Two of this year’s biggest education bills dealing with the fallout from last year’s ISTEP test were signed into law today by Gov. Mike Pence less than three weeks into the 2016 legislative session.
Almost two years of debates are over. There will be a “pause” in sanctions for teachers and schools with students that had poor ISTEP scores last year.
Both Senate Bill 200, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and House Bill 1003, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, have a shared goal of relieving teachers and schools from the potentially harsh effects of scores that could have been widespread after the passing rate for both English and math for students statewide sank by about 22 percentage points to 53.5 percent.
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said since he was first elected in 1996 he’s never seen two bills travel so quickly through the legislature. Long said the bills were the product of months of collaboration among members of the Indiana House and Senate, the Indiana State Board of Education and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz.
“We have all worked together for one purpose, and that’s to have a better outcome for our schools and teachers,” he said.
Senate Bill 200, which passed the House today 97-1, prevents schools from receiving A-F letter grades for 2015 that are lower than what they received in 2014. The grade pause only counts for 2015. Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, was the lone legislator who voted no. Going forward, schools will be under a new accountability system that more actively factors in student improvement on tests from year to year.
Behning’s bill blocks the use of ISTEP scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation for 2015 unless it would improve a teacher’s rating. The bill also ensures teachers will receive bonuses or salary increases no matter what A-F letter grades their schools receive. It passed the Senate today 48-0.
Ritz said schools will soon receive guidance from the Indiana Department of Education about when they could expect to get the performance bonuses.
Pence said he was grateful to Ritz for bringing up the “hold harmless” issue last year.
“I also want to thank Superintendent Ritz, who first called this issue as a possibility to our attention in the middle of last year,” Pence said. “We appreciate her passion for our kids, we appreciate her dedication. We thank you … for your leadership on this issue”
In a statement, Ritz said the refusal of Republican lawmakers to acknowledge the problem until this year just led to more frustration.
“I have appreciated recent momentum behind this vital issue, but it is worth noting that this issue should have been dealt with a year ago,” Ritz said. “Had we done so, there is no doubt that much of the consternation and difficulty our schools experienced in the last year could have been avoided.”
Last year’s ISTEP test was riddled with scoring problems and technical glitches, and the resulting scores have been loudly bashed by educators and policymakers alike as unreliable. The problem goes, in part, all the way back to the state’s hasty reworking of its academic standards in 2014, which led to a need for a quick overhaul of the state ISTEP tests in English and math for students in grades 3-8 in 2015. Performance on the test was uniformly poor across the state. All but four of 1,500 public schools saw their scores go down.
That prompted Pence and fellow Republican leaders in the House and Senate to rush two bills to ease the pain schools that would come from the state’s accountability system, which leans heavily on ISTEP scores. Schools with persistently failing grades can face state takeover, and teachers of students who don’t show test score gains from the prior year can be blocked from pay raises.
Pence started out staunchly opposed to an accountability “pause” for teachers or schools but reversed course in an announcement last fall, calling instead for legislators to spare teachers from consequences for lower ISTEP scores.
In follow up statement earlier this month, Pence came out in support of a similar pause for school A-F grades. Ritz has long supported such a pause, and the passage of these bills marks a rare political victory for her administration.
“It has happened and I’m really excited about it,” Ritz said. “We just need to move forward.”