Indiana Capitol

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Bills that would keep poor ILEARN test results from affecting Indiana schools and teachers for two years and permanently remove standardized test results from the criteria by which educators are evaluated easily cleared Indiana's House Education Committee on Tuesday.

House Bill 1001, the two-year "hold harmless" legislation sponsored by Rep. Dale DeVon, and House Bill 1002, the teacher evaluation measure sponsored by Rep. Anthony Cook, both passed by unanimous votes during a committee hearing.

The move comes a day after the Senate Education and Career Development Committee unanimously passed a similar bill granting a two-year ILEARN relief period for districts and teachers.

Scores on state assessments are used to determine which districts and schools need state intervention and bonuses for teachers, but that won't be the case for the next two years if either HB 1001 or Senate Bill 2 become law. Gov. Eric Holcomb and other Indiana policymakers have supported efforts to keep dismal ILEARN test results from impacting schools and teachers.

Robert Taylor, associate director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said the two-year window gives school leaders time to "review and reflect" on ILEARN, which was introduced in the 2018-19 school year. The results found that fewer than half of Indiana's students were proficient in both reading and math.

"I think what we will do is come up with a much stronger, much more meaningful and much more accurate accountability instrument that can be used throughout all Indiana schools," Taylor said. "… We believe that 'hold harmless' does not mean it's a free pass."

Other education groups spoke in favor of HB 1001 and HB 1002, including the Indiana State Teachers Association, American Federation of Teachers Indiana, Indiana Urban Schools Association, Indiana School Boards Association and the Indiana Association of School Principals.

The "hold harmless" measure is a key legislative priority for ISTA and other like-minded groups in this year's session, which began Monday.

The Indiana Department of Education also backed the measures, but Maggie Paino, director of accountability, said the agency would prefer suspending the applicable laws for two years rather than simply shielding schools and teachers from ILEARN consequences for that period.

That would keep "misleading or unreliable information" on ILEARN results from becoming public and give policymakers, including a new education secretary, time to consider updating laws and regulations as necessary, she said.

"Without a true and holistic review of the state accountability system, the department anticipates continued requests for 'hold harmless' from the current state accountability system in the future," Paino told lawmakers.

But representatives of groups like ExcelinEd in Action, the lobbying arm of a Florida-based education reform organization, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce were among those opposed to a two-year state accountability reprieve and decoupling standardized test results from teacher evaluations.

Jason Bearce, the chamber's vice president of education and workforce development, said HB 1001 should be limited to one year at most.

"It's common for there to be an initial dip in student performance when a new state assessment is administered for the first time, but we do not believe that that in and of itself justifies an extended hiatus from school accountability," Bearce said.

"The bottom line from our perspective is the ILEARN test is a valid measure of student progress and the results, as disappointing as they may be, are consistent with our students' recent performance on other valid assessments."

Zach Eckert, regional advocacy director for ExcelinEd in Action, questioned the logic of removing students' test performances from teacher evaluations since most Indiana teachers receive "effective" or "highly effective" ratings.

"This bill sends a message to students and teachers that they are no longer required to be evaluated effectively," Eckert said of HB 1002.

But supporters of HB 1002 said one test should not have such a significant influence on how teachers are evaluated.

Sally Sloan, executive director of the American Federation of Teachers Indiana, called HB 1002 "one of the most positive pieces of legislation" for educators, and Mark Felix, president of the Greater Clark Education Association, said a single test score should not "make or break" how teachers are evaluated.

"Test scores don't always reflect the quality of instruction because there's so many factors outside of the school, outside of the teachers' control that are not taken into consideration when test scores are used in evaluations," Felix told the committee.

HB 1001 and HB 1002 now head to the House floor for votes.

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