Will Indiana stick with ISTEP, as planned, or move toward a national “off-the-shelf” test as soon as next year?
Gov. Mike Pence and legislative leaders in the Indiana House said this week that they’d seriously consider scrapping ISTEP for a cheaper, shorter alternative. Two bills have already passed the Indiana Senate that would push the state in the direction of a national test.
But the bills conflict—should ISTEP be replaced next year, or the change come later, allowing lawmakers to continue conversations over the summer?
Senate Bill 566, which passed the Senate 46-3, would get rid of ISTEP in favor of a national test, and Senate Bill 470, which passed 45-5, proposes to study the issue of test alternatives over the summer. Originally, Senate Bill 470 was written to allow private schools accepting publicly funded vouchers to replace ISTEP if they chose to, but that language was dropped when the bill was amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz in December told a state budget committee that an overhauled 2016 ISTEP test could cost more than $65 million, almost 45 percent more than in recent years. That led Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, to propose Senate Bill 566, co-authored with Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen.
The bill would scrap the Indiana Department of Education’s plan to create a new ISTEP test to fit Indiana’s new, more demanding academic standards for next year. The department is reviewing proposals from companies bidding to make the test. Instead, the bill would direct the department to adopt a test used by other states, like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or a test created by the Northwest Evaluation Association that educators already use to prepare kids for ISTEP.
Gov. Mike Pence said the future of ISTEP, though not on his agenda for education this year, was worth discussing now if Senate Bill 566 gains more traction in the legislature this year. Pence said he’s supported in the past measures that would let private schools opt to use a standardized test that isn’t ISTEP for state accountability.
“There’s proposals that we have strongly supported know as ‘freedom to test,’ where our administration came out in favor of allowing private schools opt for a different standardized test, and I think that’s a very sensible proposal,” Pence said. “Other proposals to replace the ISTEP we’ll consider in due course.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he still needs to learn more about the bills, but would welcome options that would make testing cheaper and more efficient.
“The $65 million proposal that the superintendent made I think has shocked us all,” Bosma said. “We’ve talked about having an Indiana test—we’ve had one since 1987—it’s not inexpensive. There may be some nationally normed alternatives we can turn into Indiana tests with more efficiency and less cost.”
House minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he thought Kenley, who chairs the budget-making Senate Appropriations Committee, was taking a pragmatic approach. Testing shouldn’t be overly complicated or needlessly costly, he said.
“Making testing simpler and less expensive and less long—those are generally positive goals, and I think they merit some degree of pursuit,” Pelath said.
But as to whether ISTEP could vanish sooner or later—it will be up to lawmakers to decide.
Senate Bill 470, if passed by the legislature and signed by Pence, would hold off on changing the test and create a committee of legislators to discuss and study the issue over the summer, leaving the state to move forward with its plans for a brand new test.
But Bosma said he wasn’t ready to rule anything out.
“If we can find a solution now in the time that’s left (in the session), I’m favorable to that,” Bosma said. “I’m not unfavorable to taking a harder look at it over the summer. Either one of those could be possibilities.”
Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.