March 11, 2016

With ISTEP Dead, Can The New Version Lower The Stakes?

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The legislature passed a bill getting rid of ISTEP and creating a committee to design the replacement. - stock photo

The legislature passed a bill getting rid of ISTEP and creating a committee to design the replacement.

stock photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2016 General Assembly Thursday voted to get rid of the current ISTEP. The bill, on its way to the governor, creates a panel to find a new standardized test to replace it.

The 23-person panel created in the bill is made up of lawmakers and education agency heads who get to appoint a number of teachers, principals and superintendents. This committee will decide how Indiana’s assessment will change, and it will also have the power to address one of the biggest criticisms of the current ISTEP assessment plan: the high stakes.

“We must move on from ISTEP”

It’s one of the few education issues Indiana politicians have agreed on this session. Since the 2016 General Assembly convened in January, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle called to get rid of the test.

“Simply put, we need to move on from ISTEP,” said superintendent Glenda Ritz.

So HB 1395 entered the mix, and its passage means ISTEP is gone by 2017 and this new committee will design the replacement.

One of the things that many parents like Amy Crispin hope this committee will change is the high stakes.

“There’s so much pressure on the teacher, and then the teacher’s pressured and therefore she puts pressure on the kids,” Crispin says.

Crispin is a former third grade teacher and left her classroom in Pike Township right as No Child Left Behind went into effect. She now has four kids of her own in Carmel Clay Schools, and is shocked at how the ISTEP influences classroom instruction.

Her concerns are pretty universal: this one test largely affects school A-F grades, teacher evaluations and dominates instruction. That’s what we mean by high stakes testing.



Changing the stakes with accountability

ISTEP is “high stakes testing” because that one, annual assessment determines a schools A-F grades and impacts teacher evaluations and pay. Because of these two things, it also dominates instruction.

Danielle Shockey, assistant state superintendent, says the new panel can’t get rid of school A-F grades, federal mandates still require them, but it can diminish the test’s impact.

It can require that those grades include other factors.

“For example, parent involvement would be one you would consider measuring,” Shockey says. “I know that’s a hard thing to quantify, but people have said that’s an important measure of student success. You could look at things like behavior statistics, closing of the achievement gap.”

Shockey says there’s also flexibility from the feds to get rid of ISTEP scores in teacher evaluations.

And if teacher evaluations and A-F grades didn’t hinge completely on ISTEP scores, parent and former teacher Crispin says the culture around testing in a school might change. When she was teaching, she says she had flexibility to cater lesson timelines to her kids’ needs.

“I don’t feel like they have that freedom now,” Crispin says. “I feel like a lot of teachers go into teaching because one, they love kids, but two they’re pretty creative beings and to stifle that creativity creates a lot of burnout.”

Could more tests lead to less testing?

The other idea the committee can address is the amount of testing.

Right now, students in grades three through eight take the ISTEP in the spring. It covers material from the entire year– similar to a final exam in college.

But going forward, Indiana could choose to divide the test up. Instead of one big test, the committee could decide to break it up into a few shorter assessments. So rather than a final exam, ISTEP would be like a series of end of chapter tests. It seems counter intuitive, but creating more tests could actually reduce the amount of testing.

Right now, many schools give layers of standardized tests, that don’t count, to measure progress leading up to ISTEP.

“I think a lot of what parents complain about, and I’m a parent of a kid who takes assessments, has been to additional layered on assessments done locally,” Shockey says.

Teachers would not need the additional layer of tests to measure progress if the students are taking a segmented test.

Indiana students will take the current ISTEP this spring and next spring.  The new test, decided by the committee, will go into effect spring 2018. The committee must be assembled by May 1, 2016 and must submit a report to the legislature outlining the new test by Dec. 2016.

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