South Bend Tribune. September 5, 2019

A pause on ILEARN, a conversation about accountability

The first set of scores for Indiana's new ILEARN test has everyone on the same page, at least for a moment, about standardized testing.

Everyone from Gov. Eric Holcomb to state schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick to the Indiana State Teachers Association, has called for "hold harmless year" — a one-year moratorium on any consequences that are tied to the results.

That's in response to falling scores statewide for the Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network test. This was the first year that about 500,000 Hoosier students in grades three through eight took the ILEARN exam, which replaced the much-maligned ISTEP.

The results, released to the public Wednesday, show that 37.1% of students in third through eighth grade statewide were rated proficient in both the English language arts and math portions of the ILEARN test in 2019, compared to 50.7% who passed the 2018 ISTEP.

In a statement last week, Holcomb said that since this is the test's first year, he wants the legislature to "hold schools harmless so the test scores do not have an adverse impact on teacher evaluations and schools' letter grades for the 2018-19 school year. This action will ease the transition to ILEARN."

McCormick also wants the General Assembly to take action. And she said she'll ask lawmakers to give the State Board of Education emergency rule-making power to address these types of issues going forward.

McCormick and others — including the Tribune Editorial Board — have been critical of how Indiana uses standardized test scores as a factor in determining teacher pay raises and for rating schools. Indiana currently grades schools on an A to F scale, with too many Fs putting a school at risk of a state takeover.

Asked last week whether the millions that have been spent on assessment exams have been worth it, McCormick said, "I think that's the question we need to have a lot of conversation about. There's a lot of money on the line. There's a lot of time on the line, a lot of stress on the line."

Lawmakers should pass "hold harmless" legislation so that schools won't be unfairly penalized. We have no doubt they will do so, given widespread support for such action. But they should also take the superintendent's suggestion to have a deeper conversation about developing an accountability system that is fair and accurate.

That conversation is long overdue.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. September 4, 2019

Blowing smoke

Rarely has a public-health program been so aptly named. Last week, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced a state campaign to discourage young people from smoking cigarettes or using vaping devices. It's called "What's Beyond the Haze."

The phrase has special relevance in regard to vaping, which has become as much as nine times more popular among Indiana teens during the last couple of years. In many cases, vapers literally don't know what it is they are smoking. That disturbing reality has come into sharp focus in recent weeks as emergency rooms across the country have dealt with cases of mysterious lung infections that appear to be linked to vaping, including one death in Illinois. State health officials told The Indianapolis Star there have been at least 24 victims in Indiana, most of them aged 16 to 29. Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said Tuesday her department has not been notified of any suspected cases locally.

Though many of those affected have told health officials they were vaping marijuana products, that may or may not be the whole story. "Nobody quite knows whether people were vaping nicotine or THC" or something else, said Nancy Cripe, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County, who recently returned from a national convention of anti-smoking advocates where the vaping illnesses were a major topic of discussion. "It certainly gives lie to the idea that vaping is consistently safe."

Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is slowly tightening regulations in the industry, "no one has actually asked (makers and distributors) to prove the product is safe," Cripe said. In addition to nicotine, over-the-counter vaping liquids may contain natural oils, flavoring chemicals and propylene glycol, a petroleum byproduct that is considered safe as a food additive. Little is known, though, about whether propylene glycol is safe as an additive for inhalants. It's possible contaminants in either e-liquids or e-cigarette devices have also played a role in some of the recent illnesses, which some have termed "chemical pneumonia."

Nicotine still warrants the deepest concern. As long-term cigarette smokers can attest, nicotine is a powerfully addictive substance, and health advocates fear that young people who start vaping will eventually move on to cigarettes, which already kill thousands of Hoosiers annually and weigh heavily on the state's economy.

Efforts to raise the tax on cigarettes and vaping products and to raise the age limit for purchasing tobacco products were brushed away by the Indiana legislature last session.

But other officials are finding the gumption to fight back. A bill cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, would require purchasers of cigarettes and nicotine-laced vaping products to be at least 21 years old. Federal regulation is a better solution than state-by-state regulations. As Young points out, teens in a state that outlaws sales to them could easily obtain cigarettes or vaping materials in adjoining states.

The governor's new anti-smoking and anti-vaping campaign includes a $2.1 million social media awareness campaign, informational support for educators and parents, and links to a program created by the nonprofit Truth Initiative to offer young people encouragement to quit.

As health officials searched for answers to the recent spate of vaping-related illnesses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned users not to purchase-cigarette products on the street. Regardless of the outcome of the current investigations, the agency said, "E-cigarette products should not be used by youth, young adults, pregnant women, as well as adults who do not currently use tobacco products."

Warn your children. Warn your friends.

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Kokomo Tribune. September 3, 2019

Right to work unnecessary

It has been a crime for Indiana employers to enter into labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues since Feb. 1, 2012 — the day then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation making the Hoosier State a "right-to-work" state.

Despite Lake County Circuit Court Judge George Paras' ruling in the summer of 2014 that right to work violates the state constitution by forcing unions to provide services to workers without payment, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld right to work that November.

After years of Statehouse debate, after on-again-off-again walkouts by Indiana's House Democrats that delayed adoption of right to work, the conflict has been settled.

But right to work is so unnecessary, and that's worth remembering after our three-day Labor Day weekend.

Daniels and the GOP sold right to work as a jobs bill. Jobs are returning, yet Hoosier incomes continue to fall.

Yes, Indiana's unemployment rate was 3.6% in July, compared to a national average of 4%, the state Department of Workforce Development reports. But a Ball State University study in 2013 found Indiana's per capita income plummeted from 30th in the U.S. to 40th overall and lowest in the Midwest.

In fact, wages in Miami County, Ball State researchers found, remain at a level the average American hasn't seen since the 1970s.

In television ads ahead of legislative votes on right to work, Daniels told Hoosiers the state was "cut out of a third of all (employment) deals because we don't provide workers the protection known as right to work." He said the previous 22 states with right-to-work legislation were "adding jobs and income a lot faster than those that don't."

Hoosiers still await those higher incomes. And by now, they likely have guessed the legislation's true and perhaps only purpose.

Indiana's right-to-work law is nothing more than Republican retribution for labor's financial and electoral support of Democrats.

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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