Are Children Learning

Try out new 2015 ISTEP practice questions

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

(UPDATE: New practice questions for the 2016 ISTEP test are now available. Go here to try them. These questions are also still good practice for the 2016 test as well. So when you’re done with these try out the new questions!)

Children across Indiana will take a new, and very different, ISTEP in less than six months but teachers have only recently gotten to look at sample questions to guide them in preparing their students.

The upcoming spring ISTEP tests have been a major concerns for Indiana educators as the state rolls out its new Hoosier-specific academic standards this year.

That’s because until recently, no one had any idea how the test would be different.

The new tests, which are still being written and refined, reflect Indiana’s new standards, which in essence are a list of expectations for what students should know at every grade level. The new expectations are considered tougher than the state’s prior standards. For example, students to delve more deeply into subjects and justify answers with evidence rather than just citing their personal experience or background knowledge.

In the simplest sense, the standards and the tests based on them want students to show what they were thinking, not just that they happened to get the right answer. The tests are designed to capture student thinking by requiring them to show their work in a variety of new ways that go beyond multiple-choice options.

(MORE: See what new “technology-enhanced” ISTEP questions will expect students to be able to do.)

To help teachers and administrators better adjust to the new standards, the Department of Education is holding 10 training sessions across the state for teachers, administrators and community members. The sessions let teachers ask questions, work through lesson-planning exercises and discuss strategies for incorporating the new standards in their teaching.

Teachers also got to see sample ISTEP questions for math and English at Tuesday’s session at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The sample questions were written with help from teachers and were considered, but not chosen, for the actual ISTEP test.

The last training session will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Sheet Metal Workers union hall at 2828 E. 45th St, in Indianapolis.

Listed below are sample ISTEP questions for K-8 students. Some are short-answer, and some are long-answer. To check your answers, scroll to the bottom of the story. View other ISTEP sample questions from third-grade, sixth-grade and eighth-grade English, as well as third-grade, sixth-grade and eighth-grade writing questions.

(Let us know what you think in the comments: Are the questions too difficult? Too easy? Just right? If you’re feeling brave, you can even tell us how you scored.)

1. Third-grade math

Given information: (A clock is pictured that shows the time 3:30 p.m.) The clock shows the time at which students arrive at a park one afternoon to play a game.

Part A: After the students arrive, they have 30 minutes to practice before the first game begins. What time does the first game begin?

Part B: It took 40 minutes to play the first game and 50 minutes to play the second game. How long, in minutes, did they spend in all playing the two games? Show all work.

Part C: The students want to play a third game, but the park closes at 5:45 p.m. On the lines below, explain whether or not the teams are LIKELY to have enough time to play a third game before the park closes. Include the time the second game ends in your answer.

Scroll to the bottom for the answer

The standard: In this question, students have to show they can tell and write time to the nearest minute from analog clocks using a.m. and p.m., and measure time intervals in minutes. The problem also asks them to solve real-world problems with addition and subtraction of time intervals in minutes.

2. Fourth-grade math

Given information: 1 kilogram = 1,000 grams

Part A: John’s pumpkin has a mass of 2 kilograms. The mass of Greg’s pumpkin is 500 grams less than John’s pumpkin. What is the mass, in grams, of Greg’s pumpkin? Show all work.

Part B: John thinks the mass of the two pumpkins, in grams, is greater than 3,000 grams. Use words, numbers, and/or symbols to explain if John is correct.

Scroll to the bottom for the answer

The standard: This problem is designed to get students to show that they can add, subtract, multiply or divide to solve real-world problems that include distance, time, volume, mass or money. Such problems might also ask students to use simple fractions and problems that ask them to translate measurement from a larger unit to a smaller unit.

3. Sixth-grade math

Given information: Lynn is baking 20 cakes. She needs blueberries, strawberries, and some other ingredients for her recipe. She needs 22 pounds of blueberries. She needs twice as many pounds of blueberries as she does strawberries.

Part A: Write an equation that can be used to determine the number of pounds of strawberries Lynn needs. Be sure to define the variable in your equation.

Part B: Lynn buys the blueberries for $3 per pound and the strawberries for $2 per pound. What is the total cost of the blueberries and strawberries? Show all work.

Part C: In addition to the cost of the berries, Lynn spends $52 on the other ingredients needed to make the 20 cakes. Lynn wants to make $5 for each cake she sells, taking into account the amount she spends on ALL ingredients. For how much should Lynn sell each cake in order to make $5 per cake? Use words, numbers, and/or symbols to justify your answer.

Scroll to the bottom for the answer

The standard: Students must show they can solve simple equations using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division for non-negative numbers that don’t have repeating decimals. They have to represent real-world problems with equations and solve them.

