ISTEP Issues an Unfortunate Education Development in 2016

TISTEP has been in the news a lot as of late – and for some very unfortunate reasons. Three bills were passed this legislative session dealing with ISTEP from last year and moving forward. The Indiana Chamber strongly supports accountability when it comes to our teachers, our schools and our students – and we feel that all have handled the current ISTEP testing crisis honorably. However, last year’s administration of ISTEP was a complete nightmare – from the length of the test, to the delays in scores, to the discrepancy between the paper and online tests, to the potential scoring errors that were never corrected. Not to mention the anticipated drop in scores due to testing for new, more stringent college and career ready standards.

That being said, the problems in the administration of ISTEP are simply inexcusable. The length of last year’s test was way too long. The time it took for the scores to be completed was ridiculous. And the recent news of the scores not being accurate just added to the perfect storm for the 2014-2015 school year accountability measures.

With that as the backdrop, the Chamber advocated in favor of SB 200 and HB 1003, creating a one-year pause for school and teacher accountability. Teachers should still be subject to the important classroom and other evaluations that take place, but not have student test scores used for that purpose for this one year. Schools should not be punished for lower ISTEP scores for this one year. These two bills addressed those issues, but with an essential commitment to resume that important accountability the following year and beyond.

The Chamber’s advocacy of these bills required that there should be some strings attached. First, this pause needs to be for this only ONE year – period. We have a new test administrator and it is our hope that the Department of Education will work very closely with them to ensure that the test is administered accurately and that scores are finalized in an appropriate time frame. Second, if we are pausing accountability for the schools, it is important to keep the unadjusted scores/data as a baseline for growth for next year. Third, if we are keeping the scores as a baseline, it is important for the scores to be correct and trusted. Therefore, the Chamber advocated that a rescore of the exams be completed by an independent third party.

Original language in HB 1395 included a rescore, but ultimately the cost of doing so prohibited the language from moving forward. The bill did end the ISTEP exam after 2017 and created a 23-member panel to review the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act and make recommendations on Indiana’s assessment choices for the future. The Chamber lobbied to ensure that a business leader has a seat at the table and was successful in that effort.