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.

 

focusing in

Black student excellence: Denver school board directs district to better serve black students

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Mary Getachew, 15, right, laughs with her peer mentor Sabrin Mohamed,18, left, at Denver's North High School in 2016.

Every Denver public school soon will be required to develop a plan to boost the success of black and African-American students by embracing their strengths rather than focusing on the challenges they face.

That’s according to a resolution unanimously passed Thursday night by the Denver school board. The resolution, which would also require district employees to take training on implicit bias, was shepherded by Jennifer Bacon, who was elected in 2017 to represent northeast Denver and is one of two black members on the diverse school board. Longer-serving board members said it was overdue.

“With good intentions, we were battling the idea that singling out a group of students was not acceptable,” said Happy Haynes, who has served on the board since 2011. “We were always talking about, ‘all students, all students.’”

In doing so, Haynes said, “we lost sight of so many of our students. So I really celebrate this change in our thinking.”

Denver Public Schools’ data show big disparities in how black students are served by the district. While 13 percent of the approximately 93,000 students are black,

  • 28 percent of out-of-school suspensions last year were given to black students,
  • 16.5 percent of students identified as having a disability were black,
  • Just 10 percent of students enrolled in rigorous high school courses were black.

The focus on black students comes after more than a year of relentless and high-profile advocacy from black parents and activists, and 2½ years after a damning report about how black teachers and students are treated in Denver Public Schools.

Known colloquially as the Bailey Report, it was based on interviews with black educators conducted by former school board member Sharon Bailey, who has studied racial dynamics in Denver. It found that black educators feel isolated and mistreated by the district, and perceive that black students are more harshly disciplined in part because the young white women who make up a sizeable portion of the teacher workforce are afraid of them.

The report led to a task force, which presented the district with 11 recommendations. Among them: offering signing bonuses to help attract more black teachers, making student discipline data count toward school ratings, and requiring each school to create a plan “designed to strengthen relationships between African-Americans and schools.”

Nearly two years later, none of that has happened. And much of what the district has done has been voluntary for teachers and schools. Meanwhile, the data keeps mounting.

Last year, 67 percent of black students graduated on time, meaning within four years of starting high school, compared with 78 percent of white students. On state math tests, 17 percent of black students in grades three through eight scored on grade level, compared with 65 percent of white students. The literacy gap was similar.

Avery Williams, a senior at George Washington High School, told the school board at a work session in December that “there’s an awkwardness around being black” in Denver schools.

“Teachers, specifically white teachers, don’t know how to act around me,” Williams said. Many of her classmates, she said, “do not know how to have respectful conversations because they’re afraid of being offensive or because they’re not educated in the right terminology.”

Michael Filmore, a junior at East High School, spoke about being one of only a few black students in his more rigorous classes, an experience Williams shares. After taking remedial classes his freshman year at East, Filmore said he decided to take all honors classes as a sophomore. He also took the public bus to school and was often late for first period.

“I would walk in the classroom and I would feel like I didn’t belong there,” Filmore told the board. “I felt uncomfortable and that I shouldn’t be in these classes. I was pressured. I eventually dropped the class. My junior year, I felt that I would never let myself down again.”

At that December session, Bacon expressed a desire to more explicitly address issues affecting black students. The district has put that kind of focus on students learning English as a second language, many of whom are Hispanic, after a federal judge found the district was violating their rights. Under that order, the district has developed specific methods for teaching English language learners. It requires all new teachers to get certified to teach them.

Bacon and others questioned why that hasn’t happened for black students, as well.

“It’s not because there’s a lack of effort, will, or love,” Bacon said in an interview. “I think it’s because we’re not organized properly and we don’t have an internal stake in the ground around expectations, outcomes, and accountability measures. People want to see DPS is doing that.”

Her fellow board members agreed. On Thursday, they took turns thanking her for bringing forth the resolution, which directs the district to do several things:

  • Require all schools, including district-run and charter schools, to review data about student academic performance, discipline, and referrals for special education to understand how each school’s black students are doing “on an individual level”
  • Require all schools to set goals for supporting black students that prioritize giving them “access to grade-level and more rigorous coursework”
  • Require school leaders to articulate how they will monitor progress toward their goals
  • Train all district staff on implicit bias and culturally responsive education
  • Conduct an “equity audit” to understand what the district is doing well and what it is not to figure out how it “can better prioritize the success of our black students”

It will now be up to new Superintendent Susana Cordova, who made equity a cornerstone of her bid for the district’s top job, to carry out the directive. The resolution gives her until May 31 to come up with a plan that would go into effect by the start of the next school year.

“We know that we have a painful and inequitable history of outcomes for our students,” Cordova said. “But facing this with courage, facing this in community, facing this with our stakeholders, our parents, our family members, our community members, and our students holding us accountable, I believe deeply in the ability of people to come together to solve these problems.”

making the rounds

Tennessee’s new education chief ‘very confident’ that online testing will be smooth in April

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Tennessee's new education commissioner Penny Schwinn (second from left) met with Douglass High School students and Shelby County Schools leaders Friday.

As Tennessee’s new education commissioner wrapped up her second week on the job by visiting four schools in Shelby County, Penny Schwinn said she feels “very confident” the state has learned from its mistakes in online testing.

During the more than three-hour ride to Memphis on Friday, Schwinn said she continued to pore over documents showing evidence that the corrections the state department staff have put in place will work.

“I feel very confident that our team has looked into that,” she told reporters in a press conference after meeting with students. “They’re working with the vendor to ensure that testing is as smooth as possible this year.” Currently the state is working with Questar, who administered TNReady online last year.

She also said the state’s request for proposals from testing vendors, which is already months behind, will be released in about two weeks.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: John Bush, principal of Douglass High School; Penny Schwinn, Tennessee Education Commissioner; and Joris Ray, interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

“No later than that,” she said. “We hope and expect to have a vendor in place before the end of the fiscal year,” in late June.

The day Schwinn was hired, she said getting state testing right would be her first priority. Three years of major technical failures have severely damaged the trust educators and parents have in the state’s test, TNReady. It is the main measure of how schools and teachers are doing, but state lawmakers exempted districts from most testing consequences in 2018.


From Schwinn’s first day on the job: Tennessee’s new education chief wants to ‘listen and learn’ with school visits


Prior to talking with reporters, Schwinn said she heard “hard-hitting questions” from several students at Douglass High School in Memphis about what the state can do to improve education. Schwinn has said she will visit Tennessee schools throughout her tenure to ‘listen and learn’ by talking to students and educators.

Reporters were not allowed to attend the student discussion with Schwinn and some Shelby County Schools leaders.

Douglass High entered Shelby County Schools’ turnaround program, known as the iZone, in 2016 and saw high academic growth in its first year. But test scores fell this past year as the state wrestled with online malfunctions.

Timmy Becton Jr., a senior at Douglass High, said he hopes for fewer tests and more projects to demonstrate what a student has learned. Those kind of assessments, he said, can help a student connect what they are learning to their daily life.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Tennessee’s new education commissioner met with students at Douglass High School and Shelby County Schools leaders.

“We figured it would be a different way to measure and see how much knowledge a student really has on a specific subject,” he told Chalkbeat after meeting with Schwinn during a student roundtable session. “It’s a good alternative to taking tests.”

He said he was “surprised and happy” to see Schwinn actively seek student perspectives.

“I really think that’s the most important part because students are the ones going to school every day,” Becton said. “So, if you want to find a good perspective on how to solve a problem, it’s really great to talk to the people who are actively involved in it and the people who are actually experiencing these problems directly.”

The state’s annual testing window runs from April 15 to May 3.