The state’s ISTEP panel concluded its meetings Tuesday with a broad set of recommendations. Chair Nicole Fama will compile what was said for a recommendation to the legislature. The panel will vote on that recommendation at its final meeting, Nov. 29.
The 2016 General Assembly voted to stop using the current ISTEP+ format at the end of this school year. It also created this panel of educators, lawmakers and state agency employees to draft a more desirable test. The legislation gave the panel a Dec. 1 deadline to make its recommendation.
So what ideas is Fama working with as she compiles the final recommendation?
Tuesday’s meeting was one of the first where the 23 members laid out specific ideas for overhauling the assessment. Superintendent Glenda Ritz recapped a plan she released a few weeks ago. A group of eight panel members submitted their own assessment plan, which they drafted outside of meetings. Other members submitted individual comments.
Discussion covered a full range of ideas including: whether the test should be given multiple times a year, to if it should be administered online, to different ideas about reading and writing assessments.
With so much variety, the only things everyone agreed on was they want a shorter test, quicker results, and no IREAD. Those sentiments were present the first day the panel met.
Most other meetings were filled with testing experts from around the country speaking to the panel on best practices – which many panel members say was necessary – but it didn’t allow much time for them to discuss the specifics of what they wanted to see in the plan.
But Nov. 15 was different.
“I think today’s discussion was one of the most meaningful we’ve had throughout the process,” says Callie Marksbary, an elementary school teacher in Lafayette. “As educators sitting in the room we felt like that was the sort of conversation we should have every time.”
Because it took this long to get to meaningful discussion, Indianapolis elementary school teacher Ayana Wilson-Coles says the short timeline prevented them from both getting adequate background knowledge and having meaningful discussions on what to present the legislature.
“So you have all this background knowledge on testing and then we only have one or two meetings where we’re really getting to the meat and talking about plans that people proposed,” Wilson-Coles says. “If that’s what you needed to do to make sure everyone was on the same page, that’s fine, but maybe the timeline should have been expanded so we don’t feel rushed to make a determination in our last meeting.”
One thing the group decided was to give the legislature a two-fold recommendation: one part would include broad ideas for writing a new assessment system, and the second part would have more details on how to achieve those ideas.
This suggestions came after Senate Education Committee Chair Dennis Kruse told the panel that legislators deal with hundreds of bills each session and they shouldn’t get “too in the weeds” with their recommendation.
When the panel convened, they group had not collectively decided which elements of all the proposed plans they wanted to include in the final recommendation. Instead, Fama will do that work outside of the meetings and is expected to bring it to the Nov. 29 meeting for the panel to approve.
Going forward, Steve Baker, principal at Bluffton High School, says he hopes the work of the panel serves as a first step and that the legislature turns to the members as resources.
“I don’t think our work should be done on Nov. 29,” Baker says. “Keep a part of this panel together for consultants and let’s keep going forward.”