INDIANAPOLIS | Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday reversed his emphatic opposition to a pause in school accountability, just before the State Board of Education is to set standardized test-pass scores that significantly increase the number of Hoosier students failing the annual math and English exams.

After insisting for more than a year that teachers and schools must be evaluated as usual despite the adoption of more rigorous academic standards and a new ISTEP test, Pence declared he now believes teachers should not be penalized for the anticipated decline in test scores.

The board Wednesday is likely to set an ISTEP cut score that results in a "fail" rating on 41 percent of math and 35 percent of English exams. Less than 20 percent of Hoosier students failed either exam last year.

"We grade our children every week and we can grade our schools every year, but those grades should fairly reflect the efforts of our students and teachers as we transition to higher standards and a new exam," Pence said in a letter to the Republican-appointed school board and Glenda Ritz, the elected Democratic state superintendent of public instruction.

Pence, a Republican facing a tough 2016 re-election fight, said he already has asked GOP leadership at the General Assembly to craft legislation ensuring "test results will not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses" and guaranteeing the A-F school rating system "fairly reflects the efforts of our students and teachers during this transition year."

A GOP-controlled legislative study committee refused to endorse similar proposals Monday when offered by state Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington.

But Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said late Tuesday he's ready to assist the governor in modifying the state's school accountability system.

"As we make this transition with our new standards and test, it is important to be as fair as possible to our students, teachers and schools. It appears that accomplishing this goal may require legislative action, and Senate Republicans are prepared to act as needed," Long said.

It's not entirely clear what the Legislature will do, since the state school board is required by statute to issue school grades prior to Dec. 31 and lawmakers don't return to the Statehouse until January.

Also not known is whether student ISTEP results, which already have been slowed by vendor-scoring problems and state school board sparring, will be further delayed in anticipation of legislative action.

A spokeswoman for Ritz, who repeatedly has called for an accountability pause to protect teachers and schools from unnecessary sanctions, said Pence's action is "a welcome first step" toward a "fair, open and transparent" accountability system.

"Unfortunately, it comes after a year and a half of uncertainty and worry for our students, teachers and schools that was entirely unnecessary," said Samantha Hart, of the Indiana Department of Education.

John Gregg, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, said Pence's belated decision to pause school accountability is "another example of him leading from behind.

"For the last year and a half, he’s put politics ahead of doing what’s right for our kids and educators and only now, in the face of another embarrassing crisis, does he step up and do what’s right," Gregg said.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.