Grants fund advanced assessments

HANCOCK COUNTY — A new state funding formula that allocates more money to school corporations for the assessments teachers use to gauge how well students are learning is allowing several local districts to adopt higher-quality programs administrators hope will lead to better scores on state-mandated tests.

The Indiana Department of Education now offers districts grants to purchase testing programs from outside vendors whose assessments indicate if students are on the right course to pass high-stakes tests like ISTEP. Previously, districts received funding one specific program, but administrators say the new grant program gives them more flexibility to choose a system that works for their students.

Harold Olin, superintendent of Greenfield-Central School Corp., said his district was approved for the grant, and he’s eager to see the results of the new program.

If the assessments indicate a deficiency in a certain subject area, teachers will have time to correct the course of their instruction, Olin said. The old system the district used showed if students were falling behind, but it didn’t specify what subject areas those deficiencies were in, he said.

“This new software will give us a much better picture of how each student is progressing, so our teachers can individualize their instruction to fit specific needs,” Olin said.

Greenfield-Central is switching to a program administered by Northwest Evaluation Association for students in Grades 2 through 8. Teachers will administer the first of three assessments this month, another in December and the final in the spring, Olin said.

Mt. Vernon School Corp. has paid for NWEA testing for years out of pocket, but the new grants will spare the district about $30,000 — $17 for each student in Grades 2 through 8 who uses the program.

Officials from Eastern Hancock School Corp. said the district has also switched to the NWEA program. The district will deliver those assessments to students in Grades 1 through 10.

Trisha Armstrong, director of technology and administrative services at Eastern Hancock, said the new program will not only identify students who are performing behind schedule but also those who test above grade level.

“This will allow our teachers to really look at their class and differentiate their instruction,” Armstrong said. “So that could mean they can prioritize small-group instruction to focus on reading for one group of students and another subject area for other students.”

Southern Hancock School Corp. has used the NWEA program for at least 15 years, said Rhonda Peterson, curriculum director for the district.

The district will continue with the program this year for students in grades kindergarten through ninth grade. The switch will also spare the district from spending general fund dollars on the assessments, Peterson said, though it’s not yet clear how much money will be saved.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or