ISTEP glitches impact county students’ scores


At least two Dubois County students had their ISTEP scores change after scoring issues caused a delay in the release of ISTEP scores.

ISTEP is the standardized test the state has used since the late 1980s to gauge students’ understanding of content and to hold schools accountable for the education students receive. The scores were connected to school accountability — today they are used to assign A-F grades to schools — in 1999. Accountability grades are further tied to state funding, teacher pay and possible state takeover of failing schools.

The scores from the spring 2018 test were expected to be released during the first week of September, but scoring glitches on the 10th grade math test and issues matching paper tests with online tests for grades three through eight led to rescores and delayed the release of the scores.

Overall, online education news source Chalkbeat reported, roughly 115 third- to eighth-grade tests and over 20,000 10th grade tests were affected. Local school officials don’t yet know the extent to which the scoring glitches affected their students, but Southeast Dubois does know that at least two of its elementary students were affected, Superintendent Rick Allen said.

The glitches have been resolved, according to the Indiana Department of Education, but there is no estimated date for when the scores will be made public.

“Sadly, we’re so used to this stuff being delayed and never being on time,” said North Spencer Superintendent Dan Scherry. “I know our department of education is working on that.”

Several scoring issues in the last few years led the IDOE to switch ISTEP vendors in 2016 from California-based CTB-McGraw Hill to Pearson, a British company.

Fortunately, local schools have their own systems for tracking student progress, so a delay in the release of ISTEP scores generally doesn’t hurt instruction. It does, however, make it harder for educators to use data gathered by the ISTEP tests, which are taken in the spring, to target areas where students may be struggling.

Allen remembers getting ISTEP scores in June, just a couple months after students took the test, when the test first came out in 2009. That gave administrators and teachers all summer to look at the data and tailor their teaching to content areas where students didn’t score as well. In recent years, however, schools don’t receive the scores until late August or September, at which point school has been back in session for about a month.

“It diminishes the impact that the test can have,” Allen said.

Still, Allen said, principals do dig into the data and compare it year to year to look for content areas where students overall perform well or poorly.

At Greater Jasper Schools, Superintendent Tracy Lorey said, administrators review data from the ISTEP tests alongside other tests the school gives throughout the year to gauge student performance.

“(ISTEP) is one measure of student performance,” Lorey said. “There are many more measures that occur on a daily basis.”

Delayed ISTEP scores have a larger impact on teacher evaluations. Each school corporation sets up its own teacher evaluation system, but state law requires teacher evaluations to have a data component. That data component comes from ISTEP. Without the scores, administrators can’t complete the previous year’s evaluations.

Next year, the IDOE will transition away from the ISTEP test to the ILEARN test. Like ISTEP, ILEARN scores will be factored into teacher evaluations and school accountability. Unlike ISTEP, ILEARN will be fully online and adaptive, meaning that each segment will start with a question of average difficulty, then get easier or harder depending on if the student answers correctly. Adaptive tests are more personalized and can give educators a better idea of where students are with materials. Rather than only showing whether a student is below or above average, adaptive tests show how far above or below average an individual student is, according to a handout from the IDOE.

Although state standardized tests are high stakes as far as school funding and accountability, local school officials said they try to focus more on the day-to-day instruction in the classrooms and catering to how students learn best rather than focusing solely on getting the best test scores.

“It’s really important for us to keep the priority the instruction in the classroom,” Scherry said. “We survive all these mandates.”

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