Department considers options to shorten tests

The Indiana Department of Education is telling schools to continue plans to begin the ISTEP later this month, and that any effort to shorten the length of the test could require legislative approval.

The state department of education is challenging claims by Gov. Mike Pence that it wasn’t open about how the test has changed. Department of Education officials said the state board of education was told six months ago the number of questions that would appear on this year’s test — but not the length of time that it would take Hoosier children age 8 to 14 to complete the test.

The length of the test has grown to about 12 hours and in most cases doubled, which Pence said during a news conference on Monday shocked and outraged him and parents.

But Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman and deputy superintendent of public instruction Danielle Shockey said Tuesday that neither the governor nor the state board of education should have been surprised, because they were told in August that the test would be longer.

“For the governor to complain that he only recently learned of this, to be honest, it’s either politically malicious or it’s a serious sign of staff incompetence,” Altman said.

The department of education will review a national consultant’s recommendations on how to shorten the test, but officials can’t know what will happen next until they see the recommendations, Altman and Shockey said. They said the department will cooperate with the analysis.

The recommendations are due by Feb. 20, leaving the department of education and CTB/McGraw-Hill days to make changes to the test. Creating a standardized test typically takes 12 to 18 months, Shockey said.

“Given that we’re three weeks out, it seems like it would require a lot of work,” Shockey said.

The governor has tasked Edward Roeber, an independent consultant with degrees in psychology and measurement and evaluation, with finding ways to shorten this year’s ISTEP test.

Pence announced Monday that he was hiring a consultant to find a way to shorten the test after listening to the complaints and concerns from parents across the state about the longer length of ISTEP. The test, which typically took between five and six hours in previous years, will take Indiana’s about 470,000 third- through eighth-graders approximately 12 to 13 hours to complete in its current form.

Roeber, who will be paid up to $22,000 for his work, is expected to complete his assessment of ISTEP and present his report to the department of education. Pence has said he expects the department and CTB/McGraw-Hill, the company that writes and administers ISTEP, to make the recommended changes.

In the meantime, the department of education is telling schools to move forward with practice lessons, practice tests and anything else they were already planning to prepare for ISTEP.

Students can begin taking the first section of ISTEP two weeks from today.

The state department also plans to move forward with a state board of education meeting later this week to discuss the length of the test, and whether legislative action is needed to change the exam, Altman said.

The events leading to the confusion and tension about this year’s ISTEP test started when state lawmakers decided last spring not to use Common Core academic standards, instead creating a new set of standards just for Indiana.

That meant the state also needed to create a new test that would measure how well students are being prepared for college and their careers, and in May the department of education learned that Indiana would not be given a transition year to create and start using the new test. The new test had to be in place this spring.

The department of education worked during the summer to create the new test and in August, at the request of the state board of education, presented the proposed number of test questions, Altman and Shockey said.

For example, the 2014 ISTEP exam had a total of 10 math and language arts questions on the first section of ISTEP, and a total of 91 math and language arts questions on the second, online portion. This year’s exam has 18 math and language arts questions on part one, and 129 math and language arts questions on the online section.

The new test had more difficult questions, in line with the state’s new academic standards, and also included pilot questions that could be used for the new standardized test students will take in 2016.

The department of education didn’t share a specific testing timeline with the state board of education or with schools until January. But anyone familiar with ISTEP could see how the number of questions had increased, and know the test would take more time, Altman and Shockey said.

“The truth is, we’ve been above board with the state board all along,” Altman said.

Locally, school officials have said they’re not going to worry about the back-and-forth happening between the governor’s office and the department of education. They have no control over that; all they can do is ensure students are keeping up with their math and language arts lessons.

“As long as it’s not impacting our students in a negative way, we try to stay out of it,” Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said.

But right now, education officials are worried about whether any last-minute changes to the test will cause confusion when it’s time for schools to give the exams.

Schools have to follow precise instructions when conducting ISTEP, otherwise the test results could be invalidated. And right now the details of what sections will or won’t be tested are anything but clear.

“(Schools) were ready for this. So any confusion would not be something, that I suggest, we created,” Shockey said.

About the consultant

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Pence announced his selection for a consultant to review and recommend how to shorten ISTEP testing for students.

Who: Edward Roeber, of Michigan, an independent consultant to organizations including the Michigan Assessment Consortium and Assessment Solutions Group

Task: To review and make recommendations to the governor, the Indiana Department of Education, and the Indiana State Board of Education to shorten the 2015 ISTEP test. The work will be done in two phases. Before Feb. 20, Roeber will give an initial analysis and recommendations for spring 2015. From February to December, he will work on the spring 2016 assessment.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology, master’s degree in educational psychology, and doctorate in measurement and evaluation from The University of Michigan.

Cost: The maximum cost for Roeber’s contract is $22,000.