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.

Indiana Chamber Outlines Priorities for School Testing Reform

19173605In testimony this week, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce began outlining its priorities for school testing reform. Caryl Auslander, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of education and workforce development policy, expands on some of her remarks:

Pause school accountability for one year only:

“The Indiana Chamber fully supports a one-year pause in school accountability due to the many missteps in the latest ISTEP testing cycle. Teachers should still be subject to the important classroom and other evaluations that take place, but not have test scores used for that purpose for this one year.

“With a new test administrator in place going forward, our hope is that the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) will work very closely with them to ensure that the test is administered accurately and that scores are finalized and reported in an appropriate timeframe (i.e., by the end of August). Many of the ISTEP issues can be traced to past vendor-DOE relations; those need to improve and DOE needs to take a more aggressive role in ensuring deadlines and expectations are met.

“We urge legislators to resist any efforts to lessen our overall accountability process. Accountability measures for schools, teachers and students are critical. They allow us to accurately predict student progress, rate teacher effectiveness and compare and contrast school performance relative to state and national peers. We have to be able to grade ourselves.”

Rescore of current data necessary:

“If we are pausing accountability for the schools, it is important to keep the unadjusted scores/data as a baseline for growth measurement next year. That means it’s essential for the scores to be correct and trusted. And the only way that can be accomplished is through a rescore of the exams by an independent third party.”

Rebrand test; no need to start process over:

“We have new, more rigorous academic standards and the new assessment exam to go along with them. There is no need to spend more of the state’s money to change the assessment. The length of this test or any test is something DOE can and should address with the new test vendor.

“The new test was labeled ISTEP out of a sense of continuity. Let’s rebrand the test to reflect that it is indeed new and simply work to ensure future tests are executed properly and timely. That’s all that needs to happen.”

Student Scores: ISTEP and ‘National Report Card’

The Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) met last month with the plan to set cut scores and finalize ISTEP grades from the 2014-2015 school year. As a reminder, setting cut scores is done by a panel of educators that determines the passing score for that year’s test. However, during that meeting, questions were raised regarding the differences between the online and paper-pencil versions of the exam. This was identified in a report submitted to the Indiana Department of Education in early October – yet that report was not provided to the test’s Technical Advisory Committee or the SBOE until right before the meeting. The SBOE then requested a comparison study done by its own test experts to determine any discrepancies. Sarah O’Brien, vice chair of the SBOE, had originally made this request back in July.

SBOE – after the comparison studies were in hand – set pass-fail benchmarks for the latest ISTEP scores. What’s anticipated is that a notable increase in students will see drops in their scores, with a portion falling below the pass line. While no one wants to see test scores go down, it is explainable as students and teachers were adjusting to the new, more rigorous academic standards and a new assessment that were adopted for the same school year. In other words, this drop is expected, and many other states have experienced similar decreases. In fact, Indiana’s scores were either on par or higher than other states that have recently adopted new standards and/or a new assessment. While the news of dropping ISTEP scores is disappointing, it is important to note that the changes to the standards will benefit students as they will be more prepared for college and career in the future. The Indiana Chamber appreciates all of the hard work of Indiana teachers and students.

Due to this somewhat turbulent transition year, Gov. Pence released a letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and SBOE members recently stating that he is working with leadership in the Indiana General Assembly to have legislation drafted to ensure that the 2014-2015 test results would not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses this year. The Chamber has a longstanding policy to support accountability and transparency for students and teachers but understands that unforeseen circumstances with ISTEP delays and testing issues would allow the need for this pause.

Positive news:

The recently-released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores – aka a “National Report Card” – shows that Indiana is achieving more than other states in all four categories:

  • Fourth grade math: Indiana 248; national average 240
  • Eighth grade math: 287; 281
  • Fourth grade reading: 227; 221
  • Eighth grade reading: 268; 264

Indiana is actually widening its advantage over other states. We commend our teachers and school administrators for their important role in helping our students reach these higher levels of achievement.

While our ISTEP scores are lower as expected, these NAEP scores reinforce that our students are achieving at a higher overall level than many of their counterparts. We expect that to accelerate going forward with the enhanced college and career ready standards in place.

Some Findings on Teacher Assessment

The latest newsletter from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) includes an interesting piece on teacher assessment. It contends that while hostility is often lobbed at the concept of standards and testing, the greater issue is that teachers aren’t properly prepared for the assessment process.

Here is NCTQ’s study on teacher assessment. And a summary:

Our preview glimpse into what teacher candidates are learning about assessment quantifies (for the first time) the magnitude of a long suspected problem. Before going into the classroom, teacher candidates’ exposure to the task of assessing student learning, including how to interpret results and better plan instruction, is pretty thin–and that includes helping teachers do a better job designing their own pop quizzes, tests and exams.

Looking at 180 elementary and secondary undergraduate and graduate programs across the country, we found only six programs–that’s 3 percent–that appear to provide sufficient coverage of assessment–probably not a surprise to school superintendents or principals, nor apparently to the field of teacher education itself.

The only silver lining after examining syllabi for nearly 500 courses as well as "capstone" assignments required of student teachers was that at least some portion of institutions is exposing teachers to the language of assessment (21 percent). However, almost none of them is exposing candidates to the means of analyzing test results (2 percent) or, even more importantly, coming up with an instructional plan once they’ve done so (1 percent).

Students Lacking in Civics Basics

Poor results on national or international education tests are nothing new. The latest is The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2010. For a straightforward analysis of what it means, check this out from the Fordham Institute:

The nation’s report card assessed some 26,000 fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students; across all grades, about one quarter of pupils scored proficient, and 2 percent advanced. Alarming—though not terribly different from NAEP results in other subjects. So what do these numbers signify?

