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ISTEP Replacement Panel Recommends Shorter Test At End Of School Year

Posted On November 30, 2016

By Mike Perleberg

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(Indianapolis, Ind.) – An Indiana committee tasked with recommending a replacement for the ISTEP+ test is suggesting a shorter exam that is administered later in the school year.

But not every member of the Panel to Study Alternatives to the ISTEP Program Test is thrilled with the recommendations approved Tuesday.

The 23-member panel of lawmakers, policy experts, and educators was formed after Indiana lawmakers earlier this year voted to scrap the troubled ISTEP test following the 2016-2017 school year. Meeting over the past several months, the group’s job was to issue recommendations for a new test by December 1, a deadline that it didn’t always appear the panel was going to be able to meet.

ISTEP has been plagued in recent years by scoring issues, delays in results, and lower pass rates since state lawmakers scrapped Common Core standards in 2014 and instead adopted the state’s own more stringent College and Career Ready Standards.

On Tuesday, the panel was nearly unanimous in approving its final six-page report. Instead of crafting an all-new test, it suggests using an off-the-shelf test or questions. That option could save money.

Other notable changes in the panel proposes includes combining separate testing periods currently in March and April windows into a single test session in May as a means of reducing classroom disruptions. Students in grades 3rd through 8th would take tests in English and math at the end of the year. 10th graders would be tested in English, algebra and biology, also at school year’s end.

The report also calls for quicker grading of the tests, giving schools the option to administer the test either by paper-and-pencil or online, less time spent testing, and allowing Hoosier educators to grade applied skills sections of the test.

The panel did not make any recommendation about the IREAD-3 test. Third graders who do not pass the reading test or improve with remediation can be held back a grade.

Outgoing Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who was defeated by Republican Jennifer McCormick in this month’s election, was one of the two votes against the report. She argues that the recommendations could “largely keeps Indiana’s expensive, inefficient and time consuming ISTEP testing program in place and represents a continuation of the status quo.”

“For the first time in a generation, the federal government has given states flexibility in designing an assessment system that makes sense.  Unfortunately, today’s report did not take advantage of this flexibility,” Ritz said in a statement.

“Simply put, continuing the status quo when it comes to testing will continue Indiana’s reliance on teaching to the test, rather than focusing on student learning and growth.”

Ritz cited an “overwhelming” number of the 7,000 survey responses regarding the Indiana assessment system included comments that Indiana needed to shorten the test, reduce the stress on children, reduce the high stakes associated with ISTEP, and eliminate the unnecessary IREAD-3 test.

“This report ignores the feedback of thousands of Hoosiers,” she said.

In October, Ritz issued her own proposal for a student-centered assessment called OnTrack, but the panel declined to hear her presentation about it.

Lawmakers had wanted a new test implemented by the 2017-2018 year, but legislative leaders say they are likely to delay that by at least another year. The issue will be taken up when the 2017 legislative session starts in January.

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