Testing Testing

3 reasons why Indiana’s ISTEP test and school A-F scores come out so late now

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Indiana ISTEP test scores wont be public before the end of October.

It’s almost mid-October, but Indiana still has not publicly released state ISTEP test scores or A-F accountability grades for schools.

If it seems like they used to come out a lot earlier, that’s because they did.

In the first six years after the state tests moved in 2009 to being administered in the spring — rather than the fall — ISTEP scores were never publicly released later than mid-September. In three of those years, the scores came out in June or July.

The story is similar with A-F grades. In 2011, the first year Indiana began assigning grades to schools, they came out in August. They haven’t come out earlier than the end of October since.

The slow release of test scores has even become an issue in the race for governor. Both Republican Eric Holcomb, the state’s lieutenant governor, and Democrat John Gregg, a former Indiana House speaker have called for the test to be scored more quickly so that teachers can actually use the results to make adjustments to their teaching.

So why are scores and grades so slow to come out these days? And is there any hope the state could get them out earlier? Not with the current process, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz said last week.

There are three big reasons why:

Results today require more verification

Test scores today go through a more rigorous vetting process than they did in the past.

“There is an entire process we must go through,” Ritz said.

For one thing, parents are much more active than they were just a few years ago in asking for a student’s test be re-scored. In fact, some schools encourage parents of students who fell just short of a passing score on ISTEP to request a re-score in hopes it will boost the student’s score and help the school improve its passing percentage.

This also will be the second year for an overhauled and expanded ISTEP, changes that were required to match the test to new, more rigorous state academic standards that were put in place in 2014. After big test changes, more checking is required to assure the new exam is producing accurate results, Ritz said.

One more big change is Indiana‘s switch to a new test company.

After several years of scoring problems and delays, frustrated state officials backed out of Indiana’s long relationship with CTB, formerly CTB-McGraw Hill, picking its competitor, Pearson, to create and score ISTEP instead. Ritz said it is routine to have extra scrutiny after changing companies.

“We’ve had several changes in the assessment that required us to have a delay in when all the scores come out due to changes in the actual test itself,” she said.

Getting test scores back to teachers is top priority

Ritz proudly pointed out that teachers and schools received student test scores shortly after the start of the new school year.

“They have all the student data,” she said. “Teachers already working on what they need to do with instruction. I feel really good about that. That was our priority this year.”

Parents have also been able to access their children’s test scores through an online system since early September.

Pushing to get test results to teachers and parents faster means making the public release a lower priority.

In a word: politics

Changes in state law now require Ritz’s team to deliver state aggregate ISTEP results to the Indiana State Board of Education by July 1, Ritz said. So that has become the first ISTEP task, followed by the push to get the scores ready for teachers and parents.

But for the public release of the scores, followed by A-F school accountability grades, the state goes more slowly to ensure these high-stakes results are accurate. Test results and grades can affect teacher evaluations, even preventing pay raises for those whose students don’t make gains. They can even lead to interventions like state takeovers for schools that repeatedly post low scores.

In recent years, state board members and legislative leaders have even asked the Legislative Service Agency, the Indiana legislature’s research arm, to double-check A-F calculations after the education department’s work on them is finished.

So the public release of test scores and grades now comes after the data is delivered to the state board, after the preliminary test scores are delivered to teachers and parents, after parent re-score requests are complete and after all ISTEP scores and A-F grades are verified.

“What we are doing now is the state’s work to move toward the calculation of grades,” Ritz said. “When you get to the high stakes that are attached to our grades here in Indiana, you have to cross your T’s and dot your I’s.”

Her best guess was that scores and grades could be ready by the end of October.

Take Two

One year after TNReady collapse, Tennessee unveils plan to test online again

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier

After last year’s mostly failed transition to online testing, Tennessee will try again next year. And this time, state officials say they “feel confident” that the new online platform will work.

