Schools: Students still must take test

Yes, ISTEP will be longer and will include more rigorous, challenging questions this year — and yes, your student still has to take the test.

Parents in Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and other school districts across Indiana have asked school officials if they can apply for a waiver and opt out of the ISTEP exam, which Indiana’s 470,000 third- through eighth-graders can start taking on Wednesday. At Franklin, parents are worried about the longer length of the test and about the new, in-depth questions students will be asked, executive director of curriculum and instruction Deb Brown-Nally said.

Brown-Nally said she tells the parents that teachers and principals don’t want students to stress about the length or difficulty of the test. That’s why each school will have breaks and snacks for students during the testing window.

“We try to reassure them (that) we try to do everything we can,” Brown-Nally said.

Parents who object can keep their students away from field trips, out of sex education classes and can receive a waiver from the state’s vaccination requirements. But ISTEP is required by law, and there’s no waiver for it. If students are at school on test day, they have to take the test. And if fewer than 95 percent of an elementary or middle school’s students take ISTEP, the grade that school receives from the state will drop.

If parents keep their students home during the testing window, those absences won’t be excused, officials from the schools said.

School districts will send notices home after the first seven to 10 days a student is absent, letting parents know their students need to return to school. If students continue to miss class, schools can contact the Family Resource Program, which works with Johnson County Juvenile Probation to ensure students are attending school, officials said.

Brown-Nally said she knows parents are frustrated and worried about ISTEP. School officials can’t control whether parents have their kids at school for the test, but she’s hopeful people realize their kids will miss more than the exam if they’re not at school.

“Hopefully a parent would not choose to keep their student home for 10 days of school just to avoid the ISTEP test,” Brown-Nally said.

“There will also be instruction going on, and that would be detrimental for a child to miss.”

ISTEP typically took students five to six hours to complete in past years, but this year that time nearly doubled because Indiana also has to pilot questions that will be used for a new standardized text next year. State lawmakers are working now to approve a proposal that would trim more than three hours from the test for all students by dropping many of the pilot questions. The General Assembly also is considering a recommendation to drop ISTEP’s social studies test this year, which would cut another hour and 45 minutes from fifth- and seventh-graders’ tests.

This year’s ISTEP is also considered to be more difficult, because students will be asked more in-depth, rigorous questions based on Indiana’s revised academic standards. Students will be expected to prove their answers to essay questions on the first part of the test, and will have to watch for more than one possible correct answer on the online, multiple-choice portion.

The state uses ISTEP to gauge how well students are keeping up in their core classes, and students’ scores are factored into teachers’ annual performance evaluations, which determine whether they should receive raises. The scores are also used to rate schools, which is why schools’ letter grades drop if fewer than 95 percent take the test, school officials said.

Typically at Franklin, nearly all of the students who need to take ISTEP complete the test each year, Brown-Nally said.

Students can start taking the applied skills portion of ISTEP Wednesday, and schools can continue giving the test until March 13. Most students will be able to complete the first part of ISTEP in about four days, but the longer testing window ensures schools with more students have enough time to conduct the test and also provides chances for students with excused absences to finish the exam, Brown-Nally said.