Educators: Still homework to do

A second statewide readiness test for ISTEP+ was more successful than a failed one in January but still revealed multiple problems with the online program, local educators said.

Thirty-nine percent of the 2,563 computers used Thursday by Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. students incurred problems, said Samantha Harpring, the district’s testing and remediation coordinator.

The vast majority of those problems were ISTEP testing programs freezing up or skipping of test questions, she said.

That’s an improvement from the initial Jan. 13 test run, when only 21 of 2,453 Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.computers — less than 1 percent — were able to load the ISTEP+ practice test successfully. Only a few students in Bartholomew County even made it to the first question of the January test run.

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But better on the second try was not good enough as local educators sized up Thursday’s results.

Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln Principal Chad Phillips said he was pleasantly surprised initially Thursday when students were able to log in and take the test. But he said he is still not happy with the level of errors, which can cause students to experience anxiety during the tests when they are already nervous about taking them in the first place.

Laura Burbrink, a sixth-grade teacher at CSA Lincoln, said about half of the computers used in her classroom had technology issues of some sort during the test run.

Burbrink said some computers got stuck on the same log-in screen, while other students got to the first question before their computers shut down.

“They’re still getting the same errors (as in January),” Burbrink said.

She called the second test another failure.

The practice test is made up of 20 questions designed to take about 30 minutes to complete. The practice test is not meant to determine how many students know the answers but to measure the amount of Internet activity servers hosting the program can handle.

The readiness test was another step in the process to make sure the online portion of the actual ISTEP+ would be ready for more than 470,000 Indiana students in Grades 3 through 8 to take this spring.

Harpring said students at all 13 of the district’s testing sites — all of its elementary schools and both middle schools — experienced the same problems as in January, such as the program freezing, skipping test questions or not loading at all.

Harpring said she was not optimistic about the results. She said school districts from around the state were reporting the same problems.

Students who started taking the test at 10 a.m. seemed to have done so with fewer problems, Harpring said. But at about 10:20 a.m., the testing program started displaying more errors, she said.

Harpring said some changes were made by testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill as a result of the failed attempt in January, but that it’s clear that more changes need to be made.

“This isn’t satisfactory when you have students that can’t get through a practice test,” she said.

Thursday’s problems have come as Gov. Mike Pence and state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz look for ways to shorten the actual test. The State Board of Education is scheduled to take up the issue of the test’s length in a meeting scheduled for today.

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Students in Grades 3 through 8 will take the ISTEP+ this spring.

The Indiana Department of Education will give the ISTEP+ paper-and-pencil Applied Skills writing tests between March 2 and 11.

From April 27 to May 15, the department will have online multiple-choice testing with technology-enhanced questions.