After months of delays in the ISTEP results and listening to teachers, superintendents and administrators said last year’s state-mandated test is not a fair representation of their students, state representatives and senators are calling for legislative action.
State Rep. Woody Burton, Sen. Greg Walker and Sen. Brent Waltz, all Republicans, met with about a dozen of Johnson County school leaders last week to understand what improvements need to be made to the ISTEP exam.
Originally, the meeting was to address the current state of education in general, but ISTEP dominated the discussion, said Greenwood Superintendent Kent DeKoninck, who organized the meeting with Burton. Superintendents, assistant superintendents and testing coordinators from Greenwood, Franklin, Clark-Pleasant, Center Grove and Indian Creek are asking legislators to suspend the school district’s letter grade system, which is based on last year’s ISTEP scores.
“I told the group, I’m over it. I’m done with ISTEP. My goal is to see it eliminated,” Walker said.
The education committee of the Indiana General Assembly is finishing a proposal this week to suspend teacher evaluations based on last spring’s ISTEP exam, Burton said.
“I would like to see a suspension of this grading system for the year,” Burton said. “I think we all need to step up to the table and say, ‘We made a mess of this. So let’s fix it.’”
Currently, school districts will still receive an A-F rating based on their performance on last spring’s ISTEP exam. Johnson County superintendents told the state officials that the school districts and school building grades should be suspended along with the teacher evaluation scores, DeKoninck said. With last spring’s new format, school districts should not be penalized by the drop in scores that will lower their A-F grade ratings, DeKoninck said.
If the teacher evaluations are not reliable enough to be used based on last year’s ISTEP exam, then the school ratings also should be suspended.
“There’s no confidence in the test now,” Burton said. “You know, I’m convinced that this whole thing has been a failure.”
Burton and Walker both want to see new standards set in place for next year’s ISTEP exam, and create a long-term solution for state-mandated testing, they said. For example, the ISTEP could be replaced by using a different system such as the Northwest Evaluation Association, which Franklin, Center Grove and Greenwood currently use to assess their students a few times per year.
The assessments track individual students’ growth and provide a plan unique to each child. If this type of testing was used in place of ISTEP, school officials would be able to address immediate issues for students and have individual plans to improve their education, Walker said.
“I have been an advocate for getting away from ISTEP for years,” Walker said. “I have told the last two superintendents of public instruction that we need to get away from that.”
Only the Indiana General Assembly can replace the ISTEP exam as the state-mandated test, said Marc Lotter, the director of external relations for the Indiana State Board of Education. State legislators are the only group that can change how last year’s ISTEP exam scores will affect school districts, he said. Speaker of the House Brian Bosma considers education a top priority, and has been meeting with education committee chairman State Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, to solve the issues from last year’s ISTEP, Burton said.
Last spring’s ISTEP exam included a new format with more critical thinking and deeper recall questions and online-only portions. Due to the format of the exam, the Indiana Department of Education told school officials to expect a drop in scores as compared to previous years.
In addition to not knowing how students did on the exam, teacher evaluations and school district grades are hanging in the balance. Bonuses for teachers based on the ISTEP results are required to be divvied up by the end of January.
Johnson County school officials told the state representatives that they should be trusted to give their students a quality education, Walker said. Franklin Superintendent David Clendening told the government officials that they are the experts who see how their students’ education is progressing, Walker said. Clendening asked the officials to let the superintendents and administrators do what they do best: Get students to reach their full potential but also assess their staff to make sure children get the best education, Walker said.
“I asked them, ‘Do you have the right mix of objectivity and subjectivity in order to assess your teachers?’ And they assured me that they had enough flexibility to use a combination of objective testing environment but also their observation within the classroom,” Walker said.
State Rep. John Price, who was unable to attend the meeting, said he has spoken to teachers from Johnson, Morgan and Marion counties to see how ISTEP is affecting teachers and students.
“What I’ve heard from teachers is that it’s just not working,” Price said. “Some have referred to this as a nightmare.”
Price’s daughter is a teacher for Perry Township Schools, so he has heard about the ISTEP issues firsthand, he said.
“What we need to do is take a very proactive step in getting this back in line for what it’s supposed to do for our educational system,” Price said. “Enough is enough.”
Indiana General Assembly members are working on improving the ISTEP exam for future years, and helping school districts with this last year’s test results.
Here’s what officials are considering:
– Suspending teacher evaluations based on ISTEP, so last year’s exam will not negatively affect educators if scores were miscalculated
– Suspending individual school and district-wide A-F rankings, so schools are not punished for anticipated lower scores
– Replacing the ISTEP exam with a different assessment test, such as Northwest Evaluation Association, which presents an educational development plan for each student
Source: Woody Burton, state representative