- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 27, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence announced Tuesday he is siding with Democratic state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz in calling for less reliance this year on ISTEP standardized test scores for evaluating teachers and schools.

“Indiana recently transitioned to more rigorous college and career-ready academic standards and a new assessment,” Pence wrote in a letter to Ritz and state Board of Education members. “I believe our teachers should not be penalized for the anticipated decline in test scores associated with the new exam.”

The announcement raised the possibility of a change in the evaluation process, a proposal that had previously faced opposition from the Pence-appointed board. It also could deliver a bipartisan political reward to the Republican governor, whose popularity took a beating amid a national backlash to the state’s controversial religious objections law last spring.

Pence’s letter came a day before the Board of Education is expected to vote on setting the minimum passing scores on the tests that more than 400,000 students in grades three through eight took last spring.

Ritz for months has warned that many more students will fail the ISTEP exam this year because of more difficult state standards, which were created after Republican legislators and Pence withdrew Indiana from the national Common Core standards last year. She has called for teachers and schools to not be penalized for low scores, which are factors used to determine schools rankings and teacher pay raises.

Pence seemed to agree in his letter, saying school A-F letter grades should “fairly reflect the efforts of our students and teachers as we transition to higher standards.”

However, a Ritz spokeswoman offered only faint praise, calling Pence’s idea a “welcome first step” after “a year and a half of uncertainty and worry for our students, teachers and schools that was entirely unnecessary.”

Any change in the way this year’s testing data is used to evaluate teachers and schools would require the Legislature’s approval. Pence said in the letter he is working with GOP leaders in the House and Senate to draft a proposal. House Speaker Brian Bosman and Republican Senate Leader David Long both said they support the idea.

Earlier this week, key Republican lawmakers who influence state education policy rejected advising the Legislature to move forward on a similar idea. GOP members of an education study committee voted down the suggestion Monday after House Education Chairman Robert Behning said there wasn’t enough time for the Legislature to address the issue.

Behning, an Indianapolis Republican, on Tuesday stopped short of fully endorsing Pence’s plan, which he called a “logical move considering the total number of problems that we’ve had with ISTEP.”

But he said some student test data should still be used to improve academic achievement and raised questions about how exactly lawmakers will go about implementing the plan.

GOP leaders previously ruled out taking up legislation when they gather for one day in November to tend to administrative matters. Taking up the issue would require lawmakers who convene in January to retroactively give school districts the authority to disregard the scores.

“It’s going to very complicated as to how we go about doing it,” Behning said.

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