After months of preparation, high-stakes statewide testing season has kicked off in Indiana.
On Monday, hundreds of thousands of children began taking the ISTEP, the state’s benchmark standardized test for students in Grades 3-8.
So what’s at stake? What questions will students have to answer? As students break the seals on their test booklets and sharpen their Number Two pencils, here’s what you need to know:
- The ISTEP has two parts. The first part, which schools start giving students today, involves “open-ended” questions. Students will write short answer and essay responses during writing and reading portions. For instance, here’s one sample essay question test preparers provided to help third graders get ready for the exam: “Pretend that you are the teacher of your class for one day… Write a story that tells what happens on this day. In your story, tell what you teach in your classroom, what happens, and why your students like you.” In addition, students will have to solve math problems, and can even use a calculator during some parts. The second part of the test is a multiple-choice test, which won’t be given for another eight weeks.
- Every school’s state letter grade depends on the results. A state panel recently adopted a “growth model” for grading Indiana schools. For elementary and middle schools, the ISTEP is still the sole determining factor of a school’s letter grade. The difference this year, education officials say, is the new system means the improvement or decline of every students’ test score matters when determining a school’s A-F rating. Opponents aren’t so sure about that.
- The results could play a part in state interventions or takeovers next year. Indianapolis’ John Marshall Community High School, which serves Grades 7-12, received its fifth straight ‘failing’ rating from the state last year. One more F, and the school likely faces state takeover. The school’s seventh and eighth graders in that school take the ISTEP — and low scores among middle-school-aged students have hurt other Indianapolis schools’ state letter grade ratings in the past. (Three other schools face similar pressures, after receiving four straight F’s.)
- The use of data has played a big role in prepping for the test. Educators in many districts have been identifying the students who need the most help using “temperature checks” — diagnostic assessments that allow teachers to track their progress.
- Some parents don’t want their kids to take the test. Small groups of parents have told their childrens’ schools they won’t allow their kids to take the ISTEP, despite warnings from state education officials that testing is mandatory under current law. The parents call the move as a protest against current state and national education policies.
- The test that determines whether third graders can move to the fourth grade is different. Schools will administer that “other test” — the IREAD-3 — to every Indiana third grader in two weeks.