‘Harmless’ changes?

Seymour Community School Corp. officials hope to be able to distribute teacher performance bonuses by the end of February.

The state hasn’t made performance grant funding available to schools yet because lawmakers are working to craft a bill to hold teachers and schools “harmless” for last year’s failing ISTEP+ scores.

HB1003 or the Senate’s version, SB200, could reach Gov. Mike Pence’s desk for approval by next week.

Steve Nauman, business manager for Seymour Community School Corp., said until the General Assembly decides what to do, he cannot make any recommendations or even give teachers an idea of what their bonuses will be.

“I don’t know how much or who will get it,” he said. “But we will pay it out as soon as we get it and the school board approves.”

The money should have been available late last month, he said.

In December 2014, Seymour received $123,305.25, which was distributed among teachers at all of its buildings; Brownstown received $66,869.25; and Medora received $5,587.66. Crothersville Community School Corp. did not receive the funding because the district chose to use a different teacher evaluation system by contract.

Only those teachers evaluated and rated to be effective or highly effective received additional pay.

In the past, ISTEP scores have been the biggest part of teacher evaluations, which determine their eligibility for bonus pay. But many educators cried “foul,” saying the online format of the 2015 test and new, more rigorous standards made it unfair and led to the steep decline in scores.

In Jackson County, three of the four public school corporations experienced passing rates nearly 30 percentage points lower than their 2014 scores. Seymour Community School Corp., Brownstown Central Community School Corp. and Medora Community School Corp. all fell below state average.

The proposal to decouple teachers’ performance pay from students’ ISTEP scores and school accountability grades for 2015 is receiving support locally, including from District 69 State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, and District 66 Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, who also serves as superintendent of Crothersville Community School Corp.

Although he said he supports the motion, Goodin described the bill as a “dog and pony show” and asked his fellow legislators to do away with ISTEP testing altogether.

“I’ve heard the words ‘hold harmless’ tossed around a lot the last couple of days,” Goodin said in addressing lawmakers. “We’ve talked about hold harmless for our schools, we’ve talked about hold harmless for our teachers, but really, by passing this bill, we are actually having a hold harmless for legislators and our governor from what’s been going on here in the General Assembly for the last couple of years.”

Goodin said instead, lawmakers and educators should focus their efforts on students.

“If we really, really want to help students, and we want to make a real difference in education in Indiana. We need to have a real conversation about throwing the ISTEP test out, putting those millions of dollars in the classroom and start holding our students harmless,” he said.

Nancy Franke, a parochial school teacher and Seymour school board member who is running against Lucas in the May primary, said it doesn’t make sense to base teacher pay on student test scores.

“Students are not factory-made products that are manufactured by the teacher and do not need to be put through quality control by a faulty test,” she said. “It is a completely twisted and warped theory, which needs to be disposed of.”

Getting paid for how students perform on a test does not improve teaching or learning, she said.

“Dangling this carrot of incentive pay does not lead to better results,” she said. “Teachers never should have had their pay tied to performances from students’ test scores, and they certainly should not have their pay diminished now.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.