News and Tribune

May 15, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Opinions from other newspapers for May 16

ISTEP issues merit serious concerns


Online ISTEP+ testing problems this year were: A. frustrating; B. significant; C. unacceptable; or D. all of the above.

If we were grading test supplier CTB/McGraw-Hill, we’d give them a big fat F. The company needs to find out exactly what went wrong, explain it and describe how the problem or problems have been fixed. Then the state needs to do what it can to make sure problems don’t happen again.

The problems have been well documented. On the morning of April 29, students across Indiana started taking the multiple-choice portion of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus exam online. Before some of them could finish the first section, their screens froze. A few minutes later, they could resume, only to encounter another delay a short time later. Some of them were able to struggle through the entire test segment, but many were forced to stop testing for the day.

The same problems cropped up April 30. On May 1, still more problems and in some school districts that hadn’t encountered them the first two days.

The Indiana Department of Education has told schools they’ll be given longer than the typical two weeks to test students. The deadline has been extended twice, now to May 17.

That’s helpful for schools, but the constant testing interruptions created stress for students. Their scores will affect how they are assessed as students and the grades their schools receive from the state. The results matter for teachers, too, whose evaluations are based partly on the results.

And extending the test window can’t make up for the added anxiety that comes with struggling with computer problems on top of the stress from taking the high-stakes exam in the first place.

Local educators talked about how their students raced to complete portions of the exam out of a fear of being knocked offline again. As a result, they didn’t go back and check their work as thoroughly as they might have. They also talked about the distraction the disruptions caused.

“When you have a child taking a test and they get interrupted, you’re concerned about how it affects their ability to take the test,” Emerson Elementary School Principal Julie Kelly said. “There already can be anxiety about taking the test, and it’s just raised when you add these disruptions.”

Seymour Community Schools interim Superintendent Rob Hooker expressed concern that the disruptions throw doubt on the validity of the test results because of the distraction and added stress. He suggests the results be scrapped entirely.

“Credibility and reliability are real questions,” Hooker said.

Indiana wasn’t the only state encountering problems with CTB/McGraw-Hill’s online system. The Tribune reported on similar problems last week in Oklahoma, for instance. That’s little consolation and only compounds the concern.

The state needs to get to the bottom of this problem and make sure it won’t happen again. If it means ending the contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill, then so be it.

Then when the scores themselves are released, they need to be examined carefully to see what effect the computer glitches had. This is only fair to the school districts, schools, teachers and, most importantly, the students themselves.

— The Tribune, Seymour