4. Seventh-grade math

Given information: A student claims that 8x – 2(4 + 3x) is equivalent to 3x. The student’s steps are shown.

  • Expression: 8x – 2(4 + 3x)
  • Step 1: 8x – 8 + 3x
  • Step 2: 8x + 3x – 8
  • Step 3: 11x – 8
  • Step 4: 3x

Part A: Describe ALL errors in the student’s work.

Part B: If the errors in the student’s work are corrected, what will be the final expression? Show all work.

Scroll to the bottom for the answer

The standard: Students must show they can apply properties of operations to create equivalent linear expressions, including situations that require factoring. They must also show they can justify each step in that process.


 

Answers (in the order the questions were listed)

1. Third-grade math

Answer Part A: Students must answer 4:00

Answer Part B: Students must show that 40 + 50 = 90 and include an answer of 90 minutes.

Answer Part C: Students must say the second game ended at 5:30 p.m. They must also explain that the team will likely not have enough time to play a third game because the park closes in 15 minutes, and each of the other two games took at least 40 minutes.

2. Fourth-grade math

Answer Part A: Students must show 2,000 – 500 = 1,500 or another valid way to get arrive at the same answer, plus the correct answer of 1,500 grams.

Answer Part B: Students must explain either of the following.

  • Yes, the mass of the two pumpkins is 3,500 grams, which is greater than 3,000 grams.
  • 2,000 grams + 1,500 grams = 3,500 grams. 3,500 > 3,000
  • Another valid response

3. Sixth-grade math

Answer Part A: Showing that p represents the number of pounds of strawberries Lynn needs and that 2p = 22 or another representation of the equation and the variable.

Answer Part B: Showing that 2p = 22, p = 22/2 and p = 11. Then showing that 22 x $3 = $66, 11 x $2 = $22, and $66 + $22 = $88. They must also list the right answer as $88.

Answer Part C: Showing that $88 + $52 = $140, $140/20 = $7 per cake, $7 + $5 = $12 or another valid process. They must also include that Lynn should sell each cake for $12.

4. Seventh-grade math

Answer Part A: Students must explain that in step 1, the student did not apply the distributive property correctly. The student forgot to multiple -2 and 3x. In step 4, the student should not have subtracted 8 from 11x because they are not like terms. Another valid description of the errors is acceptable, too.

Answer Part B: The process must show 8x – 2(4 + 3x), 8x – 8 – 6x, 2x – 8. The final expression 2x – 8 must also be listed.

 

Testing

Memphis school board softens request to reform state’s troubled TNReady test

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
The Shelby County Schools board plans to present its annual wish list to Memphis-area state legislators on Dec. 17.

The board governing Tennessee’s largest school district is asking state legislators to rely less on the standardized test known as TNReady, which has endured a tumultuous online rollout since 2016.

The school board’s annual wish list for state lawmakers dampens stronger language the Shelby County Schools board had proposed last week to “eliminate” the state’s “use and reliance” on the test.

Instead, the Memphis board wants state lawmakers to require the Tennessee Department of Education “to use multiple and/or alternative methods of accountability beyond TNReady that more accurately and reliably assess” student knowledge of state academic standards.

“Much of the trouble with state testing “was around the implementation, not necessarily the tool itself,” said board member Kevin Woods. Board members are scheduled to make their annual presentation to Memphis area lawmakers later this month.

TNReady is the state’s high stakes test that measures student academic performance, starting with third-graders. High schoolers take the online version. In the past, TNReady results have determined teacher raises and evaluations, employment, or whether to place low-performing schools in the state-run Achievement School District. But last year lawmakers temporarily barred using TNReady results for making those decisions after technical glitches interrupted testing for thousands of students.

Leaders in the state’s education department have said that despite the repeated technical difficulties, the test itself is still reliable and a good measure of student progress. In recent years, the state has overhauled requirements for student learning to make them more rigorous. Raising the bar is something the state and Shelby County Schools’ leader Dorsey Hopson agree on — even though Hopson said he had “no confidence” in the online testing system.


Related: Did online snafus skew Tennessee test scores? Analysts say not much.


Testing students is essential for measuring student progress, said Deidra Brooks, the chief of staff for Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy organization. She urged the board to specify an alternative “that would provide parents with an equitable and transparent way for parents to see how their students are doing.”

The board’s legislative agenda noted a previous bill that failed last year would have allowed districts to use the college admissions test ACT instead of TNReady for high school students. The bill also would have limited the time and number of tests students take during the school year.

Also included in the school board’s legislative agenda was the Memphis school board’s desire to have significantly more say in how charter schools are authorized and overseen.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
The Tennessee State Capitol stands in downtown Nashville.

For example, the board said it should be able to decide which neighborhoods are “oversaturated” with schools and prevent a charter school from opening there. Many charter and traditional schools have struggled to enroll enough students as the population has fallen and more schools have opened.

