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

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.