The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, June 21, 2017 1:00 am

ISTEP+ tossed for hundreds

Error affects 3 area schools, risks accountability scores

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A testing error has invalidated hundreds of student ISTEP+ math scores around the state, including at three area schools.

The students were mistakenly given access to calculators during a section of the test for which calculators were not allowed.

The Indiana Department of Education and school officials say testing vendor Pearson is to blame for the error.

“It's so discouraging for the children. It's discouraging for everyone,” said Lori Vaughn, assistant superintendent at DeKalb Central United School District. “It is what it is. I hate that expression, but we're going to move on. It's a black eye when DOE puts (scores) out.”

She said 34 students in third grade at Waterloo Elementary and 19 students in fourth grade at the school will receive “undetermined” scores. This results in passing rates of less than 1 percent for third grade and 17 percent for fourth.

“It's horrific,” Vaughn said. “And that's what's going to be put out with no explanation. It will impact our participation rate and our accountability grade.”

Test scores are a large factor in the A-to-F accountability grades that schools will receive later this year.

Department of Education officials told Vaughn there is nothing that can be done now but schools can appeal those A-to-F grades when they are issued.

She said schools received test guidance on calculator use that seemed different than in previous years. Two district employees called the company separately to verify the information and were told by Pearson to proceed as directed.

So when the test began, the calculator icon came up on the computer screen for students who shouldn't have been allowed to use a calculator. Some special-education students are provided calculators as an accommodation.

Vaughn said two other schools in the district luckily hadn't started testing before the error was realized.

Pearson said it is aware of the “isolated issues” having to do with calculator accommodations.

“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing. In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action,” a statement from the company said. “Pearson regrets that any Indiana students, teachers and schools were impacted by this issue.”

The problem affected 20 schools, including New Haven Middle School and Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School in Fort Wayne.

Molly Deuberry, communications director for the Department of Education, didn't have an overall number of students affected.

The biggest problem came at Rochester schools in Fulton County, where 700 elementary, middle and high school kids mistakenly had access to the calculator. Some used it and others were stopped by individual teachers.

Their results have been invalidated. Some sophomores whose test scores were affected will need to retake the math portion of the assessment.

In a statement, the Department of Education said it is working with school districts to evaluate options for limiting the glitch's effect on their accountability scores.

Rochester and other schools may have a high volume of undetermined math results because of the invalidation. This leaves proficiency rates and growth scores to be based on a small subset of the overall school population in 2016-17 and on student test results from the 2015-16 school year.

The department does not have authority under state law to address or rectify that problem. However, the State Board of Education conducts an appeals process for school districts whose officials believe their final A-to-F letter grade does not accurately reflect the school's performance, growth or multiple measures.

Parents received access to student scores starting this week. Individual appeals can also be brought.

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