Indiana students to face 2 new tests next 2 years

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Major changes in the state's education policies will have Indiana students taking new, different standardized tests in each of the next two academic years, officials said Monday.

The first ISTEP test is being created by contractor CTB/McGraw-Hill for use during the upcoming school year. Federal education officials have said that test would have to be given this year in order for the state to maintain its waiver from the No Child Left Behind law.

The state will also seek a contractor to design a new test for the 2015-2016 school year, state officials told members of an education roundtable that includes teachers unions and charter school operators Monday.

Gov. Mike Pence, speaking at the first of two back-to-back education meetings Monday afternoon, said teachers and parents should understand that the first test is only temporary and will be replaced once work developing the second test is complete.

"We'll be ready with the revised ISTEP at the end of this coming school year, and what we're talking about here, ultimately, is to go forward with a new test," Pence said Monday, during a meeting of the state's Education Roundtable.

The new tests come as part of the state's exit from the national Common Core education standards, a move Pence signed into law in the spring.

The tests are also a response to the state's efforts to keep its federal waiver. U.S. Department of Education officials placed Indiana on watch in the spring after a review found problems with its monitoring of low-performing schools. If the state loses its waiver, it could lose control over a portion of the roughly $200 million in federal "Title I" funds it receives each year.

The state had been set to continue using the current ISTEP tests through the upcoming year, but starting the new test this fall was one of the federal requirements put in place for keeping the waiver.

Monday's back-to-back meetings continued much of the political tension that has marked the dual-reign over education by Democratic Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Pence, a Republican. Pence and Ritz disagreed on the latter's proposal to add reading requirements into whatever new tests are created, sparking a spirited but civil debate at the roundtable.

But discussions at the State Board of Education, which has been home to some of the most visceral political fights in the state, took on a combative tone almost immediately after that meeting started.

The fighting recalled battles between Ritz and the Republican-appointed board, including Ritz's walkout last year and her failed lawsuit against the other board members. An internal email from the Pence administration, at the time, discussed options for limiting Ritz's power. But Pence later said that was never considered seriously.

Much of the recent flare-ups between board members and Ritz have focused on whether the state will maintain its No Child waiver.

Board member Dan Elsener, Marian University president and a close ally of former School Superintendent Tony Bennett, questioned Ritz's ability to submit a complete application to the federal government on time. Oliver complained that Ritz's staff has not been giving board members complete information about the waiver.

But Ritz assured the group a complete submission would be made to the federal government by next Monday's due date.

"I live and breathe this waiver," Ritz said.

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