Testing Testing

Ritz tells budget makers new state tests could cost much more

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz presents budget requests to the State Budget Committee on Thursday.

Indiana’s move to create new state test to connect to its new academic standards — rather than follow Common Core standards and cheaper tests developed by other states to go with them — could be costly.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz told a state budget committee today that her estimate for the annual cost of the new state tests being developed for 2015-16 is $65 million, a nearly 45 percent jump from annual cost in the last state budget.

That raised alarm for Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, the chairman of the budget-making Senate Finance Committee.

“I keep wondering if we keep making it too hard and too expensive on ourselves,” he said.

The Indiana Department of Education won’t know the exact cost of the new tests until it finishes processing proposals from testing companies and selects one of them to create the new exam. The new tests will be more challenging than the current ISTEP, with more advanced material and computer-aided questions that require students to demonstrate how they got their answers using online tools.

Before 2014, Indiana was on track to use Common Core standards along with 45 other states. Two consortia of those states also developed tests to evaluate students based on Common Core standards. But earlier a Republican-led effort blocked further implementation of Common Core and a bill passed by the legislature ordered the creation of new Indiana-specific standards instead.

Kenley was among Republican leaders who voted against Common Core. Under the state’s prior contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill, ISTEP cost about $45 million annually.

“We are developing our own questions in the state of Indiana as we have always done,” said Ritz, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Indiana. “What we’re going through now is the (request for proposal) process, and so vendors clearly understand that they are aligning Indiana college- and career-ready standards to an assessment.”

Kenley and Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, asked Ritz if any standardized tests could be cut from the list of those currently given and what other measures could be taken to reduce testing costs. Kenley said perhaps a national standardized test that isn’t necessarily owned by and written expressly for Indiana might be cheaper.

“I’m trying to figure out if the General Assembly will have time to weigh in on this,” Kenley said. “I’m a little worried about that.”

For the 2015-16 school year, Ritz said, a completely new group of state accountability tests will be written. She said there are plans for a test for grades 3 through 10, high school English and Algebra 1 tests and an end-of-high school test. Ritz said the state is in the process of receiving bids from new vendors to write those tests, which must be presented to the budget committee for review before the State Board of Education can officially approve them.

Kenley asked Ritz during their exchange whether she was in favor of more or less testing.

“Well we always need less tests is my perspective,” Ritz replied. “But we want to be sure that we have an assessment system that actually informs learning and teaching.”

During the presentation, Ritz also asked that the committee consider adding the State Board of Education budget back into the budget for the Department of Education, given Gov. Mike Pence’s recent dissolution of his Center for Education and Career Innovation.

She told Kenley the department wouldn’t need the entire $2.9 million currently being spent to run the board.

“Historically it’s always been there, and it would amount to increased accountability and efficiency in running the State Board of Education operations,” Ritz said. “I really feel that that budget should come back to the Department of Education.”

Ritz has also called for a 3 percent increase over the next two years for school operation costs, such as hiring teachers and buying classroom materials. Ritz said the additional funding would address shortfalls in districts that struggle to support growing numbers of poor students.

“We are at 22 percent poverty with our children,” Ritz said. “Our children have basic needs that are not being met when they come to our schools.”

rules and regs

State shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online

PHOTO: G. Tatter

After pushback from teachers, the State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.

The original rule stated that teachers could not use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam period ended on June 23. As Chalkbeat reported Tuesday, teachers objected, arguing that they sometimes needed to discuss questions in order to properly grade the tests or to challenge questions that seems unfair.

Under the change, tests taken between June 13 and June 16 can be discussed online beginning June 23. And for those taken between June 19 and June 22, teachers can discuss content online beginning June 27.

According to education department officials, the provision was intended to ensure that testing material did not spread online before all students had completed their exams, particularly among schools that serve students with special needs, who qualify for multiple-day testing.

“We believe that nearly all students who are testing with this accommodation will have completed their exams by these dates,” Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, wrote in a memo to school principals and leaders.

Still, longtime physics teacher Gene Gordon and former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State noted that, to some extent, the damage was done since the amendment to the rule came out only after many teachers had already graded their exams.

“It did not have any real effect,” Gordon said.

The New York State United Teachers — which criticized the new provision on Tuesday as a “gag order” and called for its repeal — called the amendment a “clear victory” for educators. Still, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Chalkbeat, “it clearly will be more helpful in the future than this year.”

Testing Testing

Calculator mix-up could force some students to retake ISTEP, and Pearson is partially to blame

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

ISTEP scores for thousands of students across the state will be thrown out this year, including at two Indianapolis private schools, according to state officials.

The mishap can be traced back to calculators. Students at 20 schools used calculators on a section of the 2017 ISTEP math test when they shouldn’t have — in at least one district because of incorrect instructions from Pearson, the company that administers the tests in Indiana.

It’s a small glitch compared to the massive testing issues Indiana experienced with its previous testing company, CTB McGraw Hill. But years of problems have put teachers, students and parents on high alert for even minor hiccups. In 2013, for example, about 78,000 students had their computers malfunction during testing. Pearson began administering ISTEP in 2016.

The calculator mix-up involving Pearson happened in Rochester Community Schools, located about two hours north of Indianapolis. About 700 students in three schools received the incorrect instructions.

Molly Deuberry, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said that Rochester is the only district known to have received the incorrect instructions, but the state is also investigating calculator-related problems at 19 other schools.

According to federal rules, students who use calculators on non-calculator test sections must have their scores labeled as “undetermined.” Current sophomores will need to retake the test, since passing the 10th-grade exam is a graduation requirement in Indiana. Students will have multiple opportunities to do so, including during the summer, state officials said.

It’s not clear how the invalidated scores will affect those schools’ A-F letter grades. It is up to the Indiana State Board of Education to handle A-F grade appeals, which districts can request once grades are released.

“The Department and State Board will collaborate to ensure that the State Board receives sufficient detail about this incident when reviewing the appeals,” the education department said in an email.

Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said in an email that they would work with the education department to follow up on the calculator issues and correct their processes for next year.

“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing,” Overland said. “In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action.”

Here are the districts and schools the state says had students incorrectly use calculators on this year’s ISTEP:

  • Covington Christian School, Covington
  • Eastbrook South Elementary, Eastbrook Schools
  • Eastern Hancock Elementary School, Eastern Hancock County Schools
  • Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School, Fort Wayne
  • Frankfort Middle School, Frankfort Community Schools
  • George M Riddle Elementary School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Lasalle Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka
  • New Haven Middle School, East Allen County Schools
  • Rochester Community Middle School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Rochester Community High School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Saint Boniface School, Lafayette
  • Saint Joseph High School, South Bend
  • Saint Roch Catholic School, Indianapolis
  • Silver Creek Middle School, West Clark Community Schools
  • St. Louis de Montfort School, Lafayette
  • Tennyson Elementary School, Warrick County Schools
  • Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, School City of Hammond
  • Trinity Christian School, Indianapolis
  • Waterloo Elementary School, DeKalb County Schools
  • Westfield Middle School, Westfield-Washington Schools

This story has been updated to include comments from Pearson.