ISTEP could receive third-party review

Herald Staff Writer

Local school administrators and teachers are hopeful that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz will call for a third-party review of Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress scores in the wake of an online glitch.

Problems with online ISTEP testing started April 29 when many students were kicked out of their sessions by program errors. This year was the first that all students in grades three through eight were tested on computers. The Indiana Department of Education halted the testing April 30 until contractor CTB McGraw-Hill could fix the problem. Testing resumed May 1, but districts were told to reduce their daily testing load by half. The testing window was extended until this coming Friday, and local schools finished last week after several delays.

Now, Ritz is considering a plan to evaluate the validity of the results and how they will impact teacher accountability in the new evaluation grading system. ISTEP results are used to determine A-F grades for schools and can be used in part to determine teacher raises.

Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools Superintendent Tracy Lorey said a third-party review could help put teachers and principals more at ease after a stressful round of exams.

“I do believe that there needs to be some review ... in light of all of the issues that occurred with the testing. The stakes are just too high and those scores are applied to so many things that have such a great impact on schools and individuals,” she said. “We would hope that our leadership would find ways to support the work that we do.”

Schools will receive a list of students whose testing was interrupted late this month so they can flag tests they feel are invalid based on individual scores from previous years. The Department of Education also plans to compare this year’s scores against last year’s when assessing results.

Southeast Dubois School Corp. testing coordinator and Pine Ridge Elementary School Principal Ryan Haas sat in on a teleconference with Ritz earlier this month and said he is appreciative of her flexibility with schools.

“The biggest news to me was the willingness of the (Indiana Department of Education) to listen to us,” he said. “(Ritz) has really taken it upon herself to step away and say, ”˜We want to do what’s best for kids.’”

Though her students were fortunate to be in an unaffected group of testers, Tenth Street School fifth-grade teacher Kendra Jasper said that many of the children at the school faced abnormal testing conditions and many teachers are concerned that their struggles will negatively influence scores.

“I do think the state should make some adjustments due to the delays. Some students had to wait in the lab long amounts of time waiting for test questions to load. Some of the computers were loading and the test was running while another students in the same class had to wait,” she said. “You couldn’t take a break or stretch because your neighbor might have been testing. It was very frustrating for those kids.”

Fellow Tenth Street fifth-grade teacher Eileen Meyer agreed.

“Due to the ISTEP glitches, my class had to take their ISTEP after an afternoon recess . It’s best to administer the test in the morning prior to a lot of physical activity,” she said. “I feel strongly about teachers being held accountable, but a lot of weight goes into this one isolated test.”

Teacher evaluation scores, which Indiana schools began calculating this school year, are determined in part by the state growth model according to the Indiana Rise evaluation system adopted by most schools. The growth model data depends on student ISTEP scores from one year to the next. A poor round of testing could result in a poor evaluation grade. Ritz will consider reducing the weight that ISTEP scores have on evaluations this year.

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