District delays online testing

Concerns about technical glitches have delayed the start of ISTEP+ in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Testing had been scheduled to begin today at Lillian Schmitt Elementary and other schools across the state, but the Columbus-based district decided Wednesday afternoon to hold off the start of ISTEP testing until at least Monday, said Samantha Harpring, BCSC testing coordinator.

“We want to see how things go,” she said.

BCSC had already gotten permission for all middle school students in the district to complete their ISTEP exams using paper and pencil, Superintendent John Quick said.

That waiver request and approval for middle school students was based on technical problems that surfaced during practice tests conducted in January, Harpring said.

On Jan. 13, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. computers were unable to load the state practice test, and other schools across Indiana reported similar results. At BCSC, only 21 out of 2,453 computers could load the practice test, Quick said.

The readiness test was meant to make sure the online portion of the ISTEP+ would be ready for more than 470,000 Indiana students to take this spring.

Based on its local experience, BCSC has also been lobbying the state Department of Education to have some grade levels in certain local elementary schools exempted from online testing, Quick said.

District officials Wednesday afternoon were hoping to get final approval on those requests within the next day or so, Harpring said.

Quick had been briefed on late developments during a meeting Wednesday afternoon with leaders of other large Indiana school districts that State Superintendent Glenda Ritz also attended.

“We’re monitoring it by the minute. If we have to, we’ll go to Plan B,” Quick quoted Ritz as telling the group.

Quick said Indiana’s testing vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, was currently conducting testing in Georgia, which Ritz’ department was monitoring.

“There is some concern,” he said. “I have almost zero confidence in the vendor to deliver.”

BCSC got permission for the whole district to conduct ISTEP testing using paper and pencil in 2012, and got what Quick described as its best scores ever.

A year later, testing conducted by vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill had to be suspended because of massive technical problems.

In 2014, BCSC was allowed to have 70 percent of its students take exams using paper and pencil — and scores rose, Quick said.

The superintendent said he’s certain of the correlation, which was echoed by others within the district.

Teresa Heiny, the district’s director of elementary of education, said BCSC’s data shows its students perform better on paper and pencil tests than online. She said typing isn’t a skill most students have mastered yet, but by third grade they can write and express their thoughts.

Harpring said students doing online testing have login credentials and session codes to deal with. While that may not seem like a big deal, it can be, she said.

Problems with Internet connectivity can make the proper entry of those codes stressful, Harpring said.

Besides being overwhelming for the students, Harpring said it’s also a lot to manage from a teacher’s perspective

Harpring said the Wi-Fi in each school building has to be flawless to avoid problems that come with so many students taking an online test at once.

“There are just a lot more barriers to even get you into your test to start,” she said.

Unless it changes, the state’s ISTEP testing window is through May 15, and Harpring said principals will determine when tests are administered in their buildings.

All third- through eighth-grade students will be tested on language arts and math, while fourth- and sixth-graders will also be tested on science.

For Indiana students this year, the tests have been made harder and longer, correlating with higher educational expectations across the state.

Length of time for students to complete the testing depends on grade level, but it will take at least four days to finish them, Harpring said.

ISTEP+

What: ISTEP+ Online Testing

When: Testing window opens today and goes through May 15

Who: Third- through eighth-graders

What: All students are tested on math and language arts, while fourth- and sixth-graders also are tested on science.