Alternative ISTEP ideas by BCSC leader have merit

The days of the much maligned standardized state ISTEP+ exam are numbered, as it will be phased out next year. Many teachers, school administrators and parents are rejoicing in that fact.

Teachers in particular have had a negative view of ISTEP+ because of what they consider is too great a reliance on students’ scores on the test in determining their pay. A test given once a year does not completely and accurately reflect a student’s growth or a teacher’s performance, teachers have said.

That will be a consideration for the 23-person panel tasked with developing a replacement for ISTEP+, of which new Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts is a member.

We agree with Roberts’ opinion that tying teacher pay to ISTEP+ results is not the most effective way to measure an educator’s effectiveness and commitment. Students begin a school year at different starting points — some far ahead of others in their ability to read, for example. One test score may indicate that a student’s English skills are not at an acceptable level and suggest that the teacher isn’t doing a good enough job. What the test can’t reflect is the full context, showing great strides made by the student with the teacher’s help to reach an average ability.

Roberts said he likes to use regular state-required teacher observations and meetings to better understand how they are performing and how students respond to them. That’s a good approach.

The superintendent also said he would like to see a series of tests administered throughout the year to better gauge a student’s progress. That’s an important idea for the panel to consider, as the job of a teacher is to help students make continual strides in their educational abilities and achievements.

However, the most important task of the panel is determining what type of test to use as a replacement. Some favor an End of Course Assessment, which had been used but was phased out. Other, like Roberts, prefer using a national exam, such as the ACT or SAT.

That’s an approach we support, and like Roberts would prefer the ACT model. One benefit is that the ACT allows students to take subject-specific exams. Another is that Bartholomew Consolidated already has great familiarity with the ACT, as it administers it to juniors every year as part of its efforts to gauge a student’s college readiness.

Since college readiness is an overarching goal of educating students, modeling the replacement for ISTEP+ after a test such as the ACT is a logical change. The other should be a shift away from tying teacher pay to a test administered infrequently. Teachers, like students, are more than just test scores, and measurements of their abilities to help students grow academically must allow for the reflection of the greater context.