- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Bills to give teachers and schools a one-year reprieve from being punished for poor student performance on ISTEP exams passed by overwhelming margins on Tuesday, one in the House and one in the Senate.

Both measures, which received bipartisan support, are the GOP’s answer to dismal student 2015 ISTEP scores, which plummeted about 20 percent from 2014 after stringent new performance standards pushed by Republicans, including Gov. Mike Pence, went into effect.

The bills are moving quickly through the Legislature so they’ll land on the desk of Pence, who says he will sign them into law.

The measure that passed in the House 95-1 would spare teachers from having merit pay withheld due to student scores. Minutes later in the Senate, a 48-1 vote moved forward a bill that would prevent schools from being assigned a lower A-F grade for the same reason. Each bill now goes to the other chamber for consideration.

Critics of the new standards say they were hastily put in place without proper testing and troubleshooting after GOP lawmakers withdrew Indiana from national Common Core standards. Some conservatives called the math and science standards a federal takeover of education.



Officials had predicted a double-digit drop in passing rates, and the prediction came true. Now, leading House Education Chairman Bob Behning wants to hire a third-party to re-grade the exams due to problems with the administration and scoring of the tests that have been uncovered in recent months, including a months-long delay in getting scores out to schools and parents.

Democratic Rep. Terry Goodin says the bills approved Tuesday, commonly known as “hold harmless” measures, don’t just give a reprieve to educators but also let GOP leaders off the hook for a problem of their own making.

“We’re actually having ‘hold harmless’ for legislators and our governor,” said Goodin, who’s also a school superintendent from Austin. “We need to have a real conversation about throwing the ISTEP test out, putting those millions of dollars in the classroom.”

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