scrambling to the deadline

Splinter group takes matters into its own hands ahead of looming ISTEP panel deadline

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

After six months of meetings, the 23 educators, lawmakers and community members charged with coming up with a replacement for the unpopular ISTEP exam have reached no major consensus on a plan to present to the legislature by its Dec. 1 deadline.

But a faction of members on the ISTEP panel are now trying to ramp up the conversation by introducing a plan of their own.

The group of eight ISTEP panel members — seven educators and a business leader — say they took matters into their own hands after growing concerned that the deadline was looming with few signs of progress.

The legislature last spring voted to scrap ISTEP and replace it with a new exam by 2018. That timeline, however, is seeming increasingly unlikely.

Read all our testing coverage here.

It’s not clear whether the full panel will embrace the proposal put forward today, but the eight members behind it say their plan reflects input from Indiana educators.

“We tried to capture what we have heard from people all over the state,” said Wendy Robinson, a superintendent from Fort Wayne who was one of the eight members behind the proposal. “It is not impossible for people from diverse backgrounds to actually come to consensus on something … at some point, we have to ask educators what works.”

The group’s plan calls for a system similar in some ways to what Indiana has had in the past. It was presented today at the panel’s second-to-last meeting, and includes a few main components.

Students would:

  • Take one year-end math test and one year-end English test that would incorporate some social studies themes in grades three through eight.
  • Take a year-end science test in in grades four and six.
  • Take year-end tests in Algebra I, biology and ninth-grade English.
  • Show they are ready to graduate high school by completing Advanced Placement or dual credit courses or taking a college entrance or military placement exam, among other options.

The state would:

  • Eliminate the third grade reading test, IREAD.
  • Eliminate separate social studies tests.
  • Have experienced Indiana teachers grade writing tests.

Nicole Fama, an Indianapolis Public Schools principal and the panel’s chairwoman, said she’d work with panel members and staff over email to compile final recommendations, which could include ones from the plan presented today. The panel has just one meeting left before it votes Nov. 29 on the final recommendations.

Throughout the past few months, the panel’s legislator members have repeatedly said ISTEP might stick around for another year or more given the challenges to creating a new test within a short timeline outlined in the original bill. Lawmakers have the final say what the new test would look like over how the state’s current testing law would change, and they aren’t obligated to take the panel’s recommendations into account.

Fama said the panel does agree on some aspects, including that the test should be shorter and that teachers and parents should get results quickly. But those general conclusions didn’t require months of work, panelists said.

“We (educators) were placed on this committee for a reason,” said Ken Folks, a superintendent from East Allen County, another of the eight panelists who created their own plan. “Everything (Fama) said is very general, and I don’t believe that that’s our purpose on this committee. I find it unacceptable to produce a proposal without specifics.”

Robinson and the other educators who worked with her said they won’t give up, and they want to continue to work with lawmakers after the panel concludes its meetings.

“We didn’t sit here all this time not to be heard,” Robinson said. “We’re not backing off.”

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.