The board is also looking for ways to streamline the authorizing process. It wants to cap the number of charter schools a district can authorize each year, and get rid of a provision that allows prospective charter operators to amend their application during the approval process.

Once schools are authorized, board members want the ability to “take interim measures, short of full revocation” when a charter school is not following legal guidelines or meeting academic standards during its 10-year-charter duration.

The board also continues to oppose a state voucher system that would give public money to parents to use for private school tuition. Governor-elect Bill Lee has expressed support for vouchers, which have failed in the state legislature for about a decade. Lee’s commitment to promote the initiative was underlined by hiring Tony Niknejad as his policy director, who was the former Tennessee leader of the pro-voucher group American Federation for Children.

Below is the full legislative agenda board members will share with state lawmakers who represent the Memphis area Monday, Dec. 17. The school board’s presentation is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. at the Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central Ave.

shift

With new school turnaround model, Tennessee takes lessons learned in Memphis to Chattanooga

PHOTO: Hamilton County Department of Education
A teacher works with students at a Chattanooga elementary school.

A national pioneer in school turnaround work, Tennessee has launched a third model for improving struggling schools — based in part on lessons that have emerged from the state’s first two efforts over the past decade.

The new Partnership Network, now in its first year under a five-year agreement between the state and Hamilton County Schools, is focused on five schools in Chattanooga where student achievement has languished for decades.

The collaborative model takes a page from learnings garnered mostly in Memphis. The city is the hub of the state’s two other turnaround models, one of which involves wresting control of low-performing schools from the local district.

“I would describe this model not as a state takeover, but a state pushing” toward a different style of intervention, said state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen of the Partnership Network.

All three turnaround options are outlined in Tennessee’s plan under the new federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law requires each state to come up with a strategy for improving chronically underperforming schools.

Most promising so far has been Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, a district-led program that provides struggling Memphis schools with extra state-funded resources and charter-like autonomy.

The other approach, the state-run Achievement School District, has been lackluster in performance and heavy-handed in its execution, but state officials are hopeful it’s a late bloomer, especially under the new leadership of the iZone’s former chief. Known as the ASD, the district has taken control of dozens of low-performing Memphis schools and matched them with charter operators.

State officials once had considered the cluster of Chattanooga schools for ASD takeover. But they came up with the partnership approach as a third way, wherein a seven-member advisory board named by both partners oversees the work of the mini-school district comprising 2,300 students.


One Chattanooga school was once a heralded example of successful turnaround. What happened?


The partnership model, while unique in its structure, will only be as good as its outcomes, McQueen emphasized Monday during the advisory board’s second meeting.

Since embracing school improvement as part of a 2010 overhaul of K-12 public education, Tennessee has committed to a series of independent studies to track results with an eye toward data-driven refinements and new strategies. The research is the basis for a policy brief released this week outlining the state’s guiding principles for effective school turnaround. The Tennessee Education Research Alliance, a collaboration between Vanderbilt University and the state education department, developed the guidelines.

There is no magic bullet, said Gary T. Henry, the lead researcher behind the brief and a professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt.

He said the work of fixing struggling schools is “the most challenging work in public education today.” That’s because it really does take a village, he said, that includes the local school district, the state, federal dollars, and a sustained commitment from all parties to attack the problems from multiple angles.

Vanderbilt researcher Gary T. Henry and new ASD Superintendent Sharon Griffin talk about school turnaround work with leaders of Hamilton County’s new Partnership Network.

In addition, there must be a willingness to treat low-performing schools as special cases that merit additional resources and higher pay for effective teachers and administrators — something that school districts are loathe to do and that defies political gravity, Henry said.

It also means building a district-within-a-district organizational structure dedicated to school improvement; removing barriers to improvement such as high teacher and leader turnover rates; increasing capacity for effective teaching and leadership with supports such as curriculum, training, and mentoring; and establishing school practices and processes — like opportunities for teacher collaboration — that promote continuity and stability.

“Doing one or two of these will not necessarily change the lives of students and teachers and principals. But doing all five intelligently and in focused fashion can,” Henry said.

The work must recognize, too, the profound impact of poverty on the students who generally attend low-performing schools, said Sharon Griffin, the former iZone chief hired last spring to run the state-run ASD.

“Sometimes just showing up (to school) is a miracle,” Griffin said of kids who bring adverse and chronically stressful experiences into schools and classrooms.

A nationally recognized turnaround leader, Griffin told the new Chattanooga advisory board about the improvement work she has “lived and breathed” as a Memphis teacher, principal, and iZone superintendent. She urged them to get inside of schools, stay student-focused in their oversight of the Partnership Network, and plan for a marathon instead of a sprint.

“The work can’t stop. The sense of urgency cannot stop,” she said.