Lawmakers say ISTEP rescore necessary to ensure accuracy in 2016

The dramatic drop in standardized test scores that hit nearly every school in Indiana has re-energized some state legislators to go after the exam.

Lawmakers have been grumbling for months about problems with the ISTEP, but in the wake of yesterday’s state announcement of rock-bottom ISTEP scores, some are now going farther to say the 2015 exam needs to be rescored.

That could mean thousands of exams would be re-opened. Questions — especially those where students’ answers are written — would be re-graded and scores could be changed.

Others have ramped up calls to scrap the ISTEP altogether.

The administration of this year’s ISTEP was a “nightmare” riddled with scoring, test design and other problems, said Caryl Auslander, a lobbyist for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

That’s prompted Republicans and other education reformers to call for changes, which are on the heels of yesterday’s passage of two education bills that aim to help shield teachers and schools from the effects of the score drops.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he plans to introduce a bill to that would force a rescore, though lawmakers don’t yet know how much it would cost or who would pay for it. Draft bill language is not yet available, but Behning must file his bill before Tuesday for the idea to be considered during this legislative session.

Behning said a rescore is necessary because Indiana will be using the 2015 scores as a “baseline” for a new accountability system in 2016. The new A-F model used to grade schools emphasizes student test score growth from one year to the next and will equally weigh student test score growth with the percentage of students who passed the exam when calculating those grades. Previously, growth was not as major a component in the formula.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, echoed Behning’s concerns about the exam, but said he isn’t sure state legislation is needed to address the problems. He said the state could instead call on the Indiana Department of Administration, which oversees state contracts, to work with CTB/McGraw Hill, the testing company that made the 2015 ISTEP.

A panel of testing experts already conducted one review of the test after concerns were raised in October over differences in difficulty between the paper version of the exam and the online version.

In December, the Indianapolis Star reported another scoring glitch that could have led to thousands of mis-scored tests. The state convened a second panel to examine the data and found that the glitch did not affect student scores.

Bosma, however, said today that he’s not satisfied with the panel’s conclusions.
“We cannot confirm that the data is accurate with respect to schools or students,” Bosma said. “We don’t know the cost, but we’re going to find out.”

But the whole mess has some officials wanting to eliminate ISTEP completely.

When Bosma today presented House Republicans’ legislative priorities for this year’s short 10-week session, he included plans to explore the possibility of a “streamlined test in the future.”

“It’s very clear that the ISTEP test is a damaged brand,” Bosma said. “We do need to be cognizant of the fact that we have a new test and new administration of it, but many of us are prepared to look for alternatives and to do so promptly.”

Although state Superintendent Glenda Ritz said Indiana has done its “due diligence” in regard to accurately scoring the 2015 test, she, too, has criticized ISTEP.

Ritz said she would support an exam that would better determine whether students are improving during the school year. Yesterday she suggested a series of shorter tests that would track students’ progress, followed by a final test that would take a “snapshot” of their skills at the end of year, much like ISTEP does now, except it would be shorter.

Ritz said this strategy would reduce the amount of time kids spend taking tests and provide teachers and parents with faster results that could help guide instruction.

“Students don’t take all same questions at same time,” Ritz said. “It’s a very individualized approach … that’s what I’d like to see us move towards.”

As the country transitions from the federal No Child Left Behind law to the Every Student Succeeds Act over the next couple years, it’s still not clear exactly what kind of test changes will be allowed by the U.S. Department of Education.

Bosma said he doesn’t know what form his plan for future tests would take, but it could come as an executive order by the governor, a collaboration between legislative leaders and Ritz or another summer study committee.

Bosma said his goal is to finish out this session with a strategy so that the state can take action next year or finish its two-year contract with Pearson, the company hired to build the 2016 and 2017 tests, before transitioning to something new. Whatever route lawmakers decide to pursue, he said something needs to change.

“We have to put some time in on this test revision,” he said.