Gov. Mike Pence sent a letter to Indiana’s State Board of Education Tuesday saying an expected dip in 2015 ISTEP+ scores many people expect this year should not affect teacher bonuses and evaluations.
Pence also writes that the state’s A-F accountability system – which is largely based on ISTEP+ scores – should “appropriately capture performance in a way that is fair to our schools and our communities.”
“When states transition to new academic standards and a new assessment, test scores usually decrease, which occurred in the test scores you will review this week,” Pence wrote. “Given the transition Indiana has undergone this year with our academic standards and assessment, our response should reflect fairness to our students, our teachers and our schools.”
Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education offered some states with waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind law the option to delay incorporating student test scores into teacher evaluations during times of transition. But in a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on June 13, 2014, Pence wrote that Indiana would not pursue that option:
“Our accountability system was created by statute and defined by regulations adopted by the State Board of Education. As such, we are obligated to maintain our accountability system even as we implement the state’s new standards and deliver a new assessment aligned with those standards…We do not support a pause in accountability as it relates to delivering A-F grades to schools, determining intervention strategies in under- performing schools, or teacher evaluations that reflect classroom performance…We are confident that our state can implement the more rigorous standards while also accounting for any temporary impact on testing scores in a way that does not unfairly affect students, teachers and schools.”
It would appear he’s changed his tune, now saying Republicans in the legislature are working on legislation “to ensure that test results will not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses this year.”
Although Pence’s letter doesn’t call for a pause in accountability, he does ask the SBOE to suggest “solutions that preserve accountability and transparency for Indiana’s academic system.”
But this effort comes months after the Indiana Department of Education and SBOE had the same conversation, where it was decided the state would move forward as planned, per the governor’s request.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has repeatedly expressed concern about the state of Indiana’s accountability system for months. Earlier this year, she worked with IDOE staff to draft a list of possible options to ensure fairness in accountability measures and ease the blow to schools that might see a dip in their A-F grades after scores are released. But the rest of the SBOE did not support any of her suggestions.
“Superintendent Ritz supports strong accountability as long as it is fair, open and transparent,” IDOE spokeswoman Samantha Hart said in a statement Tuesday. “The Superintendent looks forward to working with Indiana’s leadership to take advantage of federal flexibility for both teacher evaluations and the assignment of A-F accountability grades for the 2014-15 school year.”
At the time this story was published, the governor’s office would not answer calls confirming legislation is being written. Spokespersons for Indianapolis Rep. Bob Behning, a leading Republican on various education committees, say he is not aware of any such measures being drafted.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, issued a statement that also implies legislation is not yet in the works, but that Republican leaders at the statehouse are willing to craft it.
“As we make this transition with our new standards and test, it is important to be as fair as possible to our students, teachers and schools,” Long said. “It appears that accomplishing this goal may require legislative action, and Senate Republicans are prepared to act as needed. I’m confident we can find a way to modify portions of our accountability system for one year without suspending it.”
During an interim study committee meeting Monday, lawmakers drafted a list of legislative topics they will propose the larger Assembly cover during the 2016 session. Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, put forth two items that suggested the legislature prevent teachers and schools from being penalized by this year’s ISTEP+ scores. Both measures were rejected.
One of the exact items Stoops suggested asked the Indiana General Assembly to introduce legislation to prevent ISTEP+ results from being used to penalize “a teacher as part of a teacher evaluation or in the calculation of a teacher’s salary or for determining the teacher’s eligibility for a performance grant.”
In sending this letter and asking for action now, Pence is rushing any sort of changes that could happen.
The legislature is not currently in session, so the soonest the General Assembly could act is Organization Day, Nov. 17. They could also rush action through at the beginning of the 2016 session. That only gives the SBOE and legislators from a few weeks up to two months to come up with a solution.