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Gov. Mike Pence speaks with reporters about ISTEP in his office last week.

Gov. Mike Pence speaks with reporters about ISTEP in his office last week.

Scott Elliott

ISTEP changes pass House and Senate, signed by Pence (updated)

(Update: Gov. Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 62 late this afternoon. This story has been updated with that information.)

The Indiana legislature kicked into overdrive today a bill designed to shorten ISTEP testing time by at least three hours, passing it through both the House and Senate in a matter of hours.

Gov. Mike Pence signed it late this afternoon making changes to state law to release the Indiana Department of Education from regulations so it will have the flexibility to cut down the number of questions. The changes are effective immediately. ISTEP will be given starting Wednesday.

Last week the House took the unusual step of considering a Senate Bill early — a move that normally would wait until after it completes its work on House bills this Thursday — to rewrite Senate Bill 62 to fix ISTEP. It passed the House 94-0 and the Senate 50-0 today.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, hailed the bipartisan effort to shrink the state test.

“It’s no secret that sometimes we have disagreements on policy,” he said. “It’s a reminder to us there are a number of times when we come together on common ideas.”

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, a cosponsor, said it made sense that the move to reduce testing time was widely embraced, but he noted students spend far more time preparing for tests than taking them.

“I would not agree that we need even nine hours of testing,” he said. “I think that’s too much. I support this bill because it is an effort to reduce the time students are engaged in actual testing.”

The bill, which previously was written to allow schools to contract out for physical education, had already passed the Senate but was completely overhauled to instead address ISTEP in order to speed a bill making changes to Pence’s desk.

Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz have been at odds over ISTEP’s length. In late January, state officials learned the exam could take some students 12-and-a-half hours to complete, or about twice as long as last year. Pence demanded changes to shorten the test and Ritz, after exchanging sharp words with Pence over who was at fault for the long test, agreed. But changing the test required exceptions to state law.

Senate Bill 62 waives for one year a requirement that the state release essay and short-answer questions once scores come out, allowing the Indiana Department of Education to instead reuse some of those questions next year. It also waives a requirement that fifth- and seventh-graders take the state social studies exam for one year.

That is expected to cut test time by at least three hours for all students. Schools will have the option to decide if they want to give the social studies exam, which would save those students even more testing time.