Lawmakers hope to fast-track ISTEP bill

HANCOCK COUNTY — Local lawmakers say they expect to fast-track a bill in January that would shield educators from being negatively affected by ISTEP results, which are anticipated to plummet.

Scores from the assessment, which was administered to students in Grades 3 through 8 last spring, are expected to drop 24 percentage points in mathematics and 16 points in language arts, according to projections from the Indiana Department of Education. Administrators, teachers and parents have heavily criticized the test, which is based on more rigorous standards than recent years. Teacher pay and performance evaluations hinge on how their students fare on the test.

The Indiana Department of Education is expected to release scores in January, months later than initially planned — and on the heels of allegations some of the tests might have been improperly scored.

State Sen. Mike Crider and Rep. Bob Cherry, both Greenfield Republicans, say they plan to act quickly in the first weeks of the legislative session that starts in January to find a resolution to protect schools from ISTEP results. Both lawmakers are supportive of a bill proposed by House Education Committee chairman Robert Behning, an Indianapolis Republican, that calls for a one-year freeze on how results are factored into teacher evaluations.

Aside from this year’s higher standards affecting scores, thousands of ISTEP exams might have been incorrectly scored because of a computer malfunction during the grading process, leading to further criticism of results.

School districts are required by the state to factor test scores in teacher evaluations. If enough students fail ISTEP, a teacher might not receive a pay raise.

“Our teachers work hard to get their kids to perform on these tests, and they shouldn’t be affected by scores that are out of their control,” Cherry said.

Local school administrators have echoed that sentiment in recent weeks. Officials from Eastern Hancock and Mt. Vernon schools issued letters to parents at the beginning of December describing the burden the test poses on districts. Administrators from other local corporations say they plan to follow suit.

Crider said he expects the issue to garner enough bipartisan support to be fast-tracked through the General Assembly.

“There’s too much at stake to allow this to just take its course,” Crider said. “This has been a disaster, and it’s time to do something about it.”

Crider said he also would support a measure to protect district’s accountability grades, which are issued to individual schools on an A-F scale and heavily emphasize performance on standardized tests.

Behning’s proposal doesn’t call for changes to the rating system.

Shane Robbins, superintendent of Mt. Vernon schools, said accountability grades often shape public perception of districts. Those grades can make or break a district, and administrators strive all school year to achieve high marks, he said.

“It’s a way of celebrating your work,” he said. “When you map out a game plan and work hard to carry it out, you want to see the fruits of your labor.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.