The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, May 25, 2016 8:40 am

Reboot of ISTEP underway

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A panel charged with crafting a new version of ISTEP+ could choose to give three or four smaller tests throughout the year instead of one major pass/fail exam.

Those interim assessments would then be put together to provide a cumulative score for each student as part of state and federal accountability requirements.

This was just one idea that sprouted Tuesday during the first meeting of the panel tasked with finding an alternative to the decades old – and much-maligned – ISTEP+ test. They will meet at least six times and must have a report by Dec. 1.

But their recommendations are advisory, and legislators can do what they want next session when crafting a new test.

The goal would be for any new assessment to be given for the first time in the spring of 2018 (or during that school year) but many believe the tight timeline could force lawmakers to delay it one year to give some breathing room.

"This can’t be the same test with a different name," Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson said. "The public doesn’t want broad strokes. They want specific answers."

She is one of about two dozen people on the committee that met Tuesday and listened to three presentations on the intricacies of student assessment.

One of the things Robinson found most interesting was one presenter noting that one test can’t effectively be used for a host of different goals – at least without making it longer and more expensive.

Those are two things legislators are targeting – the high cost of ISTEP+ and the six- to eight-hour time window it takes students to take the test.

Marianne Perie, of the Center for Educational Testing & Evaluation at the University of Kansas, said the group needs to agree and prioritize the goal of the test. For instance, is the goal to gauge student performance; sort schools; identify achievement gaps; evaluate teachers?

She said you can’t adequately do all of them and, "an assessment purporting to serve multiple purposes serves no purpose well."

Part of the reason for the committee is because ISTEP+ has had problems in recent years – from technical glitches to increased test length and questions about its reliability and validity. Also, Congress recently passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives states new flexibility to meet the requirement for a summative test in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.

Some advocates have sought a simple, cheap solution – buy an off-the-shelf test created by an outside entity. But it’s more complicated because Indiana wrote its own academic standards rather than remaining with Common Core.

Perie said that means if an outside test or portions of tests are purchased by Indiana they will need to have an external evaluator make sure the test is aligned specifically to Indiana standards.

Lee Posey, federal affairs counsel from National Conference of State Legislatures, said the state’s education waiver ends in July and full implementation of any new plan would be for the 2017-18 school year.

She said the state should be ready to submit a proposal to the U.S. Department of Education early in 2017.

"It’s a tight deadline," she said.

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