Following public outrage over the new ISTEP, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), in consultation with testing experts, offered a plan to the Indiana State Board of Education (ISBOE) to cut the testing time by three hours, from over twelve to around nine hours.
State Board of Education member Andrea Neal supported the time-cutting measures for this year, but cautioned fellow Board members against “accepting as normal an 8 to 9 hour test,” and asked the department to keep future testing times down to four or five hours. Michelle Walker, the chief assessment officer for the IDOE, responded by stating that the ISTEP test must comply with the state’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requirement to administer a “college and career ready” assessment and, therefore, future ISTEP tests would have to be longer than our old tests, although she didn’t specify how much longer.
However, if Indiana’s future state assessments must be similar to other federally approved “college and career ready” assessments, such as PARCC and Smarter Balanced which are between 9 to 10 hours long, we can count on it being at least double in length from past state tests. Unfortunately, as long as the IDOE remains committed to the federal government’s requirement for a “college and career ready” assessment, future ISTEP tests will remain unbearably long.
While Superintendent Ritz and the IDOE patted themselves on the back for cutting the test time, they failed to address other concerns raised in testimony before the State Board of Education. Parents, teachers, and principals who had examined the sample tests raised major concerns, not just about the length of the ISTEP, but also about the design of the test questions, which they found required the use of technology that is “designed to confuse” and convoluted reading passages that a principal with 40 years of experience and two post-graduate degrees stated he “had to read the third grade problem three times to understand what it was asking.”
Nonetheless, Superintendent Ritz and the IDOE ignored these issues and seemed untouched by the negative consequences for children who will walk away from these tests feeling they aren’t capable, when, in reality, the test itself is flawed. So far, the only concern Ritz has made public regarding the validity of the test, is in regards to tying student test scores to teacher accountability measures, and she called for the state to omit students’ scores from teacher evaluations. While that seems reasonable considering the mess we are in, what about the children? Is she unmoved by the fact that children as young as 9 years old will have to sit for a test longer than the bar exam only to walk away with a score that says they failed?
Indiana needs to ask the question: Is the ISTEP the best assessment to measure schools, teachers and students? If that answer is No, then alternate paths which offer flexibility to schools while maintaining accountability to parents and taxpayers need to be pursued before we wind up with the same problems next year.