MONON — Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett paid a visit to a North White School Corporation board work session Wednesday evening.

“We’d like to … talk about North White, where we’re headed,” said board President Shannon Mattix, “and things we can do to enhance education in White County.”

The board and Bennett were joined by a handful of students, North White teachers and superintendents Dr. Tom Fletcher of Twin Lakes, and Dr. Gib Crimmins of Tri-County.

“Our test scores have not been the best,” admitted NW Superintendent Nick Eccles, adding that growth has been seen overall in the school, though some pockets of students are still struggling.

Turning to finances and a strained budget, Eccles explained that between successful contract buy outs, not replacing retirees and eliminating an administrative position, the school would survive.

But he was curious about Bennett’s plan for testing and standards.

“We’re entering a new phase, and it’s going to create a totally different discussion in Indiana schools and communities,” Bennett said.

“The state is moving in an entirely new direction … that will change the way we look at assessment.”

He said that rather than schools and the classes within them being assessed based on a strict standard, evaluations will shift to individual student growth.

“Do children … get a year of growth in a year of instruction,” Bennett questioned. “Educators don’t always understand how to individualize growth.”

Bennett said that a new assessment system should be rolled out by the end of next year and will quantify each students’ growth in a year of school rather than judging whether or not those students met a set of standards.

“The goal is to push kids so … they’re getting at least a year’s growth in a year,” said the state education head.

The model, he said, is based on one used in Colorado; Massachusetts has also gotten on board. It will be based on the amount of growth that should be expected of a particular student.

“This model intuitively tells us that we should have teacher A and teacher B collaborate,” Bennett said. “It will be the glue that will hold everything together in the future.”

He said teachers and parents will be able to login to a special website to see their students’ performance.

“It’s going to have a focus on student growth,” Bennett said. “This, in my view … will be a game changer.”

NW board member Linda Morris asked where ISTEP testing would fit in the new model.

“This will be the ISTEP test,” Bennett said. “It’s a different dimension of the ISTEP.”

He added that the new system will be in place for grades three through eight and high school students will be evaluated on their preparedness for college and careers.

“It will be those issues that we can take a look and say, are they exiting with those standards that will make them college and career ready?” said Bennett.

“Most education is supportive of student growth, of the model,” Crimmins commented.

Turning to the budget, Bennett gave a bleak outlook.

“I don’t think we have seen the bottom of this (recession/budget cuts),” said Bennett. “I don’t think the revenue projections make any of us optimistic.”

He said that board should keep things the things that directly and indirectly affect their mission of educating students and consider cuts to the other programs.

“This is a fundamental reset of our budget,” Bennett said. “In 2011, I think we’re going to spend less money than we did in 2006.”

“I was expecting that to come back, but I’m not hearing that in your voice,” said a concerned Dirk Fleck, NW board member.

“It’s no real surprise; you can look at the numbers with what’s happening with the state, and unless additional revenue is produced, the state’s broke,” said Crimmins. “It’s going to make things challenging but we understand that.”

Mattix asked for Bennett’s thoughts on collaboration and consolidation, qualifying his question by saying strides have already been made toward county schools’ collaboration on shared summer school and other programs.

As for consolidation, Bennett explained White County has to look at the benefit for the children.

“Do the children in White County have the opportunity to compete with other students in Indiana and across the country?” Bennett said. “If you can’t provide the same education opportunities, that’s the metric you should use.”

He said consolidation, if discussed, should not be based on the number of students in a corporation but what the corporation can offer.

“That’s where I see consolidation,” Bennett said.
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