The Governor and legislative leaders announced Monday morning they have agreed to freeze accountability for schools and teachers in the wake of a dramatic decline in student scores during the first year of statewide implementation of a new standardized exam.

Sources indicate scores sank by 10 percentage points or more compared to past performance.

Results from the high-stakes ILEARN exam that Indiana students took in the Spring were shared with schools and districts earlier this month and are set to be released to the public at the State Board of Education meeting September 4.

Look for hold harmless legislation to be fast-tracked during the 2020 legislative session that begins in January. The accommodation would ensure — in an election year — that the decline in test scores does not negatively impact teacher pay.

ILEARN was administered to students in grades 3-8 in English and math for the first time in the 2018-2019 school year, replacing the ISTEP exam. More than just a new name, ILEARN marked Indiana’s first use of computer-adaptive assessment in which the difficulty of the questions adjusts based on the test taker’s responses to previous items. ISTEP was what’s known as a fixed form exam because all test takers responded to the same questions in the same order.

Indiana contracts with the non-profit American Institute for Research (AIR) to provide ILEARN. ISTEP had been delivered at various points by CTB/McGraw-Hill and Pearson.

Governor Eric Holcomb (R) said in a statement Monday morning:

“The results of the 2018-19 ILEARN proficiency test are scheduled to be released next week. The results will show a decrease compared to the previously administered ISTEP+ test. Since this is the first year of the ILEARN assessment, I will ask Superintendent McCormick to support my request that the General Assembly take action to hold schools harmless so the test scores do not have an adverse impact on teacher evaluations and schools’ letter grades for the 2018-19 school year. This action will ease the transition to ILEARN, which is a student assessment that allows Indiana to comply with federal ESSA requirements.

The Governor’s proposal was endorsed in follow-up statements issued by Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick (R), Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R), Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray (R), House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning (R), and Senate Education and Career Development Committee Chair Jeff Raatz (R).

Lawmakers enacted a hold harmless measure in 2016 — also a presidential election year — in response to an even-more precipitous 20 percentage point decline in student scores that occurred in the first year after Indiana adopted a more rigorous system of standards and assessments.

SEA 200 (2016) provided that a school’s A-F grade would not be lower than the grade assigned in the previous year, while HEA 1003 (2016) ensured that the lower scores would not prevent teachers from qualifying for a pay raise.

The 2016 bills sailed through the legislative process with overwhelming bipartisan support and were signed into law by then-Governor Mike Pence (R) even before the end of January.

The minimum score needed to pass the ILEARN exam was fixed in July by the State Board of Education based on the recommendation of panels of Indiana educators. In future years, ILEARN results will be available within 15 days after the end of testing.