Legislation was passed and signed into law last month offering a reprieve to school districts who saw a decline in their ISTEP+ scores from the previous year. Some local school officials believe the reprieve could go farther.
The lower scores stemmed from increased length and difficulty, along with reports of technical malfunctions.
The ISTEP+ test not only helps determine the A through F grades schools receive for students’ performance, but also can affect teacher pay.
Last Thursday, Governor Mike Pence signed two bills with bipartisan support into law that would “hold harmless” schools and teachers whose ISTEP grades were worse than the previous year.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz says the tests this year give school districts and the state an opportunity for a fresh start.
“We really are starting over," Ritz said last week. "So we’ve started over with a new assessment. It’s not comparable with previous assessments. We have a brand new baseline. And in 15-16 we are also going to have a new accountability system.”
Here in Northeast Indiana, the reprieve gives school districts a chance to breathe a sigh of relief. However, they also have to start bracing themselves for the next round of ISTEP+ testing set to begin at the end of February.
Fort Wayne Education Association President Julie Hyndman says area teachers are still anxious despite the reprieve.
“There’s anxiety, definitely," says Hyndman. "Especially… you don’t have the scores from last year. How can you be totally prepared?”
Instead of relying on CTB-McGraw Hill to administer and score the test, the state has entered a two-year contract with the testing service Pearson.
Fort Wayne Community Schools spokesperson Krista Stockman says despite some online glitches during a trial test, the district is happy with the new agreement.
“This year we have done one stress test already, and there were some issues but they were a little bit different than what we had seen in previous years," says Stockman. "Pearson representatives were here before the test, they’ve been here since the test. They’ve seen what the issues are and they’ve already made some adjustments.”
The statewide hold harmless is effective for the 2015 ISTEP test, but a new debate at the Statehouse questions whether that goes far enough with the next round of testing less than a month away.
Stockman says the Fort Wayne Community Schools district believes the statewide measures could go farther.
“There were a lot of problems last year, and there were things that came up in the scoring," she says. "One of the problems that we see overall, though, is just that letter grades for schools and for districts are based on basically this one test. And that, we believe, is a flawed system.”
The ISTEP+ test may not even be a factor this time two years from now.
Pearson has a two-year contract with the state to administer the ISTEP+ test, and Indiana’s House Education Committee unanimously approved a bill that would form a committee to find a new test for the 2017/18 school year.
ISTEP has been Indiana’s method of standardized testing since 1987, but Stockman says she thinks there are better ways for schools to be evaluated.
“We understand we need to be held accountable, we understand there needs to be a way for people to know what’s going on in our schools," she says. "We also believe that it should be measured in a way that accurately reflects what is going on in a school. Indiana has a variety of school districts, and they do not all look the same.”
Julie Hyndman agrees.
“It takes such a well-rounded instruction of all different subject areas to really help our students grow in the way that we want them to grow to be critical thinkers," Hyndman says. "And this constant testing just seems to deter that from every angle.”
The next round of ISTEP testing is set to begin in the next three weeks, starting with grades four through eight, with others taking the test shortly after.