Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

ISTEP+ Panel Submits Recommendations For Writing New Test

State superintendent Glenda Ritz has come under fire for an education department contract that was awarded to AT&T. The mobile company worked with a softward developer that later hired one of Ritz's aides in an exuctive position. (Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz was one of two people on the 23-person ISTEP panel who voted against the final recommendation. Ritz says this plan was too broad and doesn’t ask legislators to make dramatic changes from a testing system many are unhappy with. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

The ISTEP+ panel, a 23-person committee tasked with writing a recommendation for re-writing the state’s assessment system, voted on a final version Tuesday. Rather than promoting the sweeping changes that many, including the legislature wanted, the final plan offers slight differences from the state’s current test.

The plan came in before the Dec. 1 deadline and will now be given to lawmakers for the 2017 General Assembly.

The most notable changes from the current assessment system:

  • Administering a test once a year, rather than twice
  • Putting that testing window at the end of the school year in May
  • Proposing that other Indiana teachers grade the assessment

The recommendations also call for a shorter assessment and quicker turnaround of results, but do not specify how to achieve that.

Nicole Fama, the panel’s chair and principal at George H. Fisher School 93 in Indianapolis, says she wanted the group’s final recommendation to be broad for a reason.

“We’re not the experts, we’re not the psychometricians, we wouldn’t know exactly where those things are to meet state requirements, so we left that to them,” Fama says.

The General Assembly voted to eliminate the current ISTEP+ by 2018, after parents, teachers and legislators voiced overwhelming dissatisfaction with the test.

Lawmakers formed this committee to help craft its replacement, but its final recommendation is conservative in its changes to the current assessment system.

Over the last six months, one of the main goals of the panel was to reduce the time students spend testing. One of the suggestions to achieve this was eliminating the IREAD-3 test, an assessment that tests reading skills in third grade. Many on the panel supported this suggestion, but it is not present in the final recommendation.

Fama says, while many want to see that happen, the group decided not to address it in their plan. They will instead ask the State Board of Education to advocate against that test.

But House Education Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, says getting rid of IREAD-3 might not be the best move. He says, ever since Indiana introduced IREAD-3, fourth grade student scores on the federal assessment, NAEP, showed more growth than most states.

Behning says he is willing to consider other options, but that assessment put a greater focus on reading in classrooms.

“It would be my preference at this point in time that we look at options but I think IREAD-3, if you look at the performance we have right now in NAEP, let’s not set ourselves back,” Behning says.

The plan passed 21-2, and the two votes against it were placed by state superintendent Glenda Ritz and Ayana Wilson-Coles, a teacher at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Pike Township.

In a statement, Ritz said this plan wasn’t a dramatic change from the current testing system, and she was disappointed that the group didn’t recommend more detailed recommendations for the legislature.

“Earlier this year, Indiana’s General Assembly said that the time had finally come for an end to the inefficient, expensive, pass-fail, high-stakes ISTEP+ system,” Ritz said in a statement. “The recommendations adopted today will do nothing to shorten the time of the test and will not save Hoosiers any money nor reduce the high-stakes associated with ISTEP+.”

Before the vote, Ritz also raised issue with the fact that this final draft of the plan was compiled through email and didn’t allow for the group to discuss it before voting on it.

These email discussions determined language in the final draft that was not otherwise debated in a public meeting space.

Fama acknowledges that left these discussions were held out of the public eye, but she says that tactic was necessary to meet the deadline.

“I think it was as transparent as it could be with our timeline to meet Dec. 1 and get things going,” Fama says.

This recommendation is only a jumping off point in a longer process to re-write the test. It is only a recommendation. The General Assembly has full control over the future the assessment.

Behring says, when the legislature convenes in January, he will use these recommendations as he and other legislators craft a bill to create a new testing system.

“I can generally support almost everything that’s in the report,” Behning says. “I think we’re going to make some really positive movement forward.”


  • Nancy Papas

    I-READ doesn’t help anyone read better or worse according to the NAEP assessments. TEACHING makes the difference, not more testing. Tests REDUCE the time devoted to instruction.

    Testing companies are paid tens of thousands of dollars to grade tests. What will the teachers be paid for this added responsibiilty? If the tests are computerized, why can’t the testing company computer grade the tests immediately for feedback to teachers, students, and parents? It seems the for-profit testing companies and legislators instead find more ways to add ever more tasks for teachers which don’t inform instruction and for which teachers are not paid.

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