As a statewide panel debates how the future of the state’s standardized testing system will affect teacher pay, panel member and Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. superintendent Jim Roberts said he is in favor of letting school districts decide on the best methods for evaluating teachers.

In April, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence appointed Roberts to a 23-member panel tasked with developing a replacement for the ISTEP+ standardized exam after it is phased out in 2017.

Roberts and his fellow panel members met for their fourth meeting Aug. 9, when part of the conversation focused on the extent to which student scores on ISTEP+ and any subsequent standardized exams should be tied to teacher pay.

While the state legislature does require some sort of link between ISTEP scores and teacher pay, Roberts said in the past the state has given some control to individual school districts to decide how big of a factor those scores should be in determining performance-based pay.

Roberts said in both BCSC schools and in Batesville public schools, where he served as superintendent for seven years before coming to Columbus, ISTEP scores are only a small part of the overall teacher evaluation process.

The administrations of both Indiana school districts work closely with their teachers associations to ensure that the results of ISTEP are fairly used to determine teacher effectiveness, the superintendent said.

Right now, ISTEP is administered once a year at the end of the year, a testing system he said may not always accurately reflect how much progress students are making throughout the year, and, therefore, may not accurately reflect how effectively teachers are performing, he said.

Instead, Roberts said he uses state-required teacher observations and meetings to get a better feel for how educators perform in the classroom and how students respond to their teaching styles. Those first-hand observations are the driving force of teacher performance-based pay, while student ISTEP scores play a smaller role, he said.

As the process of trying to develop an alternative to ISTEP moves forward, the BCSC superintendent said he hopes the state panel will develop a testing system that does not revolve around a once-yearly exam, but instead uses a series of exams throughout the year to get a more accurate picture of students’ academic progress.

Aside from conversations about teacher pay, Roberts said the largest part of the discussion at the Aug. 9 meeting was focused on finding the best standardized test for high school students.

Previously, students enrolled in English 10, Algebra I and freshman biology were required to pass an End of Course assessment, or ECA, as part of a state graduation requirement. But this year the ECA was phased out and instead replaced with a new math, English/language arts and science portion of the ISTEP exam.

However, some members of the state panel are in favor of returning to the old ECA model, saying it was a good system that met the state requirement for a graduation qualifying exam.

But other panel members, including Roberts, were in favor of testing high school students using a national exam, such as the SAT or ACT.

Using such exams would be beneficial because students would know where they stand on the college-readiness standards that universities across the country look for, Roberts said. He said he would favor the ACT because it allows students to take subject-specific exams. BCSC administers the ACT to its juniors each spring for free.

The 23-member panel is faced with a December deadline to make recommendations for a new statewide standardized testing system. The recommendations would then be considered by the General Assembly during the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

Although there has been much speculation that the panel will not be able to reach a consensus by that time, Roberts said he knows from experience that members of the panel are committed to finding a resolution to the standardized testing issue that is in the best interest of all students across the state.

Upcoming panel meetings

The state panel to study alternatives to the ISTEP+ standardized exam will meet three more times this year: Sept. 13, Oct. 11 and Nov. 15. Residents can watch the meetings from the public gallery of the House Chamber in the Indiana statehouse, or live online at iga.in.gov/legislative.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.