testing trouble

Every Indianapolis superintendent signed this letter criticizing how the state is replacing ISTEP

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
A bulletin board at IPS School 55 details information about testing.

Indiana’s effort to fix its state test and replace ISTEP is going too slowly, and the steps to improve the exam aren’t even going forward in order, Marion County superintendents argued in a blunt open letter.

The letter was released today by the Indiana Urban Schools Association and was signed by superintendents across the state, including every public school superintendent in Marion County. It lobbed some pointed criticism at members of two major state committees designed to find a new state exam and update the A-F grade model.

The letter calls out the Dec. 1 deadline by which the state’s ISTEP replacement panel has to make recommendations to the Indiana General Assembly — as well as the spring 2018 deadline lawmakers set last year for when Indiana students would take the new test — as possibly unrealistic.

The panel has just two more meetings before Dec. 1, and they have yet to agree on any specific testing plan.

Read: A Common Core exam or another year of ISTEP? Lawmakers weigh unpopular options

Plus, the superintendents argue that new accountability rules should be set before a test is picked to replace ISTEP. Indiana is also in the midst of altering it’s A-F school grading system to comply with new federal law that is expected to go into effect next school year. The Indiana Department of Education is planning to submit a draft of that A-F system plan to the U.S. Department of Education in March.

Testing changes should wait until that plan is done, the letter argues.

“Changes in our accountability system and the expectations for schools in Indiana that result from the impact of this historic federal legislation must be considered in the test chosen to assess whether or not these expectations are achieved, the letter states.

The ISTEP replacement panel next meets Nov. 15, and the accountability committee is set to meet Nov. 18.

The entire letter from the Indiana Urban Schools Association to committee members can be read in full below.


Indiana’s students, educators, parents and community members are concerned. New assessments require the state to first address improvements necessary for a student-centered accountability system.

IUSA submitted a letter to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction last August expressing strong concern about the roles, timelines, possible overlap, and impact of the work of the Indiana Accountability Committee and Assessment Committee. We appreciate the State Superintendent and members of her staff hearing these concerns and discussing them at our October 19th meeting. However, IUSA – a consortium of 38 urban school districts representing 350,000 Hoosier students – feels an urgent need to share our concerns directly with members of these state committees.

IUSA’s primary concern is the fast-approaching deadline for the Assessment Committee to make its recommendation for a test. That test will assess student learning. It also will be a critical part of a yet- to-be-determined accountability system to reflect how schools and districts meet accountability. IUSA members share the belief that student assessments should be designed to ensure that schools and classroom educators have timely and useful data to inform the teaching and learning decisions made at the local level, and these assessments require a student-centered accountability system. We care deeply that the assessment selected will make that a reality for Indiana’s educational environment.

However, given the looming deadlines, the more pressing concern is that the State may be reaching a decision identifying an assessment before reaching decisions about how schools and districts will be held accountable. The current scenario of selecting a test before completing the accountability system that incorporates the new requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act clearly is an example of making a decision out of sequence. Changes in our accountability system and the expectations for schools in Indiana that result from the impact of this historic federal legislation must be considered in the test chosen to assess whether or not these expectations are achieved. The present sequence sets up a pattern where the test chosen determines the architecture of the accountability system. This seems to be “putting the cart before the horse.” This emphatic point was clearly stated to the State Superintendent’s staff at the October IUSA meeting where IUSA also stressed its desire to see adjustments to the accountability system to make it fair, equitable, supportive, and a valid assessment of the corporation and schools’ effectiveness. Accountability decisions and the foreknowledge of those measures are paramount to the credibility of any test selected. And, just as a flawed accountability system will detract from the credibility of a test selection, implementation with fidelity must be a guarantee. Even a perfect test that is not implemented with fidelity will yield less than desired results.

We urge members of the Indiana Assessment Committee to understand that replacement of the ISTEP+ must be aligned with Indiana Academic Standards, must be able to accurately measure students, schools and school corporations using a known set of accountability measures. We urge members of the Indiana Accountability Committee to ensure that the needs of all are considered, weighed, and included to provide equitable weightings that reflect the progress of the student population.

This is a not a political matter – this is a matter of urgent need for ensuring that Indiana’s education system is designed for the improvement of students, to help educators and all constituents understand what is necessary to prepare all students for post-secondary opportunities in college and careers.

