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New test assesses students college, career readiness

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Testing season is about to get even longer for elementary and middle school students.

So far this month, third- through eighth-grade students have taken the first half of ISTEP, and third-graders also have taken the IREAD-3 exam, which they must pass before moving on to fourth-grade reading lessons. Students will complete the online, multiple-choice portion of ISTEP at the end of April.

After ISTEP is over, third- through eighth-graders will take a new, online practice exam called CoreLink. The results won’t count for or against students or schools but will start showing schools how well they’re preparing students for college and a career.

Next school year, Indiana must start assessing whether third- through eighth-graders meet college and career readiness standards in order to meet federal education requirements.

But what that test will look like isn’t known yet.

Because state officials have opted out of Common Core and instead will create academic requirements that are exclusive to Indiana, nobody knows what the state’s college and career readiness standards are yet. The test students will take next spring hasn’t been written yet either.

“That really (makes) a timetable that would culminate in an assessment very tricky,” Greenwood assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said. “Basically impossible.”

Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said teachers are prepared, because many of the lessons they’ve been creating during the past several years are intended to develop students’ critical thinking skills in math and language arts, which students will be tested on. Ironically, he said, the lessons were developed in preparation for new Common Core standards, which state officials decided to drop.

“While we don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like, it’s not going to be a complete surprise,” Rains said. “There’s only so many ways you can predict college and career standards.”

Originally, this was to be the last year for ISTEP before Indiana began testing students with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC exam. That exam would have assessed third- through eighth-graders on Indiana’s academic standards and gauged how well the students were being prepared for college and their careers. The test is one of two linked with Common Core, the academic standards being used in 45 other states.

This week, Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill withdrawing Indiana from the Common Core standards, and state officials must create and approve a new set of standards by July 1.

The state has approved giving ISTEP for at least one more year, but that exam doesn’t measure how prepared students are for college, Rains said. That’s why the state has to add another test next spring that focuses specifically on college and careers.

In May, students will answer a series of language arts and math questions designed to get them to think more analytically about their answers.

In language arts, for example, students will still identify an author’s main idea about a passage. But they’ll also copy and drag text from passages that they believe support their argument. Rains said some questions will have more than one correct answer, such as selecting all of the numbers that are multiples of five.

But nobody knows how similar the new practice exam will be to next year’s college and career readiness test, Rains and Ahlgrim said.

Rains said the years schools spent preparing for Common Core will help prepare students for the new test.

“Pretty quickly, we began pivoting to a more rigorous set of standards and more rigorous lesson plans,” Rains said. “It’s not going to be a complete surprise, I don’t think, for people who have been paying attention.”

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