- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed an executive order Monday directing the state to shorten its main standardized test and hire an education consultant to recommend ways to trim the exam after he learned that it could take more than 12 hours to administer it to third-graders.

The governor said he signed the order to lessen the burden students, their parents and teachers will face when about 450,000 students in grades 3 through 8 will take the exam this spring.

The high-stakes test, known as the ISTEP+, was revamped to align it with new state academic standards adopted last April after Indiana became the first state to pull out of the national Common Core standards. Student test scores are used to calculate teacher pay, school funding and school grades under the state’s “A-F” rating system.

Pence said he learned last week and was “deeply troubled” that the time needed to administer the revamped test would more than double for all grades, from about five hours to up to 12 hours, 30 minutes for third-graders.

“Doubling the length of the STEP plus test is unacceptable and I won’t stand for it. Doubling the testing time for our kids is a hardship on them, it’s a hardship on families, it’s a hardship on our teachers,” he said during a Statehouse news conference.

Pence said Indiana’s Office of Management and Budget would hire “a nationally recognized” expert to draft recommendations so the state Department of Education, the State Board of Education and the state’s test vendor, CTB-McGraw Hill, can act on “to substantially shorten the test.”

He said early indications suggest removing the test’s reading section and a social studies portion “could substantially reduce the test’s length.”

Pence pointed to the state Department of Education, which is overseen by state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz - Indiana’s only Democratic statewide office-holder - saying there has been “a disappointing lack of transparency in this process.”

“I cannot help but feel this is all a byproduct of the dysfunction that has existed at the State Board of Education the past two years,” he said during a Statehouse news conference.

Ritz has clashed repeatedly with the board’s Republican-appointed board members. In November 2012, Ritz defeated Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican who had championed programs on teacher evaluation, private school vouchers and the state takeover of poorly-performing schools.

Pence’s executive order came as state lawmakers were considering Republican-backed legislation that would remove Ritz as leader of the State Board of Education. That legislation would allow the board to elect any member as chairman as soon as the bill was signed into law.

Ritz had sent a message to State Board of Education members Sunday requesting a special meeting within seven days to address the mounting concerns about the test’s significantly longer time.

DOE spokesman Daniel Altman said CTB-McGraw Hill only provided the state agency in January with information detailing how long it would take to give the new test to students.

Altman said additional questions had been added to the test in accordance with the new state standards that require students to show their work to demonstrate how they had reached a particular answer.

He added that Pence last year called for “uncommonly high standards” when Indiana was drafting its new academic standards.

“Well if you have standards that are uncommonly high you have an assessment that’s aligned to them. That means if your standards are uncommonly high the assessment is going to more rigorous. That means it takes more time for students to take that test,” he said.

Altman said Ritz and DOE staff told the State Board of Education in June that the U.S. Department of Education had informed the department that it could not do pilot tests of the new ISTEP+ exam separate from the actual test.

Instead, the federal agency instructed the state must essentially combine the actual test with questions from the pilot test - data from which will be factored in a new test students will be given next year.

“These are federal requirements and we’re doing what the U.S. Department of Education requires us to do,” he said, while adding that Ritz and the DOE both believe the new test is “too long.”

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said in statement that Pence had his full support in issuing his executive order. He added that “greatly multiply testing time in 2015 was the Superintendent’s decision alone.”

“It has become apparent that the Department of Education needs assistance resolving this issue and outside counsel in reducing the ridiculous amount of time our students are scheduled to spend testing this year,” he said.

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