Grading problems delay release of 2018 ISTEP results

Technical problems with the grading of this year’s ISTEP exams will delay the release of test scores, Indiana Department of Education officials announced Thursday.

Pearson, the testing company that has administered ISTEP since 2016, reported issues involving the grading of a graphing question on the 10th-grade math test and another problem with matching student data between tests in grades 3-8 and 10.

Education department spokesman Adam Baker said only a small percentage of students were expected to be impacted by the problems, and the state was working with Pearson to fix the data.

An official with Pearson who spoke on condition of anonymity told Chalkbeat that there weren’t yet estimates on the number of students affected, but it was “very minor.” No timeline has been given for when the issues will be sorted out and scores will be finalized.

The problem with the error in the 10th-grade math question stemmed from a decimal-rounding discrepancy. Students who gave the correct answer will now get credit.

The other issue only affected schools that gave paper tests for the multiple choice section, written section, or both. The paper test issue was due to incorrectly entered or messily written student information that prevented parts of the test from being matched up and graded correctly, the Pearson official said.

The use of paper tests versus online tests has been much-debated in the state, and this isn’t the first year that the differences between them have caused problems with scoring. While many Indiana schools test students on computers, particularly for the multiple choice section, the written part of the test is still largely done on paper, Indiana’s testing director, Charity Flores, told state board members last year.

In 2017, for example, 92 percent of schools gave the multiple choice test online. The goal was to have at least two-thirds take the written portion online in 2018.

The state has been planning for how to get more schools online as Indiana transitions to a “smart” test next year. Computer testing is cheaper to grade and faster for score reporting, but it requires schools to have more technology resources in place, and can be difficult to implement when some students, such as those with certain kinds of disabilities, might do better with a paper test.

It’s unclear when test results will be released. Passing rates were expected to be made public next week at the Indiana State Board of Education’s September meeting.

The grading problems announced today appear to be a smaller issue compared to the massive testing errors Indiana experienced with its previous testing company, CTB McGraw Hill. ISTEP scores have been delayed numerous times in the past few years because of scoring glitches.

When results are delayed, A-F grades for schools can be as well. That happened in 2015, when results were postponed in part because of problems with the grading of new kinds of questions that allow for more student interaction.

Those scoring problems ultimately derailed the entire scoring process, delaying the release of exam results from the fall until January. The delay forced the state to hold up the release of A-F school accountability grades, too, and to bar, for one year, the use of student test results in evaluating and paying teachers.

Repeated testing problems with CTB were part of what led the state to contract with Pearson.