Ritz: Tough winter could lead to changes

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s been a tough winter, and an even tougher year for education in Indiana.  NewsChannel 15 caught up with State Superintendent Glenda Ritz Friday to get her take on this winter’s issues. She said she’s focused on flexibility and giving schools as many options as they need.

A brutal winter has led to more than a dozen snow days in northeast Indiana. Adding on that many days to the end of the year would force many schools to be in session until mid-June. However, Ritz has proposed other ideas to account for the lost time.

“We actually created a new approach which is called conditional waivers. It gives the opportunity for schools to add time on to their already existing days to be sure that we’re going to have enough time to teach the standards before assessments were going to happen,” said Ritz.

Many schools in Indiana are extending days, and others are using a combination of approaches. These include eLearning or virtual learning, as well as Saturday schools.

“When we do that, teachers are on-call. It’s like a work day for them. So, we’re glad to be having some work with what we call blended learning- a little bit of virtual, and still having access to the teacher,” said Ritz.

Ritz said being flexible allows each school district to do what works best for them individually.

“When you’re talking about calendar and time of days, you’re not going to be able to work with every single family’s schedule. I think I gave enough flexibility that they were going to be able to take a pulse on what they felt their community wanted to do and make that happen,” said Ritz.

ISTEP testing has also been extended to a thirteen day window to give schools enough time to administer the exam.

“That’s thirteen days for only a three day test, so giving schools the flexibility to start that exam when they feel they’re ready with their school,” said Ritz.

Here’s a look at how local school districts are planning to make up the missed time:

Northwest Allen County is extending more than 20 school days, with the last day of school on June 4th.

Southwest Allen County is waiting for approval for eLearning. If that happens, their last day of school will change from June 11th to June 4th.

Both Fort Wayne Community Schools and East Allen County Schools plan to release make-up plans next week.

Click here for more details on the make-up plans for each district.

There is also talk of revising the common core standards and possibly changing the state’s 180-day requirement. Indiana was one of the first states to adopt the common core standards back in 2010. Nearly four years later, they are among several states reconsidering the system.

A public review and set of hearings will start next week and continue through the middle of March. Ritz encourages the public to attend those meetings and provide input on the department of education’s website. In April, the department will adopt a new set of standards. Ritz says the goal is not to abolish common core completely.

“It’s not about common core or no common core in any way. It is about the individual standards of what kids need to know and be able to do at each grade level,” said Ritz.

Instead, the revised standards would be a mix of current and former state standards.

Another possible change is the state moving away from the 180-day requirement. In one proposal, schools would need to fulfill a certain amount of minutes as opposed to days.

“I’m actually hoping that we expand to that and start working with the minutes as opposed to actual days, so that we can better meet the needs of the community, and the schools, and provide professional development for our teachers,” said Ritz.

School districts would only be eligible for this plan if they received an A grade. There was a lot of controversy regarding the state’s grading system late last year. The panel to revise that system is also planning to meet next week.

“I think we were ready for a change that’s going to give educators and parents real information that actually directs our teaching in our classrooms,” said Ritz.

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