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INDIANAPOLIS | Tens of thousands of Hoosier elementary school students who, in prior years, passed the annual ISTEP math and English standardized exams, soon will learn they failed this year's test.

On Wednesday, the Republican-appointed State Board of Education approved an ISTEP pass-fail line, known as the cut score, that drops the average percentage of third- to eighth-grade students passing the English exam to 64.7 percent and the math exam to 59.2 percent.

During the 2013-14 school year, 80.8 percent of elementary students passed the English test and 83.6 percent passed math.

The sharp decline is due to a change in academic standards demanded in 2014 by Republican Gov. Mike Pence and approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly that requires Indiana, by law, to have the highest standards in the country and be independent of any other state's standards.

The new ISTEP test aligned to those standards is more difficult than previous iterations, and, as a result, scores dropped across the board.

The biggest decline was in eighth-grade math which saw just 51.8 percent of students passing this year's test, compared to 81.9 percent last year.

At least one-third of math test takers in every grade failed, after fewer than one-fifth did not pass in 2013-14.

The fall in English pass rates was less dramatic, but still only 59.1 percent of eighth-graders, 62.7 percent of fifth- and seventh-graders and 63.5 percent of sixth-graders passed the test. Third-grade had the highest pass rate at 70.9 percent.

In a statement, Pence defended the higher standards and lower test scores, declaring that "raising the bar is a good thing" in education.

"This decline in scores was expected and does not reflect the hard work being done in our schools," Pence said.

Nevertheless, Pence on Tuesday asked legislative leaders to adjust the state's school accountability standards, which affect teacher pay and bonuses, as well as whether schools lose local control and get taken over by the state.

The governor previously opposed any accountability alterations despite Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction, warning him for more than 18 months that changing standards and tests will result in lower ISTEP scores.

Ritz said she is prepared to work with the Legislature to pause accountability as necessary.

In particular, lawmakers may reconsider a statute approved earlier this year that empowers the state to take over schools after four consecutive "F" grades, instead of six.

Hundreds of schools that previously earned satisfactory ratings are expected to be labeled with an "F" when ISTEP results are finalized and school grades issued in coming months.

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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.