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Scott Elliott

Senate panel restores ISTEP replacement plan by killing ‘Freedom to teach’ bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee today revived a plan to replace ISTEP with an “off-the-shelf” test by dismantling another bill central to Gov. Mike Pence’s legislative agenda.

Committee chairman Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, amended House Bill 1009 by removing all its current provisions and adding in his original language from Senate Bill 566, which would derail current plans to create an Indiana-specific state test and instead adopt one used in other states, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or one by the Northwest Evaluation Association.

This gives Kenley one more shot to get his bill considered by the House. Senate Bill 566 was overhauled in the House Education Committee earlier this week, when lawmakers voted to send discussions about replacing ISTEP to a summer committee to study it further and added language that union leaders said could diminish their influence and ability to serve their members.

House Bill 1009, known as the “Freedom to Teach” bill, would create special schools, school districts or zones of schools so educators can try new teaching strategies. As Pence outlined in a December speech, the idea would be to reward high-performing teachers for using innovative techniques that might raise test scores. Discussions about those concepts can continue when the House and Senate meet later in the session to iron out issues in bills, Kenley said.

The ideas in the House’s bill about teacher compensation and local freedom for teachers were good ones, Kenley said, and they aligned with provisions in the original Senate Bill 566.

“The thought occurred to me that 566 is aimed at the same objectives, and was a little more direct and a little more clear in its objectives,” Kenley said. “We didn’t feel we had time to fairly go through 1009 and edit it to be a better bill.”

This session has seen intense debates about the state’s testing program, with the Indiana State Board of Education, lawmakers and the Indiana Department of Education all weighing in.

State board member Andrea Neal urged the board Tuesday to take action to stop the state’s test-writing process based on allegations that British-based Pearson, awarded a bid by the state to write next year’s test, broke state law when it pursued the contract. But Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said this legislature had no place interfering in contract bids — that’s up the Indiana Department of Administration, which is under the authority of the governor.

The state board voted last week to pass a resolution outlining what next year’s ISTEP could look like over protests from state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Neal. Ritz’s proposed test looked different from what the board put forward, getting rid of the state’s third-grade reading test and adding in ISTEP tests for ninth-graders. Neal recommended the board wait to make decisions until they knew what testing legislation would be passed.

The amendment to House Bill 1009 passed the committee 12-0. No other bills currently being considered by the legislature have similar language.

The committee voted on two other education bills today, which will next be heard by the full Senate.

  • Dual language immersion. House Bill 1635 would create a pilot to establish programs that would allow students to learn half the day in a foreign language, such as Chinese, Spanish or French. It passed committee 10-0.
  • State takeover timeline. House Bill 1638, amended earlier this month to remove references to “transformation zones” as an alternative to state takeover, would change the timeline for the state to intervene in failing schools from six years to four years. It passed committee 12-0.