INDIANAPOLIS — State officials are reviewing how students at 20 schools around Indiana — including some from a Hancock County elementary school — were mistakenly allowed to use calculators on part of this year’s ISTEP standardized math exams.
A review by the Indiana Department of Education found some students were mistakenly given access to calculators by the online-testing company, Pearson, during a portion of the statewide exam that didn’t allow of use of the device.
The issue will affect the scores of about 14 special-education students at Eastern Hancock Elementary School, Principal Amanda Pyle said.
Those students’ individualized math scores will be marked as “undetermined” when test results are returned to the district later this year, Pyle said.
They will not have to retake the exam, Pyle said; but their missing marks might impact the school and district letter grades assigned by the state based on ISTEP scores, state officials said.
The spring testing window was Pearson’s second year administering the ISTEP exams taken by more than 400,000 students, including about 260 Eastern elementary-schoolers.
When a calculator is allowed during the online exam, an icon appears on a student’s computer screen for them to click and access.
The 14 Eastern students affected in the mix-up had granted special accommodations when taking the ISTEP based on their various abilities, Pyle said. Some were allowed a calculator for the entire test, while others were permitted to use it only for certain portions.
Ahead of testing, school officials identified those students and what accommodations they’d need and properly logged the information into each student’s exam profile, per Pearson’s instructions, Pyle said. On exam day, those students were placed in a small group to take their tests with proctor who knew of their differing needs, she said.
But the proctor realized during the exam that all the students in the small group, regardless of their accommodation, were being given access to the computerized calculator by the Pearson program, Pyle said.
The proctor notified district officials, who immediately notified the state Department of Education and were told to proceed with the testing as usual until a full investigation could be completed, she said.
The department eventually determined 11 public schools and seven private schools experienced similar computer issues, according to news reports.
Two years ago, Pearson replaced vendor CTB/McGraw Hill, which faced numerous troubles including computer glitches that kicked about 80,000 students offline during the 2013 exams and grading problems that delayed release of the spring 2015 exam results until January 2016.
The company said in a statement that it regretted the error.
“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing,” news reports state. “In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action.”
The state Department of Education says the only students who will have to retake the math exam are some high school sophomores in order to meet graduation requirements. But the math scores labeled as “undetermined” could lower the state A-F ratings for those schools because of low passing rates.
Spokeswoman Molly Deuberry told the Associated Press the department doesn’t have the authority to adjust scores, although schools can appeal the final ratings to the State Board of Education.
That leaves Eastern Hancock’s district leaders with their hands tied, Pyle said.
Scores labeled “undetermined” don’t have an impact on the school or the district’s overall pass/fail 2015-16 percentage; but the missing data means Eastern leaders and parents of those students affected won’t have a clear picture of their students’ growth, she said.
She also worries about how repeated errors by the technology companies hired to administer the test are clouding Hoosiers’ idea of education.
“We’re spending millions of dollars to have these companies, and they’re making mistakes,” Pyle said. “I’m worried people are losing faith in the exam.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.