Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

What Test Should Indiana Students Take Next? Ritz Wants Adaptive Assessment

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz explains her vision for Indiana's next test to a panel of state lawmakers tasked with reviewing academic standards.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz explains her vision for Indiana's next test to a panel of state lawmakers tasked with reviewing academic standards.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz is no fan of high stakes tests. A former library media specialist in Indianapolis’ Washington Township, she campaigned against the IREAD-3, the state’s literacy exam for third graders, saying a pass/fail test was too harsh for 8-year-olds.

On Tuesday, she told a panel of state lawmakers tasked with reviewing the Common Core education standards that she’d like to see an adaptive test replace the ISTEP+ in two years.

“An adaptive model has a huge bank of questions,” Ritz says. “If you get an answer wrong in reading, it gives you an easier reading level question.”

Ritz says most people don’t realize the state’s current assessment, the ISTEP+, is one test: One big, long test.

“It has a third grade bottom and an eighth grade ceiling,” says Ritz. “If we gave it that way, to fifth graders, for example, then we would know in fifth grade that we have students ready for eighth grade math — and we have students at a third grade level.”

But instead of giving the ISTEP+ as an adaptive test, Ritz says the state administers it by grade level.

“So there’s a fifth grade bottom, and a fifth grade ceiling, and that is all we know about our children,” she says.

Ritz also says she wishes the word “test” and “assessment” weren’t synonymous in Indiana. She says using the terms interchangeably obscures the fact that educators are always assessing students. She told lawmakers teachers know which students will pass the ISTEP+ and which students will fail before the test is ever administered.

Instead, Ritz asked the panel to consider administering two tests — one in the fall to see where students begin, and a second in the spring to see where students end.

But Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the House Education Committee, pushed back against that idea.

“You can validate year over year, but I’ve never hear of any test that can use fall versus spring to statistically validate that test,” he told the superintendent.

He says Indiana’s teacher evaluation law, which ties performance to pay, would make a fall-to-spring assessment difficult.

“If you were giving a test in the fall and knew you were going to be evaluated as an educator, and you knew your growth was how you were going to be evaluated, you would try to basically have a low benchmark there, then in the spring you would want the absolute highest benchmark,” Behning says.

For more statehouse Common Core coverage, follow @ellemoxley on Twitter.  


  • Karynb9

    So if a gifted 5th grader starts the year mastering the 8th grade test, what happens to the teacher when the kid doesn’t show growth at the end of the year? Yes, a problem with ISTEP is that there is only one goal for every student – mastery of grade level standards. However, the beauty of ISTEP is that you only have one goal for every student – mastery of grade level standards. The problem with an adaptive test is that a teacher ends up with a separate goal for each student – now, I have to use my classroom curriculum and provided resources to reach 25 different goals instead of ONE. For my gifted kids that I used to challenge by enriching the curriculum (reading higher-level novels…doing more project-based learning with the math skills we are learning in class…etc.), an adaptive test means that I have to accelerate the curriculum for them (a huge difference) – if they start the year knowing my grade-level math curriculum, I have to figure out a way to teach next year’s math content…plus a few kids could be ready for the NEXT year’s curriculum…all while still working with the kids who are two years behind and one year behind and on-grade-level…and probably with only my on-grade-level textbook to use as a resource. It’s like a one-room schoolhouse (but with my pay dependent on making sure every kid in each of those five levels grows at least a year). I also have to teach the next year or two’s ELA standards (five different grammar lessons), while remediating students who are behind. Then, what if we eventually add Science and Social Studies to the adaptive testing mix? Adaptive testing is terrific for finding out where a student is. However, as long as Indiana still requires my pay to be based on test scores, Behning is correct (I don’t say THAT every day) in that we are jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire with adaptive testing.

    • Carrie Petro

      I disagree also with the teachers pay associated with the results of the class,because it also depends a lot on the student, there are kids who just don’t care, students who come from a rough background etc… Which is usually the issue with low scoring schools, that’s not the teachers fault. I do think however that ther are teachers who do not teach worth a dang, and numerous times we know who they are, students know those teachers, the public is aware etc… But their butts are covered thru the union, because they have so many years in, and that is an issue and is wrong. I am a nurse and it don’t matter how long I have been a nurse, if I’m not doing my job right, I get canned and possibly lose my license.

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