalizing the latest draft.
Some experts and board members say they're still trying to assess what they'll be voting on.
The governor's special assistant for education innovation and reform, Claire Fiddian-Green, said the more than 6,000 hours spent revising the standards and including expert advice mean the latest version is a "substantially different document" compared with what one expert called "half-baked" standards that were included in the last draft.
Fiddian-Green said no analysis is planned to compare this version with the previous draft and with Common Core.
Board member David Freitas said he anticipates he'll have enough time to review the standards but said more questions could come up during the Education Roundtable and final board meeting that could push things off course.
"There may be some philosophical or conceptual disagreements on some particular components of it," Freitas said during a recent board meeting. "We have a responsibility not to accept it carte blanche and just say, `People worked on it and therefore we're going to approve it."'
Board member Andrea Neal said she sent copies of the draft Tuesday night for a final expert evaluation to guide any insight she might give the Education Roundtable.
"We're doing way too much, too rushed at the last minute," Neal said. "I don't think that's the appropriate (process) for developing world-class standards."
The shift away from Common Core has left many teachers confused and frustrated as they prepare to work with their third set of standards since 2009, School City of Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins said. Though teachers will adjust, educators say further delay would likely compound that frustration.
"Any delay past that time really then puts the professionals in a compromised position," Indiana State Teachers Association Vice President Keith Gambill said. "At some point in time, there has to be: This is it."