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Schools have more time to study

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Students are getting more time to go over math and English lessons before the first portion of ISTEP begins next month.

Schools originally were to begin testing students as soon as March 3. But after multiple school closings and delays because of cold weather and snow, the state is giving them more time. Now schools have until March 21 to do the first section of testing, most of which involves answering essay-style questions, for third- through eighth-grade students across the state.

Local educators say that gives them more time to review scores of other tests and assessments students have taken this school year and provide extra help to students who need it.

Greenwood schools had planned to conduct ISTEP during the first week of testing but now will start March 11, assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said.

Clark-Pleasant school officials will meet this week to finalize testing plans, but the school district likely will test students later in March as well, director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said.

Schools don’t want to wait too long, though, because they also have to conduct IREAD-3, the mandatory reading test for third-graders to ensure they’re reading at grade level. That test is given between March 17 and March 21. And school district leaders don’t want third-graders to have to take two high-stakes tests in one week.

“With the weather-related delays and cancellations, IDOE felt that it was necessary to extend the testing window. So we feel like we have an obligation to take advantage of that, since it’s available,” Rains said,

Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, schools will make sure students are ready for the test, which will measure whether they have mastered the math and language arts lessons taught at their grade level. ISTEP results are also used to determine the grades schools receive and are factored into teachers’ evaluations, which impact their pay.

School districts in Johnson County have missed from seven to 10 days of school because of cancellations and late starts so far this winter. Teachers have had to reorganize lessons plans and help younger students get used to the routine of a shortened school day, but the disruptions haven’t stopped schools from preparing for ISTEP, Ahlgrim and Rains said.

“The teachers’ confidence level is very high,” Ahlgrim said. “Did (the delays) have the potential for being disruptive? Yes. Is it disruptive to us now? It certainly doesn’t appear so.”

But having an extra week to finish testing means teachers have more time to review classroom assessments to see what math or language arts lessons students need to master before ISTEP, Ahlgrim and Rains said.

Since the start of the school year, most local elementary and middle schools have been using an assessment similar to ISTEP called Accuity, which gauges how well students understand the math and language arts lessons that have been taught at their grade level. Greenwood teachers should get the most recent

Accuity results this week. Teachers now will have at least two full weeks to review the results with students, which is twice as much time as they would’ve had otherwise, Ahlgrim said.

Most of Greenwood’s Accuity scores this year have shown students need extra help mastering writing and math lessons involving measurements. Those are two of about a dozen skills students will be tested on, and students’ Accuity and other classroom scores have shown they understand the remaining lessons, Ahlgrim said.

Once teachers review students’ assessment scores, they’ll create individualized lessons for anyone who needs extra help understanding particular math or language arts concepts, Ahlgrim and Rains said.

Schools aren’t as concerned about technical problems with the first round of the test, which typically isn’t conducted online. Few school districts had problems during that section of the test last year; but thousands of students were disrupted during the online, multiple choice portion because testing servers weren’t prepared to handle the number of students tested. The state department of education conducted a stress test this month that schools were required to participate in to ensure the servers could handle the number of students tested this year.

Rains said students don’t seem anxious about ISTEP, but teachers are concerned that similar problems could reappear when schools take the online portion of ISTEP at the end of April.

“Anytime you have an epic failure like we had last year with the system, it takes people a while for that trust to build back up,” he said.

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