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Pence signs ISTEP fix for school grades, teacher pay

Gov. Mike Pence signs legislation Thursday that holds harmless schools and teachers from negative effects tied to poor student performance on the 2015 ISTEP exam. Glenda Ritz, the state superintendent of public instruction, stands directly behind the governor as numerous state lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, seated at far left, look on.

INDIANAPOLIS — The dramatic drop in student performance on last year's ISTEP standardized test, due in large part to the adoption of more rigorous state educational standards, will not negatively impact school A-F grades or teacher performance pay.

On Thursday, Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law House Enrolled Act 1003 and Senate Enrolled Act 200, which absolve schools and teachers from sanctions tied to poor results on Indiana's high-stakes test for students in grades three to eight.

At the same time, the few schools and teachers with students who improved their test scores still will be eligible for a higher performance rating and additional pay.

"I sign these bills into law with a prayer, that through this action our teachers and those who lead our schools across the state of Indiana will hear a thank you from the people of Indiana," Pence said.

The two new laws are the first measures to be enacted during the 2016 legislative session. They rocketed through the Republican-controlled General Assembly with barely any opposition and received final approval Thursday by the House and Senate.

"When we identify a problem and say we're going to fix it, this is how it works," said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

Pence was a late-comer to the idea of an accountability pause. He reversed his previously emphatic opposition in October as the State Board of Education was set to approve an ISTEP pass-fail line that dropped the number of students passing both the English and math exams to 53.5 percent, from 74.7 percent in 2014.

The governor said he appreciated the leadership of Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction, who pushed for more than a year to pause accountability after Indiana replaced Common Core with academic standards required by law to be "the highest standards in the United States."

"If we had done this type of action a year ago, quite frankly I think the stress of last year's test would have been far relieved," Ritz said. "It has happened now. I'm very excited about it and we just need to move forward with what we're doing with our assessments and our standards."

The state school board is expected to issue 2014-15 school grades, with the adjustments required by the new laws, on Tuesday.

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