Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Members Of ISTEP Panel Feel It’s Not Accomplishing Task

    Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma separately announced appointments to the panel that will recommend a replacement for Indiana’s current standardized test, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus or ISTEP. (David Hartman /Flickr)

    The panel that is re-writing the ISTEP+ met for the fifth time Tuesday, and many members are frustrated at its progress. (photo credit: David Hartman /Flickr)

    After Tuesday’s ISTEP+ panel meeting produced few concrete ideas for re-writing the new test, many committee members left feeling frustrated at the panel’s progress.

    This is the fifth of seven opportunities the panel has to draft the plan for a new state assessment.

    The 2016 General Assembly passed a law that gets ride of the ISTEP+ in its current format, after its 2017 administration. It also created a panel of educators, lawmakers and state agency employees to draft a more desirable test. The legislation, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, gave the panel a Dec. 1 deadline to make its recommendation to the legislature.

    As that deadline approaches, members are reflecting on the progress made so far, and many are disappointed. After Tuesday’s meeting, morale on the panel dipped.

    State superintendent Glenda Ritz, a member of the panel, sent out a statement earlier this week addressing that.

    “I am frustrated by the lack of progress being made by the ISTEP Replacement Panel,” Ritz’s statement said.  “Families and educators have made it clear that they want to get rid of the punitive, pass/fail ISTEP test.”

    Her statement continued to say she will provide a plan for a new test for the panel to consider.

    The Disappointment Of Educators

    But the biggest disappointment in the group’s work has been expressed by its members who are educators. They constitute more than 50 percent of the panel.  The 2016 General Assembly planned this composition to give them their long requested voice in the debate over standardized testing.

    Many legislators applauded the panel as the opportunity for teachers, parents and school administrators to take seats at the table and decide the future of ISTEP+.

    “We’re at the table but that’s about it,” says Callie Marksbary, a panel member and third grade teacher in the Lafayette School Corporation.

    Marksbary says she was very excited when appointed to the panel because she felt the group of educators, alongside policy makers, would finally create a testing system teachers would like.

    But the five meetings held so far have not moved passed presentations from state agencies and testing experts that cover the process of creating a new test. Both Marksbary and fellow teacher and panel member Ayana Wilson-Coles agree these presentations were necessary, but eventually they wanted to talk specifics.

    “When people brought specific plans and ideas and then it was discussed, that’s what we should have been doing,” Wilson-Coles says.

    Marksbary also says the group should have met more. Since last May, it has met once a month, for five hours or less each meeting. She says this wasn’t enough time to accomplish this task by its December deadline.

    “When this committee began in the summer, all of us, as educators, were free,” Marksbary says. “I thought before that first or second meeting, that we’d be meeting every week if not every two weeks. So that the bulk of the work would be done in the summertime when most of the educators were available, and that didn’t happen.”

    The task of creating agendas for meetings and their lengths falls to the panels chair, and another educator, Nicole Fama, principal at School 93 in Indianapolis Public Schools. Fama says none of the panel members ever contacted her to ask for more or longer meetings. She says she tried to accommodate some longer drive times and work around summer vacations.

    She says the biggest struggle with making progress wasn’t the tight time frame, it was trying to get the diverse panel on the same page.

    “So you have some educators that were really knowledgable and sat through State Board of Education meetings and hosted meetings in their communities about what people want, and you have people who showed up, which is fine, like ok I’m here let’s see what this about,” Fama says. “So we tried to meet everyone where they were and keep going.”

    Will The Legislature Even Listen To The Recommendation?

    The diversity of experience on this panel is unusual for a legislative or policy making committee: not everyone on the panel has the same experience with assessments. The educators and people working in schools are familiar with administering it and preparing students, as well as using the scores for data. The policy makers and legislators are familiar with approving contracts for the vendors creating the test and making sure it meets federal guidelines.

    After Tuesday’s meeting, Behning expressed frustration about questions some of his fellow member’s asked. For example, elementary school teacher Wilson-Coles asked for clarification on the end of course assessments in high schools.

    “Well that’s a significant problem when we’re talking about what’s this world going to look like? And they don’t even know what an ECA is or how it’s implemented,” Behning says.

    He went on to say many people, including members of the panel, are “assessment illiterate”.

    Wilson-Coles says this type of statement is not helpful. She says she is familiar with the assessment, she just didn’t know its acronym, ECA

    She says she did find the presentations and corresponding conversations about big issues helpful, but she expected more discussion about practical ways to change the test. She says she also felt frustrated through the process because those on the panel that aren’t educators seem to bring in political alliances.

    “If I’m anything illiterate it’s political illiterate,” Wilson-Coles says.

    Going forward, panel members have a lot of work to do before the Dec. 1 deadline for the recommendation. They haven’t yet discussed any part of the test for third through eighth graders, the largest group of students who take the test.

    This is why Ritz has moved to bring her own detailed plan to the panel. The Department of Education also reached out to testing companies to learn what they might provide for a new state test.

    It’s not what all panel members had in mind, since many thought they would have a hand in crafting those details, but the clock is ticking.

    The eventual Dec. 1 plan, though, this is still only a recommendation. The panel will send that to the legislature, which will have the final say in the new assessment system.

    “It’s never binding in the General Assembly,” Behning says. “But I do think it’s been helpful to bring more people…and the public more aware about all the different things going on out there. It’s not a simple, let’s just wave a wand and we have a new assessment.”


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