News and Tribune

July 24, 2013

Schools start new year without knowing last year’s ISTEP performance

Districts await results of validity study into ISTEP issues before cementing long-term plans


> SOUTHERN INDIANA — An announcement on the validity of this year’s ISTEP+ scores is expected from Glenda Ritz, state superintendent of public instruction, on Monday. But districts across the state have had to plan for the upcoming school year without them.

In Clark and Floyd counties, officials in school corporations said they’ve been able to figure out student placement and remedial needs without the data, but their state mandated school improvement plans have been put on hold until scores and the results of the ISTEP validity study are completed.

Students across the state encountered myriad problems with the assessment, including long load times, login failures and students system kickoffs.

Though district officials said starting the school year without the scores wasn’t so bad, they’re still concerned about how the results will affect funding and other factors.

A firm outside of the state Department of Education could chart the course for districts across Indiana.

Sally Jensen, director of assessment for the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., said she’s looking forward to the results of the validity study, but didn’t want to speculate on what they’d look like.

“I think I totally want to hold my opinion back on that until I read the third party review,” Jensen said. “They may think these are invalid and we can’t do anything with them. Once we’re able to read that report about what experts say about this test data, then we formulate whether its our opinion or plan, any of that. But we need to see that first.”


School districts use information from standardized tests to determine which classes students are placed into, depending on how much remediation they need or if they display exceptional mastery of concepts.

Kim Knott, superintendent of Clarksville Community Schools, said while districts maintain their own records on how students are performing, some details are difficult to determine without ISTEP data.

“We can’t set up remediation and intervention plans for our students without that information,” Knott said. “So we have to start off our school year behind the eight ball on that.”

But for the most part, districts reported having little or no trouble in getting students in the classrooms they need to sit in. Along with data collected on IREAD, End of Course Assessments and other state-generated scores, districts relied on achievement data they put together with their own initiatives.

Andrew Melin, superintendent of Greater Clark County Schools, said with the IMPACT initiative they’ve started this year, the internal student assessments provided enough data to give them a good idea of where to place students.

“To be honest with you, I don think at this point it’s impacted us at all,” Melin said. “As we prepare for this upcoming school year, we’re just moving forward with all the different initiatives we’re trying to implement. Fortunately, none of those initiatives would alter our thinking with the lack of ISTEP scores.”

John Reed, assistant superintendent at West Clark Community Schools, said the they have enough state and school data to figure out what to do with their students, but ISTEP data would have helped even further.

“We do a lot of triangulation,” Reed said. “We assess with different tools to take a look at student performance from different perspectives. It’s always nice to have that additional look at a student to see how they’re performing, but it’s certainly not the end of everything. We’ve got some very accurate tools at our disposal.

Jensen said her district’s Common Formative Assessments — which they use to help teachers collaborate to design teaching strategies for their classes based on what’s worked in their own or with others — gave them a good picture of what students needed for their next year in school, but ISTEP data could have helped reinforce their decisions.

“We were pretty much able to follow through with what we’ve done on our own, but to us, more data helps us see if we can corroborate our story,” Jensen said. “We’d always hope we’d have that additional piece.”

Jensen said she shared Clarksville’s concern with putting together school improvement plans, which are state-mandated. But she said those aren’t due for several weeks, so they’ll have to wait until the results finally come back.

But districts also have to wait and see what the third-party review of statewide ISTEP scores and their validity.

“Thank goodness those [school improvement plans] aren’t due until the end of September, so for now, we’ve been in a holding pattern until we see what this review is going to look like,” Jensen said. “Once we know if these scores are valid or not, we’ll go from there.”

Calls to the Indiana Department of Education were not returned for this story.


Though the state hasn’t announced a release date for ISTEP scores, Ritz is scheduled to give a report on the validity study on Monday.

The results are tied into district funding, but also teacher accountability that can affect raises and even job security.

Melin said though students came in ready for the test this spring, the interruptions disrupted their focus and may have negatively affected their performance.

“There’s great concern of the validity of the scores with the interruptions and the impact that had on students taking the test,” Melin said. “For now, I’ll reserve final comment on this study and its results, but I have a hard time believing that the scores have not been somewhat impacted by the fact that the test had these interruptions. That is a concern.”

He said a lot of students probably took the roadblocks in stride, but many were likely affected by the issues.

But Reed said regardless of the results, he’s not sure they can carry much weight in regards to district, school or teacher performance.

“Based on my own education and statistical training, I just don’t see how there’s going to be much argumentation to support the validity and reliability of ISTEP as far as everything that occurred,” Reed said. “We’ll take whatever we get and deal with it, but there’s not going to be much to be said that will sway my opinion. That data needs to be carefully used if its going to be used for determining performance. I don’t see how it can be used as far as accountability of whether a teacher’s effective or not.”

Knott said even if the results of the study show the results are valid, an air of skepticism will continue to surround them.

“I think that question is the unknown in all of this, [whether they’re valid],” Knott said. “I think human nature will result in the assessment information to be questioned, whether it’s on the positive or negative end. I think we don’t know what the state is going through to determine reliability and validity we can only assume that statistically, it’s the right process for them to go through.”