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The stakes are higher than ever for teachers and schools as testing begins

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Preteen Student

GREENFIELD — While the term “March Madness” is usually associated with the college basketball tournament, it could also easily apply to statewide standardized testing that begins next week.

Starting Monday through March 13, schoolchildren will be hunkering down for the high-stakes exam known as ISTEP. Later this month, third-graders will take the IREAD exam, which they must pass to be promoted to fourth grade.

The testing can be maddening for students, but this year, for the first time, the test results will also affect teachers.

Scores will be used for their evaluations, and that has teachers and principals on edge as well.

“It’s pretty crazy for teachers, students and administrators around here,” McCordsville Elementary School Principal Dan Denbo said this week.

Monday will be the culmination of seven months of effort.

“You have to have everything done and covered by March, and it is very difficult to do that,” Denbo said.

All students in grades 3 through 8 and high school sophomores take ISTEP each spring with language arts and math covered in each test. Additionally, students in grades 4 and 6 are tested in science; and those in grades 5 and 7 are tested in social studies. Results will be released during the summer.

Part of the new state-mandated teacher evaluation system involves taking a look at student learning, which considers growth on statewide tests such as ISTEP and measurable growth or achievement in other subjects.

For those who teach language arts or math, students’ growth on ISTEP will count for 35 percent of their evaluation.

Doe Creek Middle School Principal Jim Voelz said it has not made a difference on how teachers prep students for the test.

“Our teachers are just doing the same things they’ve always done,” Voelz said.

Still, Voelz said there is some stress associated with the process, which in turn affects him as the evaluator who will have to factor the scores into his teacher appraisals.

“There are lots of factors why students don’t do well on a test that are beyond a teacher’s control,” he said, outlining educators’ key objection to the new teacher-evaluation standards.

Doe Creek language arts teacher Fred Fox said while teachers are dependent on the students to a point, in most cases, it is not a problem.

“What baffles me is that we don’t assess a child’s future based on the score of one test, yet the leadership of our state is using one test to determine the future of not only a teacher, but a school and even a district,” Fox said. 

Eden Elementary School Principal Joey Johnson said his students are as ready as they can be for ISTEP but admits, there is pressure for students and staff.

“It’s just the stress of doing it correctly that we all feel,” Johnson said.

Susan Nichter, a social worker at Harris and Eden elementary schools, sent electronic and written reminders to parents listing things for them to do to help their children prepare for the test.

It included reviewing good test-taking strategies such as reading and listening to directions; avoiding spending too much time on one question; working at their own pace; ignoring other students; and to go back and check their work.

Third-graders at Brandywine Elementary School will be taking a practice ISTEP test first thing Monday, before taking the real test on Tuesday.

“We will be doing some reviewing in each of our classes, but we’re not supposed to do anything special,” Principal Bruce Miller said.

He said that 80 percent to 95 percent of his students won’t have an issue taking the test. But the 10 percent to 15 percent who will struggle worries him.

“The real problem is there is a small percentage that just doesn’t care,” he said.

Voelz has noticed the same thing through the years at the middle school level. 

“Our biggest thing is to get them to do their best,” he said. “The teachers are doing a great job, and we have bright kids. It’s just that sometimes, kids don’t take the test seriously.”  

ISTEP is critical for the sophomores. Their results will be used for their graduation qualifying exam, something they must pass to get a diploma. If the student doesn’t pass the test, they’ll be placed in remediation and have to take the test again.

ISTEP, or Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress, originated in 1988. The testing formerly took place in the fall but was moved to the spring in 2008.

The applied-skills testing will ask students open-ended questions that require constructed and extended responses. The multiple-choice testing will take place from April 29 through May 10.

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