Federal NCLB waiver solely to blame for ISTEP debacle

February 12, 2015 7 Comments

After the extended ISTEP testing times were released last week, the outrage of parents and teachers led Governor Mike Pence to issue an executive order to have an expert review and shorten the test before it is administered beginning in March. Initially, Superintendent Glenda Ritz pushed back against this effort, stating she had no plans to shorten the test. Today, Ritz announced she will work with Pence’s experts, so we’ll see how that goes.

Yet, it’s hard to foresee any possible solution to the ISTEP issue when the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) is unwilling to admit the root cause. The press and Ritz’s office have blamed the super-sized ISTEP format on state legislators for passing legislation that required Indiana to write “new” standards last year. They claim that because the “new” standards are more rigorous than the former standards, the new test has to be longer to evaluate them. Really? The only people who have described the “new” standards as rigorous, are the handful of people who wrote them; 5 out of 6 national experts called them a step backwards. Additionally, the standards have 90% alignment with Common Core, which makes any assessment Indiana was designing for the Common Core applicable to assess our “new” standards.

The explanation for the new changes to ISTEP is simple.  When Indiana received a waiver from provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) from the US Secretary of Education, our state agreed to administer a “college and career ready assessment” by the 2014-2015 school year and tie teacher evaluations to students’ results. The time is now upon us, and while the US Department of Ed is allowing some states to wait on the teacher accountability aspect, they are not letting students off the hook and maintain that schools must administer a test that is designed around certain parameters that make it “college and career ready.”

What does a “college and career ready” assessment look like? It looks like the new ISTEP, which includes more open-ended response items, new technologically enhanced items, and more constructed response items. These are the types of test items that cause not only an increase in time, but also changes to the way students must answer the questions.  These changes prompted principals and teachers to voice their concerns over them at the State Board of Education meeting last week. One principal called them “designed to confuse,” and “poorly written” in addition to his complaint about the unhealthy amounts of student testing.

The “new” standards supposed rigor has nothing to do with the format of the new ISTEP. As proof, one can simply look at the sample items available for the federally funded Common Core tests, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, which are also considered “college and career ready.”  They are close to being an identical match to the new ISTEP, both in the format of test questions and increased testing time.

Not surprisingly, they also mirror Indiana’s ISTEP in the amount of parent concern and push back they are receiving. In fact, the outrage over the longer PARCC test in Louisiana, prompted Governor Bobby Jindahl to issue an executive order allowing parents to opt out of the PARCC testing and included a provision for school districts to choose a different norm-referenced test  instead.

Let’s be honest, we are in this mess because of the parameters of the NCLB waiver and nothing else. We would still be giving a much longer, objectionable test even if the legislature didn’t pass legislation to write new standards; it has been the plan ever since we received the waiver and agreed to align our state assessment to federal parameters.

State officials, both within the IDOE and state leadership, are reticent to name the waiver as the culprit. After all, they professed to parents and legislators that Indiana’s education system couldn’t survive without it- we would lose federal funding. The truth, however, is that the loss of the waiver doesn’t result in the loss of a single dime of federal funding, only less flexibility at the state and district level over how less than one percent of federal funding is spent.  This may make things easier on administrators at the state and district level, but it has no impact on individual students. In fact, since Indiana received the waiver, the percentage of tax dollars being spent in the classroom has shrunk, while administrative expenditures have risen.

After many of us have tried to make the case that the waiver is causing the state more harm than good and needs to be rejected, one would hope that this latest ISTEP mess can help get the message through to those in power. Parents and teachers will never accept the premise that keeping  the federal waiver is worth the cost of administering an assessment that is harmful to children and bleeds precious instructional time out of the classroom. Our superintendent is elected to serve in the best interest of Hoosiers;  if federal regulations prevent her from doing that, she must be honest about it and reject them.


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Comments (7)

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  1. Linda Dudine says:

    Let me get this straight! I understand what Erin is saying….why can’t both sides of the aisle understand this? What is so difficult to comprehend? This is becoming so politicized that one cannot see the forest for the trees. How about you all act like grownups and do what is right? Admit some bad choices and work to correct these mistakes…both sides!

    • Erin Tuttle says:

      I hope both sides can be honest and set this ship straight. God knows I’ve given Pence his fair share of scolding.

  2. SchoolParent says:


    Thank you for continuing to shine a spotlight into the shadows that would have otherwise been overlooked. Hopefully, your work will steer officials in the direction that will maximize our children’s education potential. If it does not, this blog will serve as a record of great opportunities lost by our state and nation.

  3. Dbregus says:

    All the recent events would have been avoided if our state leaders/IDOE would have rejected the ‘waiver’ and returned us to at least the 2009 standards and ISTEP Assessments. We now ask our leaders to stop bowing to Washington D.C. and stand up for what’s best for Hoosiers. Support all legislation that leads us towards freedom in testing for both public and private schools. We need to empower parents to make decisions not ‘central planners’

  4. bobmontgomery says:

    It’s not the waiver, it’s NCLB itself. It’s the test itself, however long it is and whatever is on it. Harmful? Yes. Too long? Yes. Unnecessary? Yes.
    What teacher in his/her right mind would stand for their compensation being based upon the efforts of someone else, in this case children? There are so many variables one could enter into this whole “testing” regimen it’s not funny. And not least of all the sociological and psychological development of …..Third Graders!!!???

    Does it take a rocket scientist to explain this to our elected (or appointed) officials? Here’s an analogy: Let’s base the compensation of our track coaches on the times of every member of the squad in ten selected events, starting with the 100 meter dash and going all the way up to the marathon. And let’s conduct this test on the morning of April 22, and if we get too many objections about cramming all that examination of the athletes’ ability into an exhaustive morning, let’s be generous and let them run the marathon in the afternoon.
    Has everyone gone mad? Suck it up, kid and take a test! And, oh by the way, do well or kindly Mrs. Schwarz, who instilled in you the joy of reading, is out the door next year. No pressure, though.
    What is the margin of error figured into the ISTEP test based upon the mean deviation of Intelligence Quotient scores of all students taking the ISTEP test? What??? They weren’t given an IQ test????? Okay, well surely then the administration sat down last year and equally divided all the A,B,C, and D students from second grade into each third grade teachers’ classes so each teacher would at least have an equal shot at getting some sort of predictable outcome, everything else being……equal?
    This whole thing is absurd. And it has been absurd ever since the federal Department of Education was created and the “education” crony capitalists got in bed with the Progressive Socialist politicians 40-odd years ago. Somebody wants to test? Then let them test the legislators and bureaucrats on the Constitution, state or federal, take your pick,
    No Child Left Behind GUARANTEES that no child will get very far. And Common Core reduces everything to the absolutely LOWEST ‘common’ denominator.
    Attaboys to all you in the anti-‘education establishment’ movement who have the patience to argue point-by-point all of the minutiae of the testing and curriculum regimens. You are doing yeomen’s work.

  5. leon dixon says:

    Maybe the ISTEP no longer has an embedded IQ test but it used to.

  6. leon dixon says:

    Don’t blame the waiver process. Blame the Indiana Establishment for their serial lying. I think you have Derek’s proof of these lies and if not I will get you another copy. I do think Fordham has taken down the materials where Derek R and the Fordham leader exposed Indiana for being liars. Chester Finn would still be honest enough to admit to his work back then…pre Gate$ to Fordham Foundation?

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