Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state leaders are recommending the Indiana General Assembly take action so that 2019 ILEARN results do not have an adverse affect on teacher evaluations and schools' letter grades.

The governor issued a statement Monday in response to ILEARN results, which are lower than prior years' ISTEP+results. This is the first year for the new ILEARN test.

Last week, Jennifer McCormick, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, also called for legislative action addressing the negative impact of the first round of ILEARN test scores.

But some educators, and representatives of the Indiana State Teachers Association, are questioning the state's overall school accountability system and its reliance on expensive standardized testing.

Indiana students in grades 3-8 took the new standardized test for the first time this past spring. It replaced the unpopular ISTEP test and features several changes.

The new test is computer adaptive, which means the difficulty of the test will adjust to each student’s skills. It's totally online and there is one testing window.

Over the past two weeks, according to McCormick, districts and schools received embargoed ILEARN scores.

When compared to past ISTEP+ scores, the ILEARN scores indicated lower achievement levels across the state in both English/language arts and mathematics.

"The combination of the rigors associated with this newly aligned college and career readiness assessment, national normative data, and the defined established performance cuts all contributed to the lower performance levels," McCormick said.

"While frustrating, performance dips at some level were expected, as previously experienced in 2014-2015 with the onset of the then newly implemented ISTEP+."

ILEARN scores will be made public at the Sept. 4 State Board of Education meeting.

Holcomb on Monday issued a statement that said ILEARN results "will show a decrease compared to the previously administered ISTEP+ test. Since this is the first year of the ILEARN assessment, I will ask Superintendent McCormick to support my request that the General Assembly take action 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, which is a student assessment that allows Indiana to comply with federal ESSA [Every Student Succeeds Act] requirements."

McCormick, in her statement, said the Indiana Department of Education "has been actively advocating for a new, modernized, state-legislated accountability system that is fair, accurate, and transparent. As communicated last week, in response to the embargoed ILEARN results, we are proposing legislative action addressing the negative impact on educators, schools, districts, and communities."

While her statement doesn't specifically address what the legislative action would be, according to Adam Baker, IDOE spokesman, the only legislative action that could be taken is a "hold harmless" measure.

While the Indiana State Teachers Association agrees with the "hold harmless" stance, it went a step further, saying, "Our students, teachers and communities are much more than just a test score.

"We should not rely on these scores to label our schools and communities with a letter grade or negatively impact teachers’ evaluation and pay. 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."

The ISTA said it "joins" Gov.Holcomb in calling on the General Assembly to hold schools and teachers harmless "until educators feel confident in the system. We urge the legislature to send a clear message of urgency and to take immediate action on Organization Day in November.”

Republican legislative leaders, Rodric Bray, who is Senate President Pro Tem, and House Speaker Brian Bosma issued statements supporting the governor's call for a delay in using ILEARN results toward teacher evaluations and school grades.

Tonya Pfaff, a Vigo County school teacher and Democratic state representative, said educators and students are spending too much time on standardized testing.

“I'm so anti-testing,” she said. “It is not an effective use of our classroom time at all.” Teachers spend hours and weeks preparing students to take a test and “I'm not sure what the point of these tests is. … There are no clear goals for why we are testing.”

But given ILEARN is in place and Indiana does have standardized testing, Pfaff did say schools and teachers should not be negatively affected by the first year of the new test.

Kim Fidler, ISTA Uniserv director who works with teacher unions in Vigo and surrounding counties, is harshly critical of the state's current school accountability system. She said it should be suspended and the testing eliminated.

She the current system is part of an effort by the Republican supermajority “to continue to make public schools and teachers look bad. It's really frustrating.” Fidler said. Test scores are used to determine school A-F letter grades and for teacher evaluations, which affects whether they receive pay increases.

She believes the money spent on testing could be used in better ways, such as for remediation programs or programs that serve special education students. Those funds also could be used to improve teacher pay, she said.

“The whole accountability system is broken and doesn't work,” Fidler said. “It's not fair and not transparent. We need to do away with it at the state level.”
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