Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? Indiana’s ISTEP Will Push Kids

This spring, Indiana students will take a new version of the ISTEP.

This spring, Indiana students will take a new version of the ISTEP.” credit=”biologycorner (flickr)

There’s an old phrase, nothing’s sure in life except for death and taxes. We could probably make an argument for standardized tests as well (even Harry Potter took an annual exam in his mythical, made up school year).

These tests carry important consequences for teachers, schools and students, and in Indiana this year, students will take a new version of the state’s standardized test, the ISTEP+.

Simply put, the test will be harder. The content of the questions is the same, but the format will look different. For one, there won’t be as many multiple choice questions. Another change is that students will have to explain how they got to their answer.

Why are we changing the test?

When Indiana passed its own academic standards this spring, Michele Walker, Director of Assessment for the Indiana Department of Education, and her team were charged with creating a test to match the new standards.

An assessment matching the new standards was also a requirement to receive a No Child Left Behind waiver extension.

Walker says another change the IDOE wanted to make to the test, is adding a more focused writing prompt. Rather than asking students to write about something inconsequential like whether the cafeteria should add cake to the menu, students will be asked to read a passage and write a paragraph or essay on a related prompt, using the passage for evidence.

What will the new test look like? Show your work.

Ian Fernandez is a fifth grader at Childs Elementary School in Bloomington. He and his mom, Karen, tried out a few practice questions for the fifth grade math ISTEP+ and were surprised by all the changes.

Here’s the math problem Fernandez completed with a little guidance from Karen.

The question is asking Fernandez to find the area and perimeter of rectangles and triangles.

It’s more complex than the homework Fernandez is used to, which typically asks him to reference an illustration and write in the area and perimeter. But this practice ISTEP+ question pushes Fernandez to visualize changes to the shape and explain how he got his answer.

He’s not a big fan.

“I don’t really like it, I like when they have the drawing already there,” Fernandez said. “It makes it easier to do, because you might draw the picture wrong.”

Walker says the new test may be frustrating for students, but it pushes them into higher thinking.

“It’s really making sure students are being mindful of the process of solving the problem and being able to articulate that process,” Walker said. “That’s really a skill they will need as they move forward in becoming more college and career ready. Because if a child can articulate how they actually solved the problem, then they’ve internalized that process.”

“I applaud the goal” but the getting there is tough

Since the adjustment to the new test is happening so fast, Walker says it’s important for parents to help push their students to think in the way the assessment will test them.

“I think the most important thing is have a child talk through what they’re thinking as they walk through a math problem or as they read a story and respond in writing or ask kids questions about what they’ve read,” Walker said.

Back in the Fernandez kitchen, Karen feels that pressure to help prepare her child for the ISTEP.

“But I don’t think you can expect that of everyone and it just widens that gap,” Karen said. “It’s a lot of homework for the whole family.”

But she says the growing pains of preparing for this year’s test are worth the bigger goal.

“Let’s look at the biggest possible picture we can. Who are our kids going to be competing against?” Karen said. “So I applaud the goals, I just don’t have any expertise to comment on the methods.”


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