It’s back: 1st round of ISTEP testing to start

Students across Bartholomew County and all of Indiana are preparing for this year’s ISTEP, which begins Monday.

Local teachers have spent the past week leading students through practice tests to give them a taste of the 2016 exam, which will be administered by a new vendor, Pearson.

The first round of the test is expected to closely mirror the exam students completed last year, administered by test vendor CTB/McGraw Hill.

The same critical standards that were assessed on last year’s test will return, said Missy Zimmerman, testing coordinator for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Students in Grades 3 to 8 will complete the math and English/language arts portions of the exam, as well as science and social studies portions in certain other grades.

Round 1 of the exam requires students to provide written answers to questions and prompts, Zimmerman said.

Round 2, which is an online multiple-choice exam, will begin in April.

Both BCSC and Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. in Hope opted out of the online option for Round 1 in favor of the traditional pencil-and-paper method.

Although the content of the exam has changed little from last year’s test for elementary and middle school students, there has been one major change overall to the 2016 ISTEP — re-introduction of high school tests.

Previously, students enrolled in English 10, Biology and Algebra I were required to take an End of Course Assessment (ECA) after completing those three courses.

This year, however, the state is beginning the transition away from the ECA in favor of English/language, math and science sections of the ISTEP written specifically for students in those courses, Zimmerman said.

For this year only, sophomores across the state will take both the English/language arts and math portions of the ISTEP, as well as an ECA for English 10 and Algebra I. The biology ECA, however, already has been phased out in favor of the science section of the ISTEP, Zimmerman said.

Although there are some changes in the testing process, educators have been working with students to ensure they are both prepared and confident.

In BCSC schools, teachers have been walking students through the practice tests step-by-step to help them understand the rules and requirements for each of the test sections.

Students in Hope completed the practice tests first, then reviewed them after the fact, said Jessica Poe, Hope Elementary School principal. That method allows them to get the full picture of what it will be like on test day while also providing an opportunity to ask questions, Poe said.

Aside from learning about the ISTEP format, educators say increasing student morale is critical to positive test performance.

At Clifty Creek Elementary School in Columbus, for example, the school had a special pep rally Friday to get students excited for the first week of ISTEP, said Gina Pleak, Clifty Creek principal. Teachers performed a song and dance about ISTEP to the tune of the hit song, “Uptown Funk.”

Hope Elementary School took a similar approach to raising student morale, Poe said. The school’s fifth-graders created a video based on Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby,” but with new lyrics and a new name adapted for ISTEP — “Ace it, Baby.”

Both schools also are keeping spirits high throughout testing.

Clifty Creek is offering special “Busted!” tickets to students who are “caught” checking their work after they answer all of the questions in one section of the test — a positive behavior that is sometimes skipped. At the end of each day, Pleak will put the “Busted!” tickets in a raffle and draw for winners of special prizes.

Similarly, students at Hope Elementary will keep a scorecard all week tracking their positive test behaviors, such as getting enough sleep and eating a healthy breakfast, Poe said. Once they reach a certain number of points, they will be invited to an ISTEP celebration.

While morale-boosting activities are important for students during stressful times such as ISTEP testing, Zimmerman said the most important part of increasing students’ confidence is to let them know that someone believes in them.

“I always tell them that I’m confident in their ability,” Zimmerman said. “No matter what the outcome is, I’m proud of the growth that they’ve shown.”

About ISTEP

ISTEP+ 2016 Round 1

  • Monday through March 11
  • Math section: Grades 3-8
  • English/language arts section: Grades 3-8
  • Science: Grades 4, 6
  • Social studies: Grades 5, 7
  • High school tests: English/language arts, math, science sections will replace the End of Course Assessments for English 10, Algebra I, Biology
  • Vendor: Pearson
  • Format: Paper and pencil for Bartholomew Consolidated, Flat Rock-Hawcreek school corporations

Tips for parents

Teachers offer several tips to their students every year as they prepare for the annual ISTEP+ standardized test. Some of the most common ones for students include:

  1. Get enough sleep. While 8 hours is the generally accepted optimal amount of time, fifth grade students at Hope Elementary advised their peers to get at least 10 hours of sleep in their ISTEP video, “Ace it, Baby.”
  2. Get up with enough time to get ready for school. Feeling rushed could lead to a poorer test performance, said Missy Zimmerman, BCSC testing coordinator and a former teacher.
  3. Eat a healthy breakfast. A quick snack isn’t enough brain food for a big test — you need a balanced meal to get you through the day.
  4. Relax. Don’t overwork your brain with stress about the test or other things happening at school. Zimmerman often let her students take an extra recess during ISTEP week to help them relax, and never assigned them homework during testing.
  5. Be confident. You’ve covered all of the material on ISTEP in class before, so there won’t be anything new to surprise you.
Author photo
Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.