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Thursday, March 17, 2016 6:23 am

FWCS says no to more testing

Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette

On Monday, Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson told the board it was time to take a stand.

On Wednesday, the school board unanimously voted in a special meeting to boycott additional standardized pilot tests foisted on FWCS and some other Indiana districts. Districts were notified about a week before ISTEP+ testing began Feb. 29.

In Allen County, three out of four public school districts are wavering, or outright saying no thanks, unwilling to ask teachers and students to endure between 30 and 120 additional minutes of testing this spring. Northwest Allen County Schools is also boycotting the pilot tests, while Southwest Allen County Schools is leaning that way.

East Allen County Schools is conducting the pilot tests, said Marilyn Hissong, assistant superintendent of elementary education, despite the burden of additional testing. "We’re not necessarily happy about that," she said.

The pilot tests, called Book II, are a set of questions created by this year’s testing company, Pearson, for its potential use next spring when the final ISTEP+ tests are to be administered.

Students in grades 3-8 just finished the first round of ISTEP+ tests in a window that ended March 11. For all but 10 percent of the state’s students, including those at FWCS, those tests were administered by paper and pencil, according to Michele Walker, assessment director for the Indiana Department of Education. She spoke about Book II on Wednesday at a State Board of Education meeting in Indianapolis.

According to information distributed Wednesday by Robinson, the first part of Book II testing would have overlapped with not only ISTEP+ testing but also with third-grade IREAD testing, which ends Friday.

The district will begin the second part of spring ISTEP+ testing, which is done online, after spring break, which starts April 4. The testing window is April 18 to May 6. During that period, the district will also administer high school exit exams in English and algebra. And somewhere in there, Book II pilot tests would also be given.

"Just physically having the technology right for the number of students in this district is monumental," Robinson said of administering such testing.

She said 39 out of a potential 48 FWCS schools were chosen for Book II testing. At some of them, such as Blackhawk Middle School, each grade was selected for the test, she added. FWCS has about 30,000 students.

As the Indiana Department of Education and State Board of Education consider the consequences for districts that do not comply with Book II pilot testing, FWCS board President Mark Gia­Quinta said that while the state may mandate standardized tests for all children in public schools, it cannot legally require schools to comply with random pilot tests.

"Home rule prevails in this instance," said GiaQuinta, an attorney. He and Robinson both said FWCS was included in the pilot testing program because of the district’s diversity.

SACS issued a statement saying that the district is still determining whether participation in the pilot "is necessary or required. In light of recent legislation, SACS is considering whether further testing, which is not required for calculating accountability grades or for providing feedback to students and staff, is of any benefit."

At NACS, Superintendent Chris Himsel said the pilot test is not in the best interest of the district’s kids.

"We are rule followers – the law says we have to participate in ISTEP+ testing," Himsel said. "We have complied with testing in February and March. We will do that again in April and May. We are simply saying no to the pilot session."

At Wednesday’s state board meeting, board member Cari Whicker said pilot testing was not unique to Indiana.

"The system of needing to pilot questions is common to everyone," she said.

Board Vice Chair Sarah O’Brien said she understands why districts were surprised about the pilot testing, given the late notice and the requirement to administer the test online before teachers were trained.

The State Board of Education authorizes the development of the test, said Marc Lotter, State Board of Education spokesman, while the Indiana Department of Education administers the test.

Such testing has lost its value for FWCS board member Glenna Jehl.

"Pearson has been developing these tests for decades. They should have a data bank (of questions) for these tests. These additional tests are for the benefit of the publishing companies who make the money off them," she said. "The state has spent a lot of money and time and energy, and this does not help our kids at all."

jduffy@jg.net

Nikki Kelly of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.