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.”

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.

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

ACT bump

Tennessee sees ACT gains after becoming first state to fund retakes for all students

Last fall, Tennessee became the nation’s first state to pay for its students to retake the ACT college entrance exam.

On Tuesday, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the investment paid off.

Nearly 26,000 students in the Class of 2017 opted to participate in the state’s first ACT Senior Retake Day in October. Of those, nearly 40 percent got higher scores. And about 5 percent — 1,331 students in all — raised their composite above the 21 necessary to receive the state’s HOPE Scholarship, which provides up to $16,000 toward in-state tuition.

The ACT retake also resulted in more students hitting the ACT college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects, an area where Tennessee has struggled. The percentage of students meeting all four benchmarks increased from 21.5 percent to 26.8 percent.

Additionally, over a third of school districts increased their ACT average, with the best gains in Maryville City, which increased its composite average by a full point.

Under the initiative, the State Department of Education paid the fees for students to take the test for a second time in hopes of boosting their scores and chances for college scholarships.

“Our goal is to open more doors for students after high school, and these results are one more step toward that vision,” McQueen said. “We want students to graduate from high school with the ability to access whatever path they want to explore, and we know too often low ACT scores create a barrier.”

The retake day cost the state $760,000. ACT provided an additional $353,000 in fee waivers for low-income students.

Gov. Bill Haslam has included money to continue the program in his budget proposal for 2017-18.