Schools, students prepare for ISTEP

GREENFIELD — Students at Greenfield Intermediate School will be greeted with a special letter when ISTEP testing begins next week.

They’ll be signed with hearts and hugs, love from moms and dads — parents who responded to the school’s call-out for an encouraging letter for their child to read before they begin testing.

The fifth- and sixth-graders are among the thousands of local students who will begin the high-stakes testing next Monday and Tuesday. Schools across the county are planning pep rallies and spirit weeks to pump up young test-takers, and they’re encouraging parents to do their part at home to make sure students are well-prepared.

The testing period for the first portion of the test is Feb. 29 through March 11, when students in third through eighth grades are required to take the exam.

Greenfield Intermediate Principal Jim Bever said the school sent a template letter home for parents to fill out and return. Supportive phrases like “Believe in yourself” and “You can do it!” surround a loved one’s personal encouragements.

Educators hope the letters will relieve some of the stress students are feeling during testing and leave them feeling ready to conquer ISTEP, Bever said.

It’s the second year students in Indiana will take a more rigorous standardized test, and a new vendor is administrating the exam, which has staff and students feeling anxious about the process, Bever said.

Standardized testing in Indiana has been plagued with problems during the past few years. Last year, the test was changed just a few weeks before it was administered after educators argued the Indiana Department of Education was requiring students to test for too long. The year before, the test suffered a variety of technology problems.

“Make no mistake about it, this test, under these new standards, is incredibly challenging for these kids. They know it; they stress on it,” Bever said. “We want them to know they’re supported, and we believe in them.”

Bever encouraged parents to think about what they’d want to hear or read as they prepared for a challenging event in their lives and to relay those messages to students in their notes.

The school is also planning a school-wide pep rally next week.

At Eden Elementary, all students are participating in a spirit week, with themed dress-up days as a way to encourage the third-graders who will take the ISTEP for the first time, said Principal Devon Marine.

And J.B. Stephens Elementary is planning a pep rally Friday, when teachers and the principal will participate in a flash mob and have a dance-off.

School officials are working hard to keep students’ spirits high during the test — the results of which are used to assess schools and teachers — but educators say parental supportive is just as important.

Parents should make sure their children are well-rested, fed a hearty breakfast during test week and given ample time to practice the skills ISTEP assesses.

Some schools are guiding parents toward a website with sample test questions, created by the company that administers the test.

It can be accessed at: download.pearsonaccessnext.com/IN/ in-practice-tests-links.html.

In a series of messages to parents, Southern Hancock Superintendent Lisa Lantrip asked parents to review the sample questions with their students, to talk about the test’s importance and to support them.

“Be sure to remind them to be confident in their abilities and reassure them that they have learned the skills necessary to succeed on the test,” Lantrip wrote.

Practice, practice, practice

The Indiana Department of Education has established an online practice test to help students in third through eighth grades prepare for the ISTEP, which be administered next week.

The sample questions can be accessed at download.pearsonaccessnext.com/IN/in-practice-tests-links.html#sthash.5bN7IdO3.RhZad3Jt.dpuf.

An answer key can be found at doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/assessment/istep-spring-2016-experience-forms-answer-keys-final-updated.pdf#sthash.5bN7IdO3.RhZad3Jt.dpuf.

The practice test site is not compatible with Chrome.

ISTEP testing dates

Schools across the state will administer the first portion of this year’s ISTEP test between Feb. 29 and March 11.

Most area schools will begin testing Monday or Tuesday and finish by Friday.

The second portion of the test will be administered in April.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.