Sincerely,

IUSA Member District Superintendents – Terry Thompson, Anderson, Dr. Jim Roberts, Bartholomew, Dr. Paul Kaiser, Beech Grove, John Trout, Concord, Dr. Matthew Prusiecki, Decatur, Dr. Youssef Yomtoob, East Chicago, Dr. Robert Haworth, Elkhart, Dr. David B. Smith, Evansville-Vanderburgh, Dr. Russell Hodges, Fayette, Dr. Wendy Robinson, Fort Wayne, Dr. Flora Reichanadter, Franklin Township, Dr. Cheryl Pruitt, Gary, Dr. Diane Woodworth, Goshen, Dr. Pete Morikis, Griffith, Dr. Walter (Jerry) Watkins, Hammond, Dr. Lewis Ferebee, Indianapolis, Dr. Jeff Hauswald, Kokomo, Les Huddle, Lafayette, Dr. Sharon Johnson Shirley, Lake Ridge, Dr. Thomas Cripliver, Lake Station, Dr. Shawn Smith, Lawrence Township, Michele Starkey, Logansport, Brad Lindsay, Marion, Dr. Jeffrey Studebaker, Merrillville, Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins, Michigan City, Dr. A. Dean Speicher, Mishawaka, Dr. Judith Demuth, Monroe County, Dr. Steven Baule, Muncie, Dr. Thomas Little, Perry Township, Dr. Nate Jones, Pike, Todd Terrill, Richmond, Dr. Kenneth Spells, South Bend, Ken Hull, Speedway, Daniel Tanoos, Vigo, Dr. Dena Cushenberry, Warren Township, Dr. Nikki Woodson, Washington Township, Dr. Jeff Butts, Wayne Township, Cindy Scroggins, Whiting

new testing plan

ISTEP panel proposes mostly tweaks after months of work

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in IPS School 91's multi-age first-, second- and third-grade classroom work on math activities.

After months of meandering conversation, a state committee charged with finding a replacement for the hated ISTEP exam seems to have fallen short of its goal of revamping the test and instead has only been able to propose minor changes and tweaks.

The new test program endorsed by the state’s ISTEP panel this morning calls for students in grades 3-8 to take one exam in English and math at the end of the year, and for 10th-grade, students would return to taking exams in English, Algebra I and biology at the end of the year. The main differences would be that tests are given in one period, rather than two spread throughout the winter and spring.

“It has been a long and tedious process,” said ISTEP replacement panel Chairwoman Nicole Fama, a principal in Indianapolis Public Schools. “But without everyone’s input and support we wouldn’t be where we are today.” Other panel members include lawmakers, policymakers and educators.

There was no discussion today about the recommendations, crafted mostly over email in the past week.

Read all our coverage of ISTEP and other testing issues here.

Formed by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year, the panel was asked to address lawmakers’ concerns that ISTEP was not credible and was administered poorly. Members cited lack of public trust in the test and scoring and technical problems that have plagued ISTEP since it was retooled for 2015 to match new, more rigorous state standards.

The panel now suggests that the state consider using off-the-shelf tests or questions rather than create an entirely new test. Using existing questions from outside vendors, which could include Common Core-linked exams, is a cheaper option, and one that lawmakers have indicated they’d support.

That’s a big change from what Indiana lawmakers decided in 2013 and 2014, when they voted overwhelmingly to leave Common Core and its associated PARCC test.

“There’s no question that under current state law we have the flexibility (to use other questions or our own),” said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, a panel member and leader of the House Education Committee. “You can use other products that are out there. PARCC, Smarter Balanced all are selling bits and pieces.”

Behning also said federal testing requirements could change under the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. For example, states might have more freedom to create innovative testing models like New Hampshire’s project-based local exams, which Behning has said he might support. Those tests, however, are expensive to create and take years to develop.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Ayana Wilson-Coles, a teacher in Pike Township, were the only two panel members who voted against the plan. Ritz has called for a completely different kind of test that would be given in multiple parts throughout the year and rely heavily on computer-based technology. She says such a test would be more helpful to educators and students.

The committee made no move to address the state’s third grade reading test, which is currently given in addition to ISTEP.

In order to graduate, students would still be expected to pass tests in English and math. The state would, for the first time, pay for students to take a college or a career readiness test, such as the SAT, ACT or military entrance exam.

The recommendations next go to the legislature, which goes into session in January. But lawmakers are not required to follow them. Behning wasn’t specific about how the panel’s work might be used in a future bill.

