The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 4:38 pm

Legislature looking at school tests

Niki Kelly The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers are getting involved – again – in the discussion about K-12 academic standards and testing.

The move comes only a year after wading into the Common Core debate. Legislators in 2014 ordered the State Board of Education to adopt state-based standards instead.

The board did so after a lengthy process, and they are in place this school year for students. The Indiana Department of Education is also in negotiations under a Request for Proposal for a new end-of-year test – aka ISTEP+ – to go along with the new standards.

But the legislature wants to jump back in with Senate Bill 566, which is being pushed by GOP leadership.

It would require the board to adopt college- and career-ready standards before July 1, 2016.

But more importantly, it says the standards must align with the content of a nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment approved by the board.

That is pretty much opposite of what is already underway and decisions already being made for a new test.

Students this year are taking a revised or modified ISTEP+ test, aligned with the new standards, in the spring. It will count for state and federal accountability rules. Then the Request for Proposal process will establish a new standardized testing program to go into effect starting with the 2015-16 school year.

"This is going to take a few months to figure out," said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. "We’re still struggling with it."

Currently, Indiana’s ISTEP+ test is criterion-referenced, which is meant to gauge how well a student knows the standards or subject matter. But the bill calls for a norm-referenced test, which shows whether test takers performed better or worse than a hypothetical average student.

Long said several times that the state needs to be able to compare its students to those in other states using these tests.

He acknowledged he doesn’t know where the discussion will go but said many people – including teachers and parents – are concerned that there is too much testing and the cost is too high.

So he and other Republicans are looking for a way to still have Indiana standards but adapt an off-the-shelf national test to reduce costs and make it easier to administer and grade.

House Republicans seem to have opposite views on the topic.

House Education Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said this discussion should have happened last year and that changing the standards and/or the testing now is "pulling the rug out" in the middle of the process.

He also said he isn’t sure the changes would be allowed under the state’s recently renewed federal accountability waiver.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said the state has been spending a lot of money on testing since 1987 – not just recently.

"I think we have resolved the standards issue and don’t need to reopen that. The question is how we test those standards," he said.

Bosma said multiple times that under state law, the test has to test Indiana-specific standards – not national ones.

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