Schools chief set to offer test plan

The governor and state superintendent of instruction have vastly different ideas for how to shorten ISTEP, but on Wednesday came hints the pair might be able to work together.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz’s plan would drop social studies ISTEP tests for fifth- and seventh-graders, cutting the testing time in those grades by about 1 hour, 45 minutes. The math, language arts and science sections of ISTEP are all federally required, Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman said.

Ritz also wants to drop the IREAD-3 exam this school year; state law currently requires all third-graders to take and pass IREAD-3 before moving on to fourth-grade reading lessons. Ritz’s proposal also would freeze the A-F grades schools are assigned by the state for the 2014-15 school year and would keep ISTEP out of teachers’ evaluations for the 2014-15 school year.

Ritz will present these recommendations to the Indiana State Board of Education at a special meeting Friday. If approved, the plan would be taken to state legislators.

Gov. Mike Pence has hired two independent education consultants, at a cost of up to $22,000 each, to review the existing ISTEP test and cut it by roughly half so students aren’t being tested for more than a total of five to six hours this spring. At a news conference Wednesday, Pence announced that he had spoken to Ritz, that the department of education was cooperating with the consultants and that they were both committed to finding a way to shorten ISTEP.

“In this building, we occasionally have disagreements,” Pence said. “But I’m very encouraged today that everybody is focused on the kids, everybody is focused on the problem, everybody is focused on shortening this test.”

Pence said he doesn’t agree that dropping A-F and other accountability measures would be helpful.

“The answer here is not to suspend our school grading program; the answer here is to shorten the test,” he said.

But the governor was optimistic Wednesday when he talked about Ritz and the department of education working together with the newly hired consultants and state lawmakers to find a way to shorten ISTEP.

It was a considerably different tone from a news conference Pence conducted Monday, when he announced he was taking executive action to hire the consultants to find a way to shorten ISTEP and also renewed calls for state lawmakers to remove Ritz as chairwoman of the state’s board of education.

Final recommendations from the two consultants are due Feb. 20, five days before students can start taking the test, but Pence wants them to have a preliminary list of recommendations at Friday’s state board of education meeting. CTB/McGraw-Hill, the company that wrote and that administers ISTEP, also has started creating possible ways to shorten the test. Those recommendations include cutting sections from the first, applied skills portion of the test, not pretesting questions for the new 2016 exam and cutting the science and social studies sections of the tests.

But in a letter to Ritz, CTB/McGraw-Hill officials warned any changes made to the existing test could impact whether ISTEP still meets state and federal requirements.

Ritz’s proposal to cut the social studies portion of ISTEP would reduce the length of the fifth- and seventh-grade exams by more than an hour-and-a-half, but the testing times for the other grades would remain unchanged.

But dropping the IREAD-3 exam would cut the overall amount of time third-graders will spend testing this spring, Altman said. Ritz has been a critic of the IREAD-3 exam and has said she’s interested in finding another way to measure whether students are reading on grade level that doesn’t involve a high-stakes test.

Freezing the A-F grades means schools and school districts would keep the most recent grades that have been assigned by the state.

Schools that have received failing grades would continue to receive support from the department of education, but the state would not intervene in schools that were continuing to receive F’s.

Tension around the length of ISTEP has been building for weeks and started after schools learned that the length of the test had nearly doubled. This year’s ISTEP was rewritten to test students over Indiana’s new academic standards, which state lawmakers adopted last year, and the test also includes pilot questions that could be used on a new standardized test being written for 2016.

On Tuesday, department of education officials also challenged the idea that the length of this year’s ISTEP was a complete surprise to Pence and state lawmakers.

The department presented the total number of proposed ISTEP questions, which were roughly double the amount from previous years, at a state board of education meeting in August, though schools didn’t receive specifics on test times until last month, officials said.

Department officials also said Tuesday they won’t know what they’ll do with the list of recommendations from Pence’s consultants until they see them.

If the department of education, Pence and lawmakers can find a way to work together to shorten the test, they’ll need to move fast. Nine school days remain until students can begin the test.

At a glance

Here’s a look at the plan from the Indiana Department of Education to cut testing time this spring:

  • Suspend the social studies portion of ISTEP taken by fifth- and seventh-graders
  • Suspend the IREAD-3 exam taken by third-graders
  • Freeze the A-F grades assigned to schools, and seek a federal waiver not to change the grades
  • Exclude this year’s ISTEP scores from teachers’ annual evaluations

Here’s what that would mean for the length of your student’s ISTEP test:

Third grade: 12 hours, 30 minutes; no change, but students wouldn’t have to take the IREAD-3 exam

Fourth grade: 11 hours, 55 minutes; no change

Fifth grade: About 9 hours, 45 minutes; about 1 hour, 45 minutes shorter

Sixth grade: 11 hours, 40 minutes; no change

Seventh grade: About 10 hours; about 1 hour, 45 minutes shorter

Eighth grade: 11 hours, 15 minutes; no change

At a glance

This week Gov. Mike Pence and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz pitched two very different plans to cut the length of testing for students this spring. Here’s what’s been proposed:


What he’s doing: Hired two independent consultants to make recommendations on how to shorten the 2015 exam and to consult on the 2016 exam

Cost: Up to $44,000

Why: Pence said he learned last week that ISTEP would take students 11 to 12½ hours to finish the test, and that this was unacceptable.

What he wants: For the length of ISTEP to return to what it’s been in past years; five to six hours long

Deadlines: The assessment of the 2015 test should be finished by Feb. 20 — five days before students can start testing. Preliminary recommendations are expected Friday.

What the department of education has to say: Officials won’t comment on what they plan to do with the recommendations until they see them. But they believe changing ISTEP will require legislative action. They’re also skeptical that it’s practical to change the test in five days.


What she’s proposing: Dropping the social studies portions of ISTEP for fifth- and seventh-graders; dropping the IREAD-3 exam for third-graders; suspending the A-F grades assigned to schools; not including ISTEP in teachers’ annual evaluations

When this happens: Ritz will present these proposals at a special Indiana State Board of Education meeting on Friday.

Why: Department of education officials have said they’re skeptical about being able to make drastic cuts to ISTEP before the test. The department also shared the number of questions expected to be on the new ISTEP exam with the state board of education six months ago.

What Pence has to say: Pence said he doesn’t agree that dropping accountability measures such as the A-F scale will affect the length of the test; but on Wednesday, he said his office and the department of education would work together to find a way to shorten the test.