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

Test tweaks

Tennessee will halve science and social studies tests for its youngest students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday plans to slim down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders as she seeks to respond to complaints of over-testing in Tennessee.

McQueen has been mulling over that option since meeting last summer with her testing task force. The State Department of Education received more public feedback on testing during the last eight months while developing the state’s new plan for its schools in response to a new federal education law.

Tennessee already has eliminated a state test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as shortened TNReady, the state’s end-of-year tests for math and reading.

It’s uncertain just how significant the latest reductions are, since McQueen also said that some “components” would be added to English tests in those grades.  

And the trimming, while significant, falls short of a suggestion to eliminate the tests altogether. Federal law does not require tests in science and social studies for those grades, like it does for math and English.

Parents and educators have become increasingly vocal about the amount of testing students are undergoing. The average Tennessee third-grader, for instance, currently spends more than 11 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science. That doesn’t include practice tests and screeners through the state’s 3-year-old intervention program.

McQueen noted that more changes could be on the horizon. Her testing task force has also considered eliminating or reducing TNReady for 11th-graders because they already are required to take the ACT college-entrance exam. “We will continue to evaluate all of our options for streamlining assessments in the coming years, including in the 11th grade,” she wrote in a blog post.

McQueen also announced that the state is tweaking its schools plan to reduce the role that chronic absenteeism will play in school evaluation scores.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to evaluate schools based off of a measure that’s not directly tied to test scores. Tennessee officials have selected chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including absences or suspension. McQueen said the measure will be changed to count for 10 percent of a school’s final grade, down from 20 percent for K-8 schools and 15 percent for high schools.

Some local district officials had raised concerns that absenteeism was out of the control of schools.

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

About 130 districts were eligible to test online this year.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County