Consultants map out steps to avoid repeat of testing uproar

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Indiana needs to improve communication between its education leaders, hire more staff and establish committees to guide its student assessment process to prevent a repeat of the "thorny issues" surrounding the length of this year's ISTEP+ exam, two consultants hired by the state say.

A report released Monday by Edward Roeber and William Auty also recommends that the state look closely at this year's test, particularly the language arts section, to further reduce testing time and ensure that the issues surrounding this year's test are a one-time occurrence.

The recommendations stem from an uproar over changes to this year's ISTEP+ exam that more than doubled the amount of time students in grades 3 to 8 were expected to spend on the test.

The high-stakes assessment was revised to align with new state academic standards crafted after Indiana abandoned the national Common Core standards last spring. The state had hoped to use this year as a transition, but the U.S. Department of Education ordered a fully operational test be administered this year.

That led to a test that also was serving as a pilot exam for future years and increased the testing time to about 12 hours.

Calling that unacceptable, Gov. Mike Pence hired Roeber and Auty to work with the Department of Education to shorten this year's test and suggest improvements for coming years.

Lawmakers approved steps suggested by the consultants and the Department of Education that shaved about three hours off this year's test. But Roeber and Auty say the state needs to do more to avoid a repeat of the debacle.

"We believe that it is unnecessary to require young children — indeed, any students — to take an assessment of 12 hours in length," they wrote.

Their recommendations include:

— Establishing a technical advisory committee and a standing Indiana assessment advisory committee. The first would consist of people with experience in statistics and assessments and include those who have worked with students who have disabilities or are learning English as a second language. The second would be comprised of people nominated by education groups and could include teachers, administrators, universities, business groups and parents.

— Developing blueprints and test specifications for upcoming versions of the ISTEP+ exam by late fall.

— Seeking outside help and hiring additional staff in the Department of Education to guide the transition if the state decides to switch test vendors.

— Improving communication between the State Board of Education and Department of Education.

— Providing a rationale for the number of reading passages, items and writing prompts included on the language arts portion of the test.

The report says taking these steps could further reduce testing time. But they noted that "even reduced ISTEP+ tests may be longer than those used in the past."

Pence issued a statement praising the duo's efforts.

"Indiana's students, teachers and families deserved no less," he said.

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