Local lawmakers meet with educators ahead of legislative session

FORTVILLE — How to evaluate teachers — and whether ISTEP should figure into those assessments —  were issues discussed between local legislators and educators Wednesday.

Ahead of the start of the 2017 Indiana legislative session, which begins next month, Hancock County state lawmakers met with local educators to discuss issues affecting public instruction.

Administrators, educators and school board members representing the county’s four school districts shared concerns with Rep. Bob Cherry and Sen. Mike Crider, both Republicans from Greenfield, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who represents the western portion of the county.

While educators had plenty of questions about how schools might be evaluated in the future and what type of assessment will replace the heavily criticized ISTEP exam, which is being phased out, lawmakers had questions for them, too.

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Bosma asked educators in the room whether they believe standardized test results should be considered during teacher evaluations at all.

Under current standards, teachers are held accountable for how their students perform on ISTEP, though local districts decide the extent to which ISTEP results factor into teacher evaluations, which are used to determine whether a teacher will receive a raise or bonus.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz’s administration has fought to have lawmakers remove the link between test scores and teacher reviews, a proposal the Republican-controlled General Assembly hasn’t favored.

Bosma said he was a bit surprised to hear incoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick shared her predecessor’s support of divorcing test results from teacher evaluations.

Shane Robbins, superintendent of Mt. Vernon Schools, said his district doesn’t heavily rely on ISTEP results to guide instruction. Instead, the district uses results from other assessments when evaluating teachers’ effectiveness.

The past few years, ISTEP scores haven’t been returned to schools until the start of the new school year or later, making it difficult for teachers to learn from them and adjust curriculum, they say.

Greenfield-Central Superintendent Harold Olin said test results should inform teacher evaluations, but he doesn’t want the department of education to dictate how much weight they hold in a staff member’s review.

Balancing educators’ requests with those coming from other departments and organizations is difficult, legislators said; lawmakers and educators also discussed the various departments competing against education for state funding.

Roads, the department of child services, mental health services and state police all need more support, and state departments are asking for more funding to give their employees raises.

“If you have a connection as a legislator to an issue, everybody is coming to you and saying, ‘We need money in this area,'” Crider said.

But education remains a huge priority, he said.

Lawmakers return to the Statehouse, where they’ll debate the state’s biennial budget, along with other education issues, Jan. 3.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.