ISTEP bills escape amendments, but not some criticism


The Indiana Senate on Monday made no changes during the amendment phase to a bill that would prevent the latest ISTEP scores from having a negative impact on state schools.

Senate Bill 200 would allow the Department of Education to maintain the same performance grade for a school even if ISTEP scores for the 2014-15 academic year are lower than the previous year’s scores.

The need for an A-F grade fix stems from several problems with the latest ISTEP test, including scoring problems and differences that were discovered between difficulty in online and paper versions that required scoring adjustments so all students had comparable results. In addition, the exam was modified to include new benchmarks at each grade level.

In 2015, 67.3 percent of students passed the English/Language Arts section of the ISTEP, 61 percent passed the Mathematics section and 53.5 percent passed both sections.

In 2014, 80.7 percent of students passed the English/Language Arts section, 83.5 percent passed the Mathematics section and 74.7 percent passed both portions.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said she believes the actions of the bill are “much-needed relief.”

“Indiana’s schools, educators and communities simply cannot be blamed for mandated changes in standards and assessments,” Ritz said in a statement. “As you know, I’ve been pushing for this for over a year and a half and I have been pleased to see recent legislative momentum behind this bipartisan, commonsense approach.”

SB 200 passed through the committee last week. Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, was the only committee member to vote no to the bill at that time.

“My point in the ‘no vote’ in committee was to express the confidence in the fact that accountability is a good thing,” Schneider said.

He understands the accuracy issues of recent ISTEP scores but believes the state should be cautious about deviating from responsibility.

“Nobody wants to hold teachers or students accountable in [this] scenario and punish them for [this] but at the same time, somebody, somewhere messed up,” Schneider said. “Somebody needs to stand up.”

If passed, the Indiana Department of Education will have to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education in order to put the change into effect. The USDOE requires states with new assessments to apply for waivers in order to delay the assignment of grades.

In the Indiana House, a different bill is being considered that would prevent  the latest ISTEP results from jeopardizing teacher evaluations and bonuses.

Not everyone in the House is happy about the bill.

“Well, this is the beginning of what should have been a long conversation about what we are doing to our students and our teachers and our grading system,” Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said. “I don’t know why the majority chose to break this idea up into little pieces.”

DeLaney proposed three amendments to House Bill 1003 Monday during the House session. The majority voted down two of the amendments. Delaney withdrew his third amendment.

“Any interruption or amendment causes us to have to get back together and make sure that all parties are in favor of it,” Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis said. “We are really trying to focus on teacher evaluations. How to get that money to the teachers and hold them harmless for the implementation of this new test.”

Behning authored the bill after the major drop in ISTEP scores.

“I am no party to an agreement to fast-track through a fix for a mess that we have created,” DeLaney said. “I also reject the notion that we can’t file amendments to this bill because we are moving so fast, and because a deal has been made outside of this body.”

DeLaney said the legislature has moved from a “reform-mode to a Band-Aid-mode.”

“We have a huge problem with ISTEP, but no one is responsible,” DeLaney said. “Our teachers who should have gotten bonuses in the fall still don’t have them. Our teachers don’t know whether to change their teaching methods or curriculums. And we are halfway through the year.”

DeLaney said he wants a thorough and in-depth look into all of the issues that have surround ISTEP and education over the years.

But Behning wants to send HB 1003 to the governor by the end of this month.

“I think we need to stay the course, keep this bill clean, move it out of here and get it down the governor as quickly as possible,” Behning said.

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