At the fourth-grade level, it means that barely one quarter of students could identify a function of the military and only 2 percent could offer up two rights of American citizens. The 76 percent of twelfth-grade students who failed to score proficient could not, for example, define the term “melting pot” or explain whether or not it applied to the U.S.

And only one percent of eighth graders could recognize a role performed by the Supreme Court. Still, there is some positive news to report. Notably, since 1998, the white-Hispanic and black-white achievement gaps have narrowed, while all sub-group scores have risen. But on the whole, the picture is bleak, especially for our twelfth grade students—the very people who will be eligible to vote in next year’s elections.

If It’s for the Kids, Why Not Ask Their Opinions?

When discussing education reform, it’s common to hear proclamations like, “We’ve got to do it for the students!”

To that end, many of the proposed education reforms center on the teacher, as a consensus is (finally) beginning to take hold that teacher effectiveness is paramount to student success. Ideas for reform include better training and education of teachers and rewarding teachers for the quality of their teaching, as opposed to the amount of time they spend at the front of the classroom.

All of the offered solutions and ideas go back to the sentiment that the whole point of education reform is to give students a better education and better chance in life. But if that’s truly the case, shouldn’t we be asking for their opinions?

An article in the New York Times reported that students actually have a pretty good handle on when they’re in the presence of an effective teacher. Results released from a report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation show that students who learn the most during the year (as measured by standardized test results) described their teachers as ones who were able to focus their instruction, keep their classrooms under control and help students understand their mistakes.

The report is part of a much larger research project, which also ranks teachers using a method called value-added modeling. The method uses standardized test scores to calculate how much each teacher helped the students learn. Researchers are now using other methods – like student surveys – to corroborate those value-added scores. It seems the results show a correlation between what the students report and what the scores show.

The Times went on to report that out of thousands of students who filled out confidential questionnaires, classrooms where the majority of students said they agreed with the statements, “our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time,” and “in this class, we learn to correct our mistakes,” more often were taught by teachers with high value-added scores.

While college students all across America are asked to evaluate their courses and professors on an annual or semi-annual basis, it’s rare that schools do the same with their K-12 students – leaving teacher evaluations up to pre-arranged classroom observations by the principal or other school administrator.

Students – the ones that are meant to get the greatest benefit from education reform – therefore aren’t given the opportunity to confidentially share their experiences and opinions about the teachers they rely on for their future success.

Maybe it’s time that the adults stop proclaiming and start listening to what the students actually have to say.

A Tie Between Testing and Tenure

Education changes are underway in many places — possibly including New York City. Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to use student test scores as one factor in teacher tenure decisions.

The fight with the teachers’ union is expected to be bitter. But Bloomberg makes an excellent point in the closing quote below, as reported by the New York Times:

The city already uses test scores in evaluating the system: to determine teacher and principal bonus pay, to assign the A through F letter grades that schools receive and to decide which schools are shut down for poor performance. The mayor is now putting even more weight behind those scores by using them to decide which teachers should stay and which should go.

The Bloomberg administration contends that it already has the power to use test scores in tenure decisions. But, he said that the Legislature should require all districts in the state to evaluate teachers and principals with “data-driven systems,” one of the factors Education Secretary Arne Duncan will use in deciding which states will receive Race to the Top grants.

The mayor also said the state should allow teacher layoffs based on performance rather than seniority, as they are now.

“The only thing worse than having to lay off teachers would be laying off great teachers instead of failing teachers,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “With a transparent new evaluation system, principals would have the ability to make layoffs based on merit — but only if the State Legislature gives us the authority to do it.”

K-12 Testing Just Doesn’t Measure Up

The subject is testing in Indiana’s K-12 schools and their effectiveness. The short responses include:

  • Nate Schellenberger, ISTA: "We have a hodgepodge of things and they don’t correlate together. I think it’s an area a lot of time and money is spent on, and I don’t think it’s nearly as efficient as it should be."
  • Vince Bertram, Evansville Schools superintendent: "We would take ISTEP and not have results back for months. So it was never designed to be useful data in terms of forming instruction."
  • Derek Redelman, Indiana Chamber: "We’ve had a terrible testing system in Indiana." The state, he adds, has recently started to take advantage of technology advancements. Looking back and then ahead, he summarizes, "I think it’s been pretty awful, frankly, but I think we’re on the verge of having something that’s pretty neat."

This was just one of the subjects in a spirited BizVoice roundtable discussion. Read the full story, including the length of school days and years, district consolidation, dollars to the classroom, teacher quality and more.

Are SAT and ACT Tests Too “Old School?”

According to Inside Higher Ed, the National Association for College Admission Counseling has launched a panel asking colleges to consider dropping SAT and ACT results as admission guidelines:

The panel, in a report to be formally released this week (PDF file), calls on all colleges to consider more systematically whether they really need testing to admit their students. If there is not clear evidence of the need for testing, the commission urges the colleges to drop the requirement and it expresses the view that there are likely more colleges and universities that could make such a change …

Colleges that have conducted in-depth analyses of the value of standardized tests have frequently ended up questioning the tests’ use. For example, the University of California recently studied whether SAT subject tests helped admissions decisions and found — generally — that they do not. Hamilton College, prior to abandoning an SAT requirement in 2006, conducted a five-year experiment being SAT-optional. During that time, the 40 percent of students who didn’t submit SAT scores performed slightly better at Hamilton — a highly competitive liberal arts college — than did those who did submit scores. And in a finding consistent with studies at other colleges, Hamilton found that when it went test-optional, it received more applications from students at the top of their high school classes and many more applications from minority students.

Pretty interesting stuff.

Hat tip to Reason Magazine’s blog.