Long, Bosma say they’ll do what’s needed to shorten ISTEP

Indiana legislative leaders said Thursday they’re prepared to ram through legislation if needed to make the state’s ISTEP test shorter – but won’t consider Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz’s proposal to pause the school grading system for one year.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said lawmakers “will help in any way it is required.”

State leaders – including lawmakers, Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence – are scrambling to shorten a test that is projected to double in length this year, to as long as 12-1/2 hours for some students.

Pence and Republican have blamed Ritz, a Democrat, for the problems. But she’s insisted the longer test is the result of legislative mandates and federal rules as well as the state’s transition to curriculum standards that require a new test in 2016.

Pence has been talking to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan about waiving some of the rules that may be forcing a longer test. And House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said his chamber is also prepared to act.

“If it’s necessary to take legislative action then we will do so,” he said.

Lawmakers have just a few weeks until the testing window for the ISTEP opens later this month. Already, the governor has hired outside experts to make recommendations to shorten the exam, although only Ritz can make changes to the test. And legislative leaders met with Ritz this week to discuss how to make the changes happen.

“I came out of that meeting convinced that we can shorten the test if everyone cooperates, if everyone works together,” Long said. “It does require the superintendent to say ‘I will embrace shortening the test.’ Under the law, she has that authority to say yes or no. It looks to me from everything I’ve seen, that this is doable.”

But Bosma said he’s troubled that Ritz seems fixated on postponing accountability measures that are based in part on ISTEP results. He said Ritz made that goal a significant part of her meeting with legislative leaders. And on Friday, she’ll ask the State Board of Education to postpone new grades based on the scores.

“Every time I ask for a solution from the Department of Education, the superintendent’s office, the only solution is to waive accountability, which does not shorten the test,” Bosma said.

But on WFYI’s No Limits public radio program on Thursday, the superintendent said students are already facing a more rigorous test based on tougher standards. She said they know that their school’s grade and their teacher’s evaluations are in part based on their scores, and that’s too much pressure.

Ritz said that “just shouldn’t happen this year. I would be irresponsible if I did not request that of the General Assembly to alleviate those two things.”

But Bosma and Long said no way. “If we put a pause in here, I think as I’ve pointed out before, that throws our whole system into complete disarray,” Long said.

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