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Exam’s future remains unclear


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Thousands of third- through eighth-graders will be tested next school year to make sure they’ve mastered math and language arts lessons, but right now no one knows what will be on that test.

This year could be the last time students take the ISTEP exam, which is what the state uses now to gauge students’ English and math skills. Originally, the plan was for the state to start using a new kind of test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers, or PARCC exam, which matched planned changes in state standards called Common Core.

Schools have been spending more time teaching students critical reading and thinking skills, such as how to quickly identify an author’s main idea or other crucial facts and details when reading fiction and nonfiction essays and texts, in order to prepare students for Common Core and the new exam.

Now that state lawmakers have decided to move Indiana away from Common Core, the state needs find a new way to assess whether students are keeping up with what’s taught at each grade level.

Finding that assessment will be the job of the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana State Board of Education, said State Reps. and education committee members Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, and Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis.

Right now no one is sure what kind of test will be used, and local school officials and lawmakers aren’t sure 12 months is enough time to create a comprehensive exam. Typically it takes at least a year-and-a-half to create a test that can be used statewide, Behning said.

“Frankly the problem is (schools) don’t even know what the standards are going to look like. If they don’t know what the standards are, it’s going to be hard to test (students) on them,” Behning said.

Whatever test the state decides on will have high stakes for teachers and schools. Right now ISTEP is used to determine the grades that schools receive from the state. A school that receives

an F can be taken over by the state. Teachers’ evaluations, which have to be conducted every year and which affect their pay, are also impacted by their schools’ letter grades.

The department of education and board of education are working now to finalize what Indiana’s new academic standards will be, and Behning is hopeful those will be approved by the end of April. Once that’s done, both groups can start working on an assessment. But because the new standards will likely include a blend of current and Common Core expectations, a new exam will need to be created to assess students at the end of each school year, Behning said.

State and local school officials have been working for years to prepare for PARCC, which is designed to assess how well students can think critically and apply what they’ve learned in one subject to another. For example, social studies questions wouldn’t ask students when Christopher Columbus discovered America and would instead ask why he made the trip and what its overall impact has been.

That’s why teachers in lower elementary and upper high school grades have spent the past three years showing students how to read fiction and nonfiction essays and texts more analytically, so they can learn how to quickly find an author’s main idea or other important information. Those were the skills students needed to master to pass the test the state was going to use.

But now no one knows what standards students will be tested on, and it’s unclear whether state officials can create a new exam that’s ready to be used a year from now, Greenwood assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said last week.

Burton wants the state to adopt a standardized test that is more localized. The lessons teachers use in northwest Indiana are different from the lessons used in southeast Indiana, just as students at Center Grove schools have different abilities and needs from their teachers than students at Edinburgh schools, Burton said.

That’s why a localized test, possibly one conducted every six weeks, would provide a better indication of how much students are learning throughout the school year, Burton said.

“I don’t believe one shoe fits all,” he said.

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