Leader weighs in on plan

Superintendent backs call for shorter tests

A state committee’s report calling for a shorter test to replace ISTEP+ included the backing of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. top administrator.

Superintendent Jim Roberts was among 21 people on the 23-member committee, to vote in favor of recommendations to state legislators, which include moving the testing period from its current March-April time slots into a single period in May to help stem classroom disruptions caused by the standardized exams, now taken by more than 400,000 Indiana public and private school students a year.

The committee was formed by the General Assembly after it voted earlier this year to mandate that the ISTEP test be replaced for the 2017-18 school year, although it is unlikely a new exam will be ready by then. Lawmakers are expected to consider the testing revamp during their session that starts in January.

Roberts said he supports having the testing period reduced and noted that the recommendation would put the burden on the state to ensure that high school students gain credentials in specific trades. That would add requirements, meaning the state would have to pay for career-ready assessments for students, he said.

Students in Grades 3 through 8 would face math and language arts exams each year, while fourth- and sixth-graders also would take a science test.

The recommendation includes calling for testing companies to provide results within a month of the tests.

Roberts also said the recommendation also would allow school districts to have local control of how assessment results are tied to teacher evaluations.

However, it does not specifically address linking student test performance to teacher compensation.

Roberts said he is not in favor of comparing one school to another.

“All of us need to be accountable to our students,” he said.

Although there were early conversations among panel about IREAD-3, a standardized third-grade reading assessment, Roberts said no further action was taken as part of the ISTEP recommendation. Roberts said he was in favor of having reading measured at the end of third grade rather than as a standalone assessment.

House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning, an Indianapolis Republican, said he believed the state would ultimately end up with a different-looking exam, but that the current test probably will be used for the next school year.

“By pushing it too quickly, you’re going to end up having problems,” he said. “You’re better off doing it more deliberately and making sure you have a quality product in the end.”

The ISTEP exams have been plagued by long delays in results and growing time needed for students to take the tests, prompting widespread complaints from parents and educators.

Outgoing state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz voted against the panel’s recommendations and objected during Tuesday’s meeting about not being allowed to offer changes to the proposal.

Committee chairwoman Nicole Fama, a principal in the Indianapolis Public Schools district, described the report as a consensus among the members.

Ritz, a Democrat about to leave office after losing her re-election bid, said the proposals represented a status quo on testing.

The recommendations will do nothing to shorten the time of the test and will not save Hoosiers any money nor reduce the high stakes associated with ISTEP, she said.

Committee member Wendy Robinson, superintendent of the Fort Wayne Community Schools, said she hoped legislators realize that a single exam can’t be used to determine the progress of students and also evaluate the performance of teachers and schools.

“Every expert who testified told us we were using ISTEP for too many things, that no one test can do four or five different things,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.