Letter: Misleading ISTEP scores call for pause in accountability

To the editor:

School boards and superintendents across the state have voiced concern with the release of ISTEP scores which educators have yet to receive.

Results are to be reviewed and utilized to drive instruction the following year, as well as provide letter grades for schools. These grades are used in the formula for teacher compensation and affect property values within school districts.

It is unconscionable, given the myriad malfunctions during testing windows and challenges encountered employing technology, that the data for other than benign purposes would be considered.

Since teachers will not receive test results until January, it will be impossible to prepare students adequately for this year’s tests, which will start in March. In addition, this spring, 10th-graders will take a brand new ISTEP 10 for the first time. Not only is it prudent to have a moratorium on consequences to test results this year, it makes sense to use the next school year as a transition time as well.

Examining the timeline of this $24 million dollar fiasco called ISTEP, we find:

1. The State of Indiana shuffled academic standards three times within four years, necessitating ISTEP’s expansion to assess mastery of the old and new standards without establishing a baseline.

2. The SBOE was informed by the IDOE in September 2014 that the test would be 40 percent longer than the previous test.

3. Early in 2015, Gov. (Mike) Pence and the SBOE feigned incredulity when it became well-known that students would be subjected to testing times exceeding time requirements of the Bar Exam.

4. The governor directed the IDOE to condense the test while the legislature simultaneously set out to remove Superintendent Glenda Ritz from her elected role as chairman of the state Board of Education attempting to disenfranchise 1.3 million Hoosier voters.

5. The spring administration of the test was plagued with innumerable technical difficulties resulting in many schools opting to return to paper pencil assessments. It was later determined that the paper pencil test was less complex, causing inflated scores for the paper pencil test takers.

6. CTB/McGraw-Hill advertised on Craig’s List to hire a sufficient number of assessment evaluators.

7. It was discovered that different versions of the online exam were not comparable. Some students received the “easy” version and some, in the same school, received the more difficult variant.

8. The August release of scores was delayed several times as answers to inconsistencies, anomalies and grading difficulties were sought.

9. Although Ritz advocated (with the blessing of the USDOE) that teachers and schools be protected during the transition year to the new tests and standards, Pence and his appointed SBOE stonewalled, saying schools must be accountable even though the measuring stick is flawed. In October, after mounting pressure from the general public knowing their schools are not failing, Pence announced his support of working with the legislature to protect teachers and schools from adverse consequences because of the anticipated low test scores. However, the legislative study committee opted against suggesting a pause in accountability.

10. Even though salaries, careers, property values and the continued existence of some schools hang in the balance, Pence visited a school in northern Indiana and told the staff they shouldn’t take the test scores personally.

11. Test scores were embargoed but released to schools, and a significant drop (40 percent in some instances) is noted. Many districts were informed their letter grades would plummet. Interestingly, according to the NAEP (the nation’s Report Card), Indiana has shown record growth in regard to language, math, graduation rates and score at, or near the top, of every category nationally, which poses another curious contradiction.

12. CTB/McGraw-Hill test evaluators came forward due to ethical concerns, knowing they would be terminated from employment. They shared the lackadaisical attitude the company had while assessing the test, noting scores were affected simply based on whether an evaluator used a keypad or mouse to enter scores.

Given these far-reaching and community-affecting circumstances, we as classroom teachers, join and concur with superintendents, school board members, administrators and stakeholders statewide in calling upon the governor and state Legislature to follow the lead of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and pause accountability as well as any and all punitive consequences resulting from the latest release of misleading and fallacious ISTEP scores.

Amber Asche and Julian Smith, co-presidents Jennings County Classroom Teachers Association

Cheryl Fenton, president Seymour Community Schools Teachers Association

Wanda Siebert, president Flatrock-Hawcreek Teachers Association

Dana Schmidt, president Columbus Educators Association

Scott Mangels, president Greensburg Teachers Association

Karen Hudson, president Decatur County Community Schools Teachers Association