Accountability and the future of Indiana’s assessment system will be major priorities during the 2016 legislative session, as issues with the ISTEP+ continue to surface.
At a legislative conference Wednesday, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the legislature will consider dumping ISTEP+ and restart a dialogue that began last session when Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, suggested the state use an ‘off the shelf’ test.
This conversation comes after many parents, teachers and now lawmakers have expressed frustration over how long its taking to get ISTEP scores from testing company CTB. Just this week, the Indianapolis Star reported that the company also scored many test questions incorrectly and chose not to go back and fix the problem.
“I think we’ve discussed it enough,” said Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, on replacing the test with one that’s already in place, like NWEA. “I think it’s time to make a fundamental change. It is vital that we have some yardstick of which to measure student achievement. We need some metric – that doesn’t mean it has to be a 12-hour test and it doesn’t mean it has to be a basket full of tests.”
Up until now, using a nationally-made test was not possible because, under No Child Left Behind, state assessments had to test the state’s standards. But now that Congress passed an updated version of the law last week, states will have more control over how they test kids.
“If we can seize that opportunity, we may be able to find a broad consensus on this issue,” Hershman said.
There is already consensus from Democrats, including House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, who have also expressed a desire to ditch ISTEP+.
The other main issue on the table going into the legislative session is how to issues A-F grades once ISTEP+ scores become available. As we reported earlier this month, preliminary A-F scores show a huge increase in the number of schools that will receive a D or an F. These low school grades come from reportedly low ISTEP+ scores, and legislators say they want to address how to ease this blow on accountability.
Earlier this week, House Education Committee chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he will fast-track a bill that would remove ISTEP+ scores from teacher evaluations.
Bosma and other education leaders, including state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, want to find a solution to the low scores. Ritz has long advocated for an approach that would give schools the better letter grade between this year and last year. Bosma says he will propose creating an average of the last two or three years’ grades, advocating for a three year average.
“All are feasible approaches,” Bosma says. “It’s clear we have to do something. We don’t want to penalize our schools, teachers or students in that way.”
Whereas the bill around teacher accountability will be fast-tracked, Bosma says the legislature will take its time looking at the issues of school accountability and a new test.
“Can that be accomplished in the short session? It’s 10 weeks long, probably not,” he says. “What I think can be discussed and accomplished is the framework to make that decision, including educators, testing experts and stakeholders from all around the state.”