INDIANAPOLIS | Glenda Ritz will ask the State Board of Education to support a one-year pause in Indiana's A-F school grading and intervention programs to reduce student, parent and educator stress associated with implementing the new ISTEP-Plus standardized test.

At a special meeting Friday, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction is set to propose schools carry over their 2013-14 grades to the 2014-15 school year, and schools facing state takeover following six years of failing ratings be given additional support and another year to improve.

She said the accountability pause is needed to alleviate the burden on schools as they cope with a new, extra-long ISTEP exam.

That burden has been complicated this week by Republican Gov. Mike Pence racing to reduce the test's duration, days before some 450,000 Hoosier students in grades three through eight begin taking it. 

Ritz said the idea for a year's delay in A-F school grades first was recommended in 2013 by outside experts hired by Republican legislative leaders as the state transitioned to a new school grading system.

Since school grades mostly are determined by student test scores, the recommendation remains relevant as Indiana transitions to a new test, she said.

She also indicated federal officials are willing to consider an accountability pause request without threatening the state's compliance waiver for federal education mandates, so long as the governor-appointed state school board and Republican-controlled General Assembly endorse her proposal.

That is unlikely to happen.

Pence said Wednesday despite the uncertainty swirling around the length and content of the ISTEP exam — rewritten this year to align with Indiana's new educational standards that were enacted after Pence demanded the state rescind its adoption of Common Core standards — the state's school accountability system must be maintained.

"Accountability is important to the progress that Indiana has made and will continue to make in education," Pence said. "Our A-F program is essential to that."

The governor said he remains focused on reducing the scheduled 12 hours of ISTEP testing scheduled for two, two-week phases to about half that time.

Pence announced he has hired a second assessment consultant, Bill Auty, of Oregon, at $2,000 per day, to recommend ways of reducing the test's length.

Auty and Edward Roeber, of Michigan, are expected Friday to present their initial recommendations to the state school board.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Ritz, CTB McGraw-Hill, the test vendor, proposed seven changes that could reduce testing time, though some only shift student growth test items and new test questions to the fall, while others require using last year's test questions despite their no longer aligning with the state's educational standards.

CTB-McGraw Hill President Ellen Haley also warned "each change could have implications with respect to Indiana legislative requirements, federal requirements, waivers and peer review."

Nevertheless, Pence remains optimistic his experts, working with Ritz and the test vendor, will come up with changes that shorten ISTEP's duration.

"I'm confident that in short order we will have substantive recommendations that will inform the State Board of Education and give the Indiana Department of Education options to significantly reduce the length of this test," Pence said.


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.