By Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - With schools concerned about big drops in Indiana’s standardized tests scores, a top legislator on education issues says he’s coming up with proposals to adjust how the state uses the results.

Those scores are used in determining teacher raises and A-F ratings for local schools. Officials are blaming the double-digit drop in passing rates for students on changes made to last spring’s ISTEP exam.

House Education Committee chairman Robert Behning, an Indianapolis Republican, said he’ll have a bill ready during the first weeks of the legislative session that starts in January for a one-year suspension of ISTEP as part of teacher evaluations. He calls it a “transition-year adjustment.”

The state Department of Education is expected to release student scores from last spring’s ISTEP exams in January - nearly five months later than the release of the spring 2014 results.

Behning said he would have another bill aimed a softening the impact of the lower student scores on school ratings.

“It’s tough to hold anyone accountable when we don’t even tell you until halfway through the school year how you performed,” he told the South Bend Tribune.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence announced in October he supported a one-year break in linking teacher pay raises to the ISTEP results of their students.

That came amid concerns about steep declines in student scores, with the Education Department saying about 65 percent of students will have passing marks on ISTEP’s language arts section and about 59 percent passing the math section. More than 80 percent of students passed each part of the 2014 exam.

Many local school leaders say Indiana’s testing system is botched. They point to changes in education standards made after Pence and the GOP-dominated Legislature withdrew Indiana from the national Common Core standards last year and the adding of hours in testing time needed for the exam taken by more than 400,000 students grades three through eight.

“The fact we’re going to penalize kids, we’re going to penalize teachers and we’re going to penalize schools and communities with this type of data is just horrible,” Eastern Howard schools Superintendent Tracy Caddell told the Kokomo Tribune.

South Bend schools Superintendent Carole Schmidt said she’s concerned that plummeting A-F letter grades for schools could have negative consequences for communities.

“Those school grades hold a perception,” she said. “A perception that’s being held again on one test that is not even equitable across the board.”

Behning, however, said he didn’t agree with suggestions that schools not be rated based on the 2015 ISTEP scores.

“There are still a number of A, B and C schools,” he said. “It’s not fair to say ‘everyone is an A this year’ when some (schools) have done a stellar job.”

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