ISTEP management let down educators, students

Evansville Courier & Press

If you thought standardized testing would give us an accurate measurement of the performance of Indiana students, think again.

On Wednesday, Zach Osowski of the Courier & Press reported that the Indiana State Board of Education chose to delay voting on ISTEP pass-fail scores. The reason: Some Indiana students took the ISTEP test on paper, while others took it on computer.

Yet, the testing company found that there may be significant differences between the difficulty level of the paper test and the difficulty of the test given online.

The state board received that information on Tuesday, the day before the meeting, though the information had been gathered nearly two weeks earlier.

As Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendrey said: “This seems like another self-inflicted wound. This could have been avoidable if we had gotten the information earlier.”

Indeed, but Indiana has been struggling for months and even years to get standardized testing right and has found little success.

Consequently, some board members expressed hesitation in actually approving the pass-fail scores for ISTEP without knowing the difference between the two types of testing.

Osowski wrote that some schools in southwestern Indiana took the paper test, while most schools gave it by computer. Osowski reported that some school switched to the paper test after experiencing computer problems with the electronic versions in April and May.

What strikes us is that some Indiana schools have had difficulties in scoring ISTEP tests given via computer over a period of years, not just recently.

Board member Sarah O’Brien said, “This is a huge deal, and we’ve got to get this right.” We agree.

A part of the resolution — if that is possible — of the test issue will be a so-called validity study on the testing. No specific timetable has been given on completion of that study. However, test scores are supposed to come out in December, a date unlikely to be reached, given the delays already experienced.

According to Osowski, the first delay in test scores this year came when CTB/McGraw-Hill, which administered the spring 2015 test, announced there were problems with that version. CTB officials at the time blamed Indiana’s new standards, which were not adopted in time to administer a practice test.

Indiana cut ties with CTB and signed on with another company, Pearson Education, a British firm.

Frankly (and unfortunately), the most recent delays are no surprise, and that is a shame for Indiana students and teachers who rely on the testing for performance results and, by extension, educator pay.

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