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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 5:33 pm

Pence: Lower ISTEP+ scores won't affect teachers' pay

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Just hours before dismal ISTEP+ scores were to become a reality, Gov. Mike Pence dropped a bombshell by saying he would work with Republican leaders in the legislature to change the law so that teacher pay and bonuses aren’t negatively impacted by a drop.

He was less clear on whether he would support a pause of some kind in issuing A-F accountability grades to schools or maybe holding off on related consequences for one year.

"It is also important that our A-F system for this transition year appropriately captures performance in a way that is fair to our schools and our communities," said his letter sent to Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the State Board of Education late Tuesday.

"We grade our children every week and we can grade our schools every year but those grades should fairly reflect the efforts of our students and teachers as we transition to higher standards and a new exam."

Matt Lloyd, Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said the governor isn’t advocating for a pause in accountability but rather is asking the state board for recommendations on how to grade schools in a fair way during the transition.

Department of Education press secretary Samantha Hart said this is a welcome first step from the governor.

"Unfortunately, it comes after a year and a half of uncertainty and worry for our students, teachers and schools that was entirely unnecessary," she said. "Superintendent Ritz supports strong accountability as long as it is fair, open and transparent. The superintendent looks forward to working with Indiana’s leadership to take advantage of federal flexibility for both teacher evaluations and the assignment of A-F accountability grades for the 2014-15 school year."

Ritz has been pushing for a pause in accountability for more than a year, warning of large drops in ISTEP+ scores now that Indiana has written its own college- and career-ready academic standards and moved to a more rigorous test.

Until now, Republicans have roundly rebuked her.

"As we make this transition with our new standards and test, it is important to be as fair as possible to our students, teachers and schools. It appears that accomplishing this goal may require legislative action, and Senate Republicans are prepared to act as needed," said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. "I’m confident we can find a way to modify portions of our accountability system for one year without suspending it."

The State Board of Education is expected to adopt cut scores this morning that will result in a drop in overall pass rates of 16 percentage points in English/language arts and 24 points in math.

Those scores are used in teacher evaluations and help decide teacher pay and bonuses. They also largely decide whether a school’s A-F grade goes up or down. Low-performing schools face a multitude of consequences including possible takeover by the state.

The Indiana State Teachers Association posted a statement saying it expects legislation to be addressed on Organization Day Nov. 17, usually just a ceremonial day.

ISTA President Teresa Meredith said she is glad Pence is finally working with legislators to make sure teachers are not penalized.

"For more than a year, ISTA has been calling for a pause to ensure common sense fairness for teachers and schools," she said. "We look forward to learning the specifics of this legislative fix."

nkelly@jg.net