Is this the end? Lawmakers consider booting troubled test

INDIANAPOLIS — ISTEP could be on its way out.

As third- through eighth-graders across the county begin the first portion of the test this week, lawmakers in Indianapolis are working to agree on a bill that would discontinue the high-stakes exam in its current form.

House Bill 1395, as passed by the House, does away with the test and establishes a committee to study alternatives for statewide student assessment for the 2017-18 school year and beyond.

It also allows the State Board of Education to rescore the test students took in 2015.

The Indiana Senate removed the rescore from the version of the bill it passed. The measure passed there on a 38-10 vote last week would create a 22-member panel to study alternatives to the ISTEP and make recommendations for replacing the test by the end of the year.

In Hancock County, educators and lawmakers say they support the bill. ISTEP has been plagued by problems the last few years, and many question its validity. The test is administered to Hoosier students in third through eighth grades to measure student performance in English and language arts, math, science and social studies.

The Indiana Department of Education uses student results to rate schools and teachers, whose pay can be affected by poor student scores.

Greenfield-Central Schools Superintendent Harold Olin said he’s not opposed to accountability in schools, but the current testing system takes up too much time that could be better spent on instruction, he said.

He’s happy to see lawmakers are considering another assessment and hopes a new version is shorter and delivers results to schools sooner.

The 2015 ISTEP test, which was a revamped version of the exam featuring Indiana-specific academic standards, was hastily rolled out after lawmakers dropped national Common Core math and English standards. Students across the state didn’t do well on the test; scores dropped roughly 20 percent when compared to the previous year.

Earlier this legislative session, lawmakers rushed through two bills blocking student performance on the 2015 ISTEP from being used to determine teacher pay or negatively affecting school A-F grades; Gov. Mike Pence quickly signed off on the measures.

Even before the test was given, educators balked at its initial length, saying it would take a staggering 12 hours to complete. That led the GOP-controlled Legislature to pass a bill early last year shortening the exam just weeks before it was slated to begin.

Some students who later took the test online still reported computer glitches, which were found to have an impact on performance.

Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, voted in favor of the measure; he said he wishes the state wasn’t trapped in a contract with Pearson Education Inc., the vendor for Indiana’s test this year, so Indiana could move away from the test immediately. The contract doesn’t expire until after next year’s test.

“It’s unfortunate the test hasn’t worked well for anybody involved the last several years,” Crider said. “I don’t have a great deal of confidence it’s going to work better this year than it did last.”

Because the bill approved by the Senate Tuesday was substantially changed, it must go back to the House for approval before it can be sent to Pence’s desk.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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.