The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 05, 2016 4:30 am

Legislators hurry ISTEP pause bills through session

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers are fast-tracking an accountability pause for teachers and schools, legislative leaders announced Monday. 

The move comes after plunging ISTEP+ test scores, delays in grading the test and possible errors in scoring them. 

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said there will be two bills that are the product of discussions between legislative leadership, Gov. Mike Pence’s office, the State Board of Education and the Indiana Department of Education.

Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indi­an­apo­lis, expect to pass both bills and send them to the governor’s desk for his signature by mid- to late January. The session begins today.

Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has been pushing such a one-year transition for 18 months and was previously rebuffed by GOP leaders. 

"Everyone involved in addressing the ISTEP issue did our due diligence to ensure we came to the right conclusion. The plans being introduced in the Senate and House are the best way to put the 2015 ISTEP challenges behind us," Long said.

"I appreciate the collaboration that went into this bill. In the end, we all have the same goal of being fair to our students, teachers and schools given the problems with this year’s ISTEP test," he said.

A Senate committee will hear a bill Wednesday that would protect schools from dropping accountability grades this year.

Each year, schools are placed in A-to-F categories and the largest factor in those grades is how students do on the ISTEP+ test.

Senate Bill 200 – authored by Republican Sen. Dennis Kruse of Auburn – says a school’s A to F grade for the 2014-15 school year could not be lower than the grade assigned to the school the year before.

It could, how­ever, rise.

Kruse is also the chair of the Senate Education Committee where the bill will be heard. It is usually his practice to not hold a vote the same day a bill is heard but a vote is expected Wednesday because of the urgent nature of the situation.

The State Board of Education is expected to issue school grades in a few weeks.

Without intervention by lawmakers, four times as many schools would be classified as failing and the number of top-rated schools would be slashed in half under preliminary calculations of A-to-F accountability grades.

"The current version of Senate Bill 200 is common-sense legislation that allows schools time to adjust to our new standards and prevents unnecessary economic harm to our schools and communities," Ritz said. "This bill has my strong support." 

The large drop in performance is related to plunging ISTEP+ scores for students facing new academic standards and a more rigorous test taken last spring.

Test administrators are still rescoring thousands of appeals so the grades could shift slightly.

Pence in October pushed to decouple teacher evaluations and performance pay from the ISTEP+ scores for one year, and on Monday said Kruse’s bill on accountability grades is part of his legislative agenda. 

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, will file a bill stating that ISTEP+ scores and A-F accountability grades cannot be used as part of this year’s teacher evaluations, which will prevent last year’s ISTEP+ from affecting teacher raises and teacher performance grants. Behning’s bill will also allow those grants for each school district to be based on the better of last year’s or this year’s ISTEP+ passing rate.

"We look forward to moving on this issue quickly," Bosma said. "Our efforts will help ensure teachers and schools will have more time to adjust to our new, tougher standards and not be unfairly penalized."

If nothing is done, the number of A schools would be at 466 – or 22.8 percent – for the 2014-15 school year. That is compared with 53.6 percent the year before.

The number of F schools would be 359 – or 17.6 percent. That is compared to 4 percent the year before.

In all, 742 schools could receive D or F grades – up from 218.

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