Lawmakers pass two-year hold harmless for ILEARN


When the Indiana Legislature convened in January for the 2020 legislative session, passing a hold harmless bill in the wake of the first year of ILEARN was a priority.

The decision to pass a two-year hold harmless action for state standardized test scores — the first multi-year exemption in the state — came after test scores reached a record low following the first year of ILEARN, which replaces ISTEP for third- through eighth-graders.

Both legislative houses passed hold harmless legislation in the early days of the session with the Senate’s bill — SB 2 — ultimately passing both houses and being signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The hold harmless measure means that ILEARN scores from the 2018-19 and the 2019-20 school years cannot negatively affect schools’ or school corporations’ state accountability grades. However, the scores will still be made public, so those interested will be able to see how their schools performed on the test.

State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, said the legislature expected to need to pass a hold harmless measure due to the test change and the fact that ILEARN was designed to be more rigorous than ISTEP. The hold harmless measure is meant to give educators time to transition to the new test, Messmer said. Legislators knew the measure would need to last at least a year, but ultimately settled on two years.

“We went ahead and put that out over two years to give everyone some comfortability,” he said.

The measure easily passed both the House and the Senate. According to the Indiana General Assembly website, the bill passed the Senate with 49 yeas and one excused. In the House, the bill passed with 90 yeas, eight excused and two not voting. Both Messmer and State Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper, voted in favor of the measure. Rep. Stephen Bartels, R-Eckerty, was excused.

North Spencer Superintendent Dan Scherry said the hold harmless legislation doesn’t change how his administrators use the scores. They will still evaluate the data from the test — just as they do with other assessments students take — and look for ways to improve instruction.

Southwest Dubois Testing Coordinator Melissa Boeglin also said that her corporation will still use the data.

“We’re still looking at the data and analyzing it,” she said. “There’s still value in the data.”

A measure to decouple teacher evaluations from students’ ILEARN scores is also working its way through the legislature. Dubbed HB 1002, it “removes the requirement that a school corporation’s annual performance evaluation plan must be based, in part, on objective measures of student achievement,” according to the General Assembly’s website. It passed the house on Jan. 13 with 100 yea votes and is currently in the Senate’s committee on education and career development. Messmer said he expects it to pass.

“I think there has been a lot of agreement between House and Senate leadership,” Messmer said.

Messmer plans to vote in favor of the bill.

“I’m all for getting rid of that linkage,” he said, adding that it never felt like the right policy to him because of the many factors that affect students’ test performance.

At the local level, Scherry said the decoupling will be a positive for all teachers because it will allow corporations to develop a fair way to hold teachers accountable that focuses on the needs and goals of each corporation.

“Our teachers aren’t afraid of accountability,” he said. “What they don’t like is not knowing what they’re accountable for.”

Under the current system, Scherry said, the test scores don’t guide educators toward a course of action; they tell them what happened.

“We need something that’s going to guide us,” he said.

He also pointed out that linking teacher evaluations to ILEARN scores necessitates multiple evaluation methods because only third- through eighth-graders take the test. Teachers of other grades have a different assessment or measure used for that portion of the evaluation.

Once HB 1002 passes, Scherry said local corporations will be able to have conversations at the local level about what should be included in evaluations and what teachers can realistically be held accountable for.

A handful of other education-related bills are on the table, including one from the House that would allow schools to apply for a waiver for some regulations and one from the Senate that outlines training requirements for teachers wishing to carry firearms in school. The latter passed the Senate this week.

The 2020 legislative session ends March 14.

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