But unlike last year, the state will stagger the transition. All high schools will administer the test online in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the state’s test on paper to its youngest students.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced the new game plan for TNReady testing on Thursday after sharing the timeline with superintendents the day before.

“Given the challenges we experienced last year, we took a step back this year and have worked very closely with our vendor, Questar, to create an online product that is right for Tennessee,” McQueen wrote to superintendents. “We are proud of the progress that has been made and feel confident in the strength of the Nextera platform.”

Many districts are expected to get a head start and use the option to administer the high school test this spring. McQueen reported that more than half of the state’s high schools participated in online practice tests last fall, and that feedback was “generally very positive.”

Districts have until Feb. 15 to decide whether to take this year’s test online, and testing will start on April 17.

McQueen has said repeatedly that Tennessee is committed to transitioning to online testing, even after its platform collapsed last year on the first day of testing. The test maker later acknowledged that its platform did not have enough servers for the volume of students online as most of the state tried to make the shift for all grades.

The commissioner reiterated the state’s commitment this week. “It is our responsibility to ensure Tennessee students are prepared to meet the demands of postsecondary and the workforce, and online readiness is a part of that effort,” she wrote. “… Online is the future for our students.”

However, McQueen said that the transition plan isn’t set in stone.

We will continue to look at proof points along the way to be sure we are setting up districts and schools for success using the online platform,” she wrote.

Last year’s failed online rollout was followed by the test maker’s inability to deliver printed test materials, prompting McQueen to cancel tests for grades 3-8 and fire North Carolina-based Measurement Inc.

This year’s test has several differences from 2016:

  • It was designed by Questar, a Minnesota-based testing company that Tennessee hired last July;
  • It will take place during a single testing window, in April 17 to May 5, rather than also having testing in February.
  • It will be slightly shorter, with shorter sections.

breaking

‘ILEARN’ test would replace ISTEP in 2019 under House GOP plan

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

A key Republican lawmaker is calling for Indiana’s next state test to be known as “ILEARN,” finally abolishing the hated ISTEP in time for the 2018-19 school year.

But the new test, should the plan move forward and become law, might not look that different to students and teachers.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, filed House Bill 1003 in the Indiana General Assembly Wednesday setting out details for a new state testing system, whose name stands for “Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network.” Behning championed the so-called “kill ISTEP” bill last spring, which came out of complaints about the test’s history of scoring glitches and delays.

Behning’s bill is the first to outline a plan to replace the test, and it still faces a number of legislative hurdles. But as House Education Committee chairman, Behning has considerable influence.

“ILEARN” would be similar to recommendations released late last year by a committee of lawmakers and educators charged with helping create a new test. That committee called for mostly tweaks to the ISTEP testing system, not an overhaul as some educators had favored.

His plan would include a few changes. In addition to continuing to test students in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school in math and English, the bill would require Indiana schools to give high school students a “nationally recognized” college or career readiness test. That test could be an exam for Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, a college entrance exam, or another test approved by the Indiana State Board of Education.

The bill would also have the state exams given in one testing period at the end of the year, rather than the current two periods in late winter and spring.

In order to graduate, the state would go back to requiring high school students to pass end-of-course assessments in English, Algebra I and science, not a 10th-grade test like what the state introduced in 2016.

Tests in social studies would also no longer be required.

The bill would also require that scores be returned to the Indiana State Board of Education by July 1 of the year the test was given. It also says the Indiana Department of Education would be able to make rules that encourage Indiana teachers to grade the writing questions.

Originally, Behning called for ISTEP to formally end after it was given in 2017, but because of the challenges of creating a new test in such a short time window, he and fellow Republicans in the Senate have said the current ISTEP needs to stick around for another year or so. His plan would have ILEARN given for the first time in 2019.

Below, find some of our top stories over the past year on the ever-changing exam, where we explain how Indiana got to this point. You can find all of Chalkbeat’s testing coverage here.