UPDATED, 12:47 p.m.: The State Board of Education had planned to vote on cut scores for this year’s ISTEP+ test during their Wednesday meeting – but concerns raised by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz‘s Department of Education staff could throw a wrench in that process.
This could mean a delay in the process of releasing 2015 ISTEP+ scores, and in turn the process of determining 2014-15 school accountability grades.
The issue at hand involves differences in the level of difficulty between the online and paper/pencil versions of the annual test.
IDOE staff says because of the nature of their makeup, there are always differences between the two assessment types, and that’s why they complete a regular, annual study to compare them. That study is ongoing.
Board members, including Superintendent Ritz and Avon elementary teacher Sarah O’Brien, questioned whether that study needed to be completed before the board could go ahead with setting cut scores – the point that determines passing versus failing.
And they decided it should. Based on advice from board staff, IDOE Testing Director Michele Walker and Technical Advisory Committee member Karla Egan, the board decided to table discussion of cut scores until they can see more information.
That could happen as soon as Oct. 28. The board has a special meeting on the books for that day to discuss new high school diploma recommendations. INSBOE spokesman Marc Lotter says if Advisory Committee reviews are completed by that time, board members could vote to establish cut scores during that meeting.
The big question is whether the delay in setting cut scores – even if it’s a delay of only two weeks – will mean schools have to wait even longer to see their students’ ISTEP+ scores.
Board members had previously hoped to get scores to schools by December – a deadline that had already been pushed back from its original date. That happened when test vendor CTB alerted the board in August that they had encountered problems grading technology-enhanced items on this year’s new version of the test.
O’Brien says she’s pleased with the board’s decision to work to get things right the first time around, but she adds that schools are waiting.
“We’ve got to recognize also that we are on a tight timeline,” O’Brien says. “At this point, we’re getting them so delayed that we have students that are not getting fine-tuned adjustments to their education that might be afforded based on the results that we might see. We don’t have room for these kinds of errors along the way.”
Superintendent Ritz says she hopes the issue can be addressed in a timely manner so the board’s timeline will remain intact.
“We’re going to try to stay on our time schedule to make sure that we’re going to be where we need to be with getting A-F grades out,” Ritz says. “It’s a very complex system when you’re talking about accountability, and when assessments are involved issues are bound to arise.”
No precedent really exists for this timeline: Indiana education officials have had to postpone the scoring process in one way or another several times over the past few years because of various testing issues.
While state education officials work to finalize last year’s test, they are also transitioning to a new test vendor for the 2016 assessment.
But O’Brien says she’s confident the action the board is taking now to tie up loose ends with CTB will help things move forward with British testing company Pearson in the future.
“I think that that’s why we pay so much attention to it and we’re being so up-front about what our expectations are as we head into this new contract with Pearson, and what are our non-negotiables, what we’re not willing to look past in the context of giving this exam,” O’Brien says.