INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers face what one calls a “quagmire” in student testing. Not only are they unsure how much time students spend taking standardized exams, local school officials are still awaiting results of last spring's statewide exams.
Education officials pin the blame for the delay on the state’s outside testing company, CTB McGraw Hill, which has struggled to finish grading the yearly exams. Some Republicans are blaming Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.
A new delay arose earlier this month, when the testing company revealed difficulties evaluating scores depending on whether students took the test on paper or online.
Results, first expected before the start of the school year in August, may now not be available until January. The delay has had significant impact: Among other things, it means the state has yet to set cut scores — the point that differentiates between those who pass and those who fail.
"Right now, they're so late, it screws up everything up," said Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, a former school principal, during a Monday meeting in the Statehouse.
Teachers and principals "are screaming" for results to be delivered before the school year starts, said Cook, so that they can use the data to develop teaching plans and decide teacher pay for the year.
Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Centerville, called the current situation with the state's standardized test, ISTEP Plus, a “quagmire."
He and other Republicans want to mandate that Ritz turn over results of the test soon after exams are administered in the spring.
Lawmakers looking at the contentious issue of assessments in Indiana’s public schools also called for an accounting of time spent on mandatory exams.
Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, pushed for the measure after hearing parents and teachers complain bitterly about over-testing to a legislative committee studying education issues.
“It’s important for us to find out what’s reality and what’s perception,” said Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, who has been a testing advocate.
A recommendation approved by the study committee calls for a survey of the time that students are required, by grade, to participate in statewide testing or tests administered at the district level.
The ISTEP plus, which cost the state $35 million to administer, ballooned from nine to 13 hours in length last spring before it was reined back in.
In addition to that test, districts administer their own evaluations — some on a weekly basis — tied to the state’s evolving academic standards, Behning said.
The effort to quantify testing time also comes as the Obama administration calls for less high-stakes testing.
Over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Education released a “Testing Action Plan” that recommends a cap on standardized assessments to no more than 2 percent of the time a student spends in class.
The plan calls on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reviews how the nation’s public schools spend their federal dollars.
Behning estimates that Indiana’s ISTEP test — which has grown in length through the years — plus other state-mandated exams, such a reading assessment given to all third-graders, may account for 1 percent of classroom time.
But that doesn’t include a range of additional tests that individual schools also give their students, such as the National Assessment of Education Progress.
That exam is considered by experts to be more rigorous than ISTEP Plus, and some school corporations consider it a better measure of college readiness.
Standardized testing in Indiana has come under fire, especially by teachers’ unions, because of the increasingly high-stakes nature of the tests. Results of ISTEP Plus help determine teacher pay and can result in more dollars for high-performing school districts.
Indiana’s third-grade reading test, known as I-READ, and the math and English assessments of high school seniors also determine whether students can move on to the next grade or graduate.
The Obama administration is also calling for more purposeful testing — using assessments to help parents and teachers better measure a student’s progress and craft a plan for those who fall behind.
— Maureen Hayden covers the Indiana Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org