Lawmakers review plans to shorten ISTEP

State lawmakers are moving quickly to review and consider whether to sign off on plans that would cut three hours from how long students will take this year’s ISTEP test.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and two consultants hired by the state agreed last week on several actions that would shorten the test. But some of those recommendations, including reducing the number of open-ended, essay-style questions and dropping the social studies test for fifth- and seventh-graders, required approval from state lawmakers.

On Monday, state lawmakers started reviewing drafts of the bills, and local lawmakers said they’re hopeful the General Assembly will approve steps by the end of the week that will cut ISTEP testing time.

“If it’s something that will help the kids with the ISTEP test, and move us through in a shorter amount of time, I would definitely support that, and work with the state superintendent of instruction on that matter,” State Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood, said.

Indiana Department of Education officials are working closely with state lawmakers and will provide updates and any new instructions to schools once they have them, spokesman Daniel Altman said.

“Obviously, this is a pretty quick turnaround, but we’re going to be communicating with the schools so they understand what’s going on,” Altman said.

During the weekend, department of education officials started working with state lawmakers to draft legislation and plan how to get it approved as quickly as possible, Altman said. State Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, said that Democrats and Republicans know students will begin taking ISTEP next week, and that they’ll have to work fast so teachers know which version of the test students are supposed to take.

“We’re going to be in harmony on this one, because this is an issue that has to be fixed,” Burton said. “Democrats and Republicans agree this has to be fixed, now.”

State lawmakers, teachers and parents all began worrying about the length of ISTEP after the department of education said testing time would more than double for some students, totaling between 11 and 12½ hours for Indiana’s third- through eighth-graders. Last week, Pence hired the two consultants, at a cost of up to $22,000 each, and asked them to start making recommendations about how ISTEP could be shortened.

The consultants told Ritz and the Indiana State Board of Education on Friday that one of the reasons ISTEP is longer this year is that the test is asking more open-ended, essay-style questions for the 2015 exam and to help plan for the test students will take in 2016. Teachers use some of the open-ended questions that are later released to prepare students for future tests, and the consultants recommended cutting those questions by up to 80 percent.

That cuts down on the number of questions students have to answer, Altman said.

But state lawmakers have to approve changes to the number of open-ended questions. The General Assembly also has to approve whether to cut the social studies portion of the exam for fifth- and seventh-graders this year, which would cut about 1 hour, 45 minutes from the test for those students. The math, language arts and science sections of ISTEP are all federally required.

Students can start taking ISTEP Feb. 25.