State GOP leaders want delay on ILEARN's penalties

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana officials are looking to delay any penalties to schools and teachers from lower student scores on the state's new standardized test even before its first results are released to the public.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and top GOP legislative leaders said Monday they want lawmakers to approve a one-year delay so that the English and math test scores don't hurt teacher evaluations or the A-F ratings given to schools.

About 500,000 Indiana students in grades 3-8 took the new ILEARN test in the spring after the Republican-dominated Legislature ordered it in 2017 as a replacement for the much-maligned ISTEP exams.

The ILEARN scores were sent to school this month and will be released to the public Sept. 4, according to the state Department of Education.

But Holcomb announced Monday that ILEARN scores are lower when compared with previous ISTEP results. He said in a statement that since this is the test's first year, he wants the Legislature to "hold schools harmless so the test scores do not have an adverse impact on teacher evaluations and schools' letter grades for the 2018-19 school year. This action will ease the transition to ILEARN."

The move to replace the ISTEP exam came after it faced years of complaints about the number of days students spent taking the test, computer troubles for students blamed on the testing vendors hired by the state and monthslong waits for exam results from the testing companies.

ILEARN is a computer adaptive test, with questions that change depending on whether a student answers a previous question correctly. State officials have said it will assess a student's abilities better than the ISTEP exam, which gave all students the same questions.

Holcomb's announcement was followed about 15 minutes later by statements from Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and GOP Senate leader Rodric Bray supporting the one-year delay.

State schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who has clashed with fellow Republicans on the use of standardized test results, released a statement about three hours after the governor that confirmed the lower scores. She blamed the drop on more rigorous standards to assess college and career readiness.

McCormick has sided with critics of how Indiana uses standardized test scores as a factor in determining teacher pay raises and for rating schools.

She said Monday she wanted a modernized accountability system and that with the lower ILEARN scores she supports "legislative action addressing negative impact on educators, schools, districts and communities."

The state's largest teachers union also endorsed the proposal for a one-year delay in use of the ILEARN scores, saying the exams were being misused.

"We should not rely on these scores to label our schools and communities with a letter grade or negatively impact teachers' evaluation and pay," Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill said. "ILEARN is yet another example of Indiana's continued use of standardized tests and constant policy turmoil that harms students and discourages teachers to remain in the profession."

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