Delays expected in ISTEP replacement

glenda-ritz

As negotiations continue on a new testing program for Hoosier students, it’s become increasingly likely the state will push back any changes until after spring 2018, missing the original deadline for the ISTEP replacement to be in place.

Key state lawmakers said Tuesday they anticipate delaying the rollout, after a series of testing experts warned that transitioning to a new system could take longer than a year. But talk of altering the timing came the same day the Indiana Department of Education released a proposal that could lead to more immediate changes.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, the Senate’s GOP education policy leader, said he sees no alternative other than postponing. The delay, he said, could allow Pearson, the state’s testing vendor, to show it’s able to return results quicker to schools than the current monthslong gap between when students take the test and when scores are released.

“If we could have a flawless computer system working and get results back sooner, I think people can accept keeping what we have for a while,” Kruse, an Auburn Republican, said after the October meeting of the panel charged with recommending a replacement for ISTEP.

 

His House counterpart, Rep. Robert Behning, said he doesn’t regret repealing the ISTEP after this school year, though, like Kruse, he sees the need for a “short extension” of the current system.

“It’s a statement that we want change,” said Behning, an Indianapolis Republican.

Politically, the easiest proposal to pass through the General Assembly would require Indiana to create a new test, Behning said, rather than return to PARCC, a test linked to the Common Core standards, which Indiana dumped in 2014 amid concerns of federal overreach.

As for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, her proposal aims to reduce testing time by an estimated eight hours and save the state upward of $12 million. The bulk of those savings would come from eliminating a reading test for third-graders, a remediation test taken by some high school students and social studies testing. The proposal also would reduce the number of open-ended questions. All those changes, department officials say, could take place by spring 2018.

The department also envisions moving toward a test that students in Grades 3-8 would take three times a year — in fall, winter and spring. But Ritz officials say they’re open to considering whether all three tests would count toward A-F ratings and other accountability metrics, or only the spring test would. She also would return to end-of-course assessments in high school, rather than a single Grade 10 ISTEP that schools began taking last year.

For the 2018-19 school year, Ritz would want the test to be computer adaptive, with questions becoming harder or easier based on a student’s response.

“This approach not only keeps our total testing time under 1 percent of total instructional time, but it reduces the amount of testing time even further by an estimated eight hours,” Ritz said of the proposal. “Even more importantly, by utilizing an adaptive assessment, we can individualize our state test and provide teachers and parents with meaningful feedback about a student’s own performance and growth during a year.”

Opponents of the ISTEP replacement featuring multiple tests worry that it would force a statewide schedule requiring educators to teach certain topics at certain times.

Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, an education organization that has reviewed Indiana’s academic standards, spoke of drawbacks to an approach similar to Ritz’s. Testing would interrupt the school year more often, and the data on a student’s performance received from the tests could change, Cohen said.

“Diagnostic value gets lost if the stakes are so high that people prepare for that test as opposed to taking the test and letting it really show where a student is,” Cohen said.

As for grading future exams, a movement is growing to make Hoosier educators, either current or retired teachers, more involved in scoring. Ritz’s proposal would reduce the number of open-ended items. But she wants all those questions to go through the scoring process at least twice, a measure that could boost the accuracy of results. Right now, the state requires automatic rescoring of a limited number of questions.

“That’s the most important piece to me,” Ritz said.

The testing panel will meet again next month before its Dec. 1 deadline to submit a recommendation to the General Assembly.

Call IndyStar reporter Chelsea Schneider at (317) 444-6077. Follow her on Twitter: @IndyStarChelsea. 

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