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ISTEP update: Schools wonder how exam results will count


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Special assignment teacher Erin Peck and Franklin College senior student teacher Gunner Erwin take students on a walk around the school during a break from ISTEP testing Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at Northwood Elementary School in Franklin, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Special assignment teacher Erin Peck and Franklin College senior student teacher Gunner Erwin take students on a walk around the school during a break from ISTEP testing Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at Northwood Elementary School in Franklin, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

3rd grade students enter a computer lab as Northwood Elementary school restarts Istep testing after a week of problems Thursday, May 2, 2013, in Franklin, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
3rd grade students enter a computer lab as Northwood Elementary school restarts Istep testing after a week of problems Thursday, May 2, 2013, in Franklin, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal


School officials want to know what happened every time a student was kicked off ISTEP last week.

Teachers, principals and the Indiana Department of Education are doing a click-by-click review of the tests of thousands of students who were kicked offline during the online portion of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus exam. They want to know which students were kicked off, for how long, what happened when they logged back on and how long those students needed to complete the exam. They will compare students’ scores in the interrupted sections of the test with sections they’d already taken and to their scores in years past, school officials said.

That will determine just how much students’ scores could have been affected when they were kicked offline or when their screens froze, not allowing them to finish.

The state uses ISTEP scores, specifically the number of students passing the sections of the exam as well as how much they have improved, to assign a letter grade to schools.

A CLOSER LOOK

Here’s a look at what’s happening with the ongoing ISTEP testing.

Now

Schools have until Wednesday to finish giving the exams

What the Indiana Department of Education and CTB/McGraw-Hill are doing

The Indiana Department of Education and CTB/McGraw-Hill are reviewing testing records to see what students were knocked offline or unable to complete ISTEP because of last week’s testing problems.

What local schools are doing

The same. Teachers and principals were instructed to document which students had problems during the exam.

What happens next

The department of education will send schools the names of students they believe were disrupted during testing, whose scores might not be valid. School districts will have the opportunity to provide their own names to the department of education.

Then what?

No one knows for sure. The department of education could use a third party to help determine which scores are valid, but right now the department’s focus is on completing testing.

State law now requires the scores to be included in teacher’s annual evaluations, which can impact their pay.

No one is sure what will happen after schools and the department of education decide how many students were disrupted and how their scores will count. But because ISTEP assesses Indiana’s students based on how all of them perform taking the same, standardized exam, school officials are skeptical how this year’s scores can possibly be used by the state to grade schools and teachers, or by school districts to assess students.

“We’re very interested to see what the process is going to be for validating (scores) and whether or not we agree, and how the state intends to use the data. Do they intend to grade schools based on this tainted data? That remains to be seen, and we’re anxious to hear what they have in mind,” said Dave Sever, Franklin assistant superintendent of professional development and school improvement.

The department of education could hire a separate company to determine whether the ISTEP scores are still valid. But for now the department is focused on getting testing completed by Wednesday, spokesman Daniel Altman said.

So for now, school districts don’t know how the state will determine whether students’ test scores are valid or when they can expect final ISTEP results.

School districts including Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and Greenwood use ISTEP to help determine whether students need additional help in math and language arts courses.

If, for example, Greenwood Middle School students barely passed the language arts section of ISTEP they could be placed in multiple language arts courses and receive more time on those subjects to ensure they learn the areas they didn’t understand. Or, if a large number of students are struggling with a specific concept, such as reading comprehension, language arts teachers can spend the summer updating their courses, Greenwood director of secondary education Rick Ahlgrim said.

But delays in receiving students’ final ISTEP scores may mean school officials won’t have the information in time to plan for students’ schedules or teachers’ lesson plans, Ahlgrim said.

Even if school districts don’t receive ISTEP scores in time, they’ll have other data they can use to plan for next school year. Schools all assess students’ progress in their core classes several times each year to see how well they understand what’s being taught. Those assessments, along with students’ grades, will be weighted more heavily instead of ISTEP when planning for next year, Sever and Ahlgrim said.

“To us, that kind of data is going to be much more accurate in helping us determine programing and interventions for kids,” Sever said.

And even if the results do come soon, they likely will be of little use to Franklin, Sever said.

The point of ISTEP is to track how well all students understand what they’ve been taught. That’s how school districts are graded by the state and that’s how Franklin creates its own set of district goals, such as having 90 percent of students passing ISTEP by the end of next school year, he said.

But if a large number of students have test scores that are invalid because the constant interruptions meant they couldn’t focus on the exam, then those scores are useless, he said.

“If we look at all students, we have a lot of kids that have invalid tests, invalid data,” Sever said.

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