ISTA urges Pence to seek accountability delay

Indiana's largest teachers union is urging Gov. Mike Pence to support freezing the state's education accountability system for one year because of revisions to the ISTEP test being driven by the state's new academic standards.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith asked Pence in a Tuesday letter "to take the lead to follow common sense" and support a one-year moratorium of the state's system that evaluates schools' and teachers' under the high-stakes test.

The retooled ISTEP standardized test will be administered next spring and will assess students' mastery of the state's newly adopted math and English benchmarks that changed after Indiana became the first state to pull out of the national Common Core curriculum standards.

Meredith said that because students' scores are expected to be lower than normal on the revised test, it would not be fair to use those in determining performance. ISTEP test scores are used in calculating teacher pay and school funding, as well as school grades under the state's "A-F" system.

"Labeling a school A-F and evaluating teachers based on the initial year's baseline score would be unfair; not to mention what test results will do to the students who don't score well," Meredith said in her letter to Pence.

She added that Education Secretary Arne Duncan's announcement last week that states can apply for extra time before using student test scores to judge teachers' performance gives Indiana "newfound 'permission'" to follow that course.

Daniel Altman, a spokesman for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, said Ritz is concerned about "the viability" of the test score data from the upcoming ISTEP test.

But he said the state Legislature has the final say on whether Indiana pauses its accountability system.

"In order for accountability to work, it has to be both fair and accurate," Altman said in a statement, adding that "it is worth noting that individuals as varied as Secretary Duncan and Bill Gates have recommended that we take time to look at this data before we use it for high stakes evaluations."

Indiana lawmakers pulled the state out of Common Core standards earlier this year, leading the State Board of Education to adopt new school academic standards in April.

Federal education officials have said that the revised ISTEP test will have to be given next year in order for the state to maintain its waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. The test's current revision will be the third time it's been revamped since 2009.

Pence said in a June letter to Duncan that he opposes pausing the state's education accountability system. He said in that letter that delivering school grades and evaluating teachers is "essential to ensuring that every child has access to a quality school," that teachers are rewarded for excellence and strategies are devised to improve underperforming schools.

Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said Wednesday in a statement that the state's accountability system is driven by the state Legislature and decisions made by the State Board of Education, which she said has not had time to "consider all the elements and options."

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