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Disparate Indiana pols agree ISTEP answers needed

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Indiana's top Statehouse leaders all agree they'd like some answers from CTB/McGraw-Hill on the ISTEP+ failures, and they could get some as soon as the end of the week.

A legislative panel studying why 78,000 test-takers were frozen out of the high-stakes exam test last month plans to meet Friday to hear from CTB/McGraw-Hill President Ellen Haley on what went wrong. Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, meanwhile, plans an outside review determining the validity of the test results. That could be completed within a month.

Both are aimed at finding out how the state's can't-fail test failed.

"Obviously, we want some answers from CTB/McGraw-Hill. That is our greatest concern right now," said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. "Going forward, are we in danger of having this happen again? Is it the vendor's fault? Why did it happen? And what can be done to avoid it in the future? How did it impact the kids at the different levels?"

He said the range of possible solutions includes "going back to pencil and paper to changing vendors and modernizing and getting a better system, if that's what it takes. ... But one thing we know is what happened can't be tolerated again."

Nobody's ready just yet to dump McGraw-Hill, which has a four-year, $95 million contract to provide the test. Nor is anyone ready to revert to paper and pencil. But the frustration has provided a bit of unity in a building where Republican lawmakers recently joined forces to hand Republican Gov. Mike Pence his first veto override last week.

"We have to hold our vendor accountable. It's important that every vendor of the state provide the services that have been contracted in a timely and effective way, and we want to understand what happened with regard to the ISTEP testing," Pence said.

The broad strokes of the troubles have been well-reported by this point. The state's critically important standardized test stalled amid server troubles from McGraw-Hill, which apparently could not handle the crush of online test-takers. But the "how" has yet to be fully explained, and determining how to make sure it doesn't happen again has not been reached.

Senate Education Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said he's hoping Friday's hearing will give lawmakers and the public a chance to hear firsthand about the frustrations and angst caused by testing glitches and the company's explanation for why it happened.

"It'll be interesting to hear her presentation," he said of Haley.

The clock is running on answers. Teacher assessments and school grades must be completed in the coming months. Ritz has already advised local leaders to consider reducing the weight that test results carry in teacher assessments and said she will not use invalid test results to determine where schools fall on the state's "A-F" scale.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has led many of the education changes in recent years that have given increased importance to the ISTEP results. But he, too, has supported Ritz in her handling of the problem.

"They're totally appropriate under the circumstances, and of course the weight that the tests are given in teacher evaluations is a local matter and allows locals flexibility to plug that in in a way they think is appropriate," he said.

Kruse said McGraw-Hill should probably pay the cost of the DOE study and also pay some fines to the state. A second hearing of the study committee is expected after the test results are submitted and the DOE report is completed. But solutions will wait until after state leaders have had their first bite at this apple.

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  1. Why not take some time to do some research before traveling to that Indiana town or city, and find the ones that are no smoking either inside, or have a patio? People like yourself are just being selfish, and unnecessarily trying to take away all indoor venues that smokers can enjoy themselves at. Last time I checked, it is still a free country, and businesses do respond to market pressure and will ban smoking, if there's enough demand by customers for it(i.e. Linebacker Lounge in South Bend, and Rack and Helen's in New Haven, IN, outside of Fort Wayne). Indiana law already unnecessarily forced restaurants with a bar area to be no smoking, so why not support those restaurants that were forced to ban smoking against their will? Also, I'm always surprised at the number of bars that chose to ban smoking on their own, in non-ban parts of Indiana I'll sometimes travel into. Whiting, IN(just southeast of Chicago) has at least a few bars that went no smoking on their own accord, and despite no selfish government ban forcing those bars to make that move against their will! I'd much rather have a balance of both smoking and non-smoking bars, rather than a complete bar smoking ban that'll only force more bars to close their doors. And besides IMO, there are much worser things to worry about, than cigarette smoke inside a bar. If you feel a bar is too smoky, then simply walk out and take your business to a different bar!

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