Claire Fiddian-Green is the President & CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.


On June 30, 2017, the Indiana Department of Education released the first draft of Indiana’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan for public comment. ESSA is the federal law for K-12 schools enacted in 2015 that replaced the federal law No Child Left Behind. It requires states to create student academic achievement goals – based on outcomes like test scores and graduation rates – as well as a detailed plan for ensuring every school receives the necessary assistance to support all students in Indiana.

While reviewing the academic proficiency goals proposed by the Indiana Department of Education in its draft ESSA plan, I was struck anew by the baseline data for Indiana students from which these goals were established – particularly in Math. For the most recent school year, only 59.8% of Hoosiers in Grades 3-8 scored a passing grade on the Math portion of ISTEP+, Indiana’s mandatory state test for schools. Passing scores are even lower for some population subgroups: only 34.7% of Black students and 46.2% of low-income students in Grades 3-8 demonstrated proficiency in Math. Performance was even worse in high school: only 34.7% of Hoosiers in 10th grade scored a passing score on the Math portion of ISTEP+, and only 13.4% of Black students and 19.7% of low-income students in Grade 10 earned a passing score in Math.

These shockingly low Math scores are deeply troubling and should serve as a call to action for Hoosier students, parents, educators, employers, policymakers and other community leaders. After all, Math is the basic building block for technology, engineering and sciences courses, and proficiency in these content areas is a requirement for students who pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. For a state whose economic engine is fueled by jobs in the life sciences, manufacturing and logistics, and information technology sectors, ensuring all Hoosier students are receiving world-class instruction in Math that translates into high rates of academic proficiency should be a top priority.

One of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation’s key funding strategies is attracting, retaining, and developing great life sciences talent across the education and workforce development pipeline, with an emphasis on STEM preparation. Our recent grant to support the launch of the new Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indianapolis is an example of the kind of initiative we believe can help bend the trajectory for Hoosier students in core academic areas like Math. The intended result is better educated high school graduates – and a larger pool of STEM talent from which Indiana employers will be eager to hire.

Other stakeholders are also focused on addressing Indiana’s STEM preparation challenges – including the Indiana Department of Education, as outlined in its draft ESSA plan. By focusing our collective efforts on key issue areas and working together, we can maximize our ability to make a positive impact on K-12 student outcomes.

Note: Indiana’s ESSA plan will be open for public comment until July 20. You can submit comments here. The final plan will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on September 18.

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