Indiana

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.  

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