Hold harmless: Indiana lawmakers propose using 2018 state grades to get teachers their bonuses on time

Two top Indiana lawmakers are saying schools should be allowed to use old state-issued A-F grades to avoid delaying teacher bonuses. That recommendation comes as the state legislature considers a one-year “hold harmless” for low 2019 ILEARN scores.

In a letter to Superintendent Jennifer McCormick released Wednesday, Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray asked that the state’s top education authority instruct schools to use 2018 state grades for any teacher evaluations that would have been negatively impacted by new scores and grades.

At the same time, the lawmakers vowed to “expedite” hold harmless legislation in January, which would protect schools and teachers from negative consequences caused by low 2019 results on the state’s new ILEARN exam. Only 37.1% of Indiana students passed both the math and English portions.

Such hold harmless legislation would have the same effect as what Bosma and Bray are proposing. But moving now instead of waiting for the legislative session would allow the state to distribute teachers’ merit bonuses, funded through the Teacher Appreciation Grant program, by the usual December deadline.

In the letter, Bosma and Brian said this would be the “most timely, least disruptive” course for schools.

McCormick has previously called on lawmakers to hold schools and teachers harmless, as well as to reconsider the state grading system’s heavy reliance on state standardized test scores. She and her team are still reviewing the lawmakers’ letter, an Indiana Department of Education spokesperson said.

The State Board of Education, which includes McCormick, had already voted to delay releasing 2019 grades until lawmakers had time to consider the hold harmless. Some 90% of Indiana schools saw 60% of students or fewer passing both subject exams, meaning most of the state’s elementary and middle schools were on track to receive a D or F.

Calls for a one-year reprieve from consequences began in August, before 2019 ILEARN results were publicly released. Some lawmakers said they expected a transition period as students acclimate to the new test. But the General Assembly did not put any exceptions in place preemptively.

Schools are still expected to receive a federal performance measure, which the state previously adopted to comply with federal requirements while continuing to give state grades.

The delay and hold harmless exemption would not apply to the federal measure, which can factor into federal funding and which schools receive additional support. But those scores aren’t expected to be similarly affected because the measure uses more metrics, such as school attendance rates and language proficiency of English-learners.