“We haven’t discussed it,” Behning said. “There’s no question I’ll probably have some language (for a bill), yes, at some point in time.”

Testing Testing

Indianapolis charter high schools rank near the bottom on the 2016 ISTEP

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Find our all our stories and databases on the 2016 ISTEP test results, as well as other testing coverage, here.

Of the Indianapolis public high schools that saw the lowest ISTEP passing rates this year, most were charter schools, including some that were taken over by the state years ago for consistently low test scores.

High schoolers took the ISTEP for the first time last spring rather than subject-specific exams in Algebra I, freshman English and biology. The inaugural high school ISTEP, which was given to 10th-graders in math and English, didn’t go well for many schools across the state. When the results were released last week, only 32.2 percent of Hoosier students passed both exams.

The scores were even lower for some charter high schools in Marion County including Hoosier Academy’s hybrid virtual school. Not a single student passed both exams at the school, where students have the option of working from home or in a school building.

Scores also bottomed out at Carpe Diem Shadeland charter high school, which was temporarily closed in August due to low enrollment. The students were merged with those at Carpe Diem’s Meridian campus. The school was one of three high schools run by the Carpe Diem charter network that ranked among the worst performing high schools in the county.

These are the 10 Marion County public high schools with the lowest ISTEP passing rates. Chalkbeat included demographic information about the schools since research shows that schools with more white and affluent students tend to do better on standardized tests because of biases in the way tests are created and different levels of resources at schools attended by lower-income kids.

Howe High School. This former IPS school has been managed by the Florida-based for-profit Charter Schools USA since the school was taken over by the state in 2012 after years of low test scores. This year, just 5.9 percent of students passed both ISTEP exams.

Demographics:

  • 53.5 black, 31 percent white, 8.2 percent Hispanic, 7.1 percent multiracial
  • Data is not available on the percent of students who qualify for meal assistance.

Carpe Diem Meridian. At this charter school, 5.9 percent of students passed both tests.Demographics:

  • 69.6 percent black, 20.6 percent white, 5.2 percent multiracial, 4.1 percent Hispanic.
  • 69.6 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Arlington High School. This IPS school, which was returned to the district last year after the Tindley charter network declined to continue managing it, saw 5.1 percent of students pass both exams.

Demographics:

  • 86.5 percent black, 7.2 percent Hispanic, 3.7 percent white, 2.6 percent multiracial.
  • 61.2 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

George Washington High School. At this IPS school, 4.9 percent of kids passed the two tests.

Demographics:

  • 34.5 percent black, 32 percent Hispanic, 28.3 percent white, 4.9 multiracial.
  • 71.9 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Carpe Diem Northwest. Only 4.5 percent of students passed the test at this charter high school.

Demographics:

  • 67.2 black, 15.6 Hispanic, 9.4 percent white, 6.3 percent multiracial, 1.6 percent Asian.
  • 84.4 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Northwest High School. The IPS school saw 4.3 percent of students pass both tests.

Demographics:

  • 58.3 percent black, 29.7 percent Hispanic, 6.7 percent white, 2.6 percent Asian, 2.4 percent multiracial.
  • 63 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Manual High School. At this charter high school, which like Howe, has been managed by the Florida-based Charter Schools USA network since it was taken over by the state in 2012, just

3.8 percent of students passed the two exams.

Demographics:

  • 55.3 white, 23.1 black, 12.2 Hispanic, 7.7 multiracial, 1.7 percent Asian.
  • Data is not available on the percent of students who qualify for meal assistance.

John Marshall High School. At this IPS school 2 percent students passed both the two tests.

Demographics:

  • 75.9 percent black, 13.1 percent Hispanic, 8.2 percent white, 2.2 percent multiracial.
  • 65.5 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Hoosier Academy-Indianapolis. At this hybrid virtual charter school, no students passed both ISTEP exams.

Demographics:

  • 72.1 percent white, 20.8 percent black, 3.8 percent multiracial, 1.7 percent Hispanic.
  • 19.6 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Carpe Diem Shadeland. No students passed ISTEP at this charter school, which was closed by the state in August.

Demographics:

  • 73.9 percent black, 15.9 percent white, 4.3 percent multiracial, 2.9 percent Asian, 2.9 percent Hispanic.
  • 81.1 percent percent of students qualify for meal assistance.