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Board delays vote on setting ISTEP passing rate

October 14, 2015
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The Indiana State Board of Education put off a decision Wednesday on setting the pass-fail levels for the ISTEP standardized exam because of questions over potential differences in difficulty between the test's online and paper versions.

Board members were told that a committee of educators didn't have information on the test differences when it developed proposed passing marks earlier this month for the tests, which were the first to be given under the state's new, more difficult standards.

It isn't clear when the pass-fail levels will be set. But it will mean results from this spring's tests — taken by more than 400,000 students in grades three through eight — will be delayed again.

They already were pushed back until at least mid-December because of struggles by the outside testing company to finish grading those exams. In contrast, the Department of Education released statewide and local results for the spring 2014 ISTEP exam in August of last year.

Teachers and administrators have told Avon elementary teacher and board member Sarah O'Brien they are worried about differing results between this year's online and paper tests and asked whether different cutoff scores were needed for the passing marks.

"Those are the kind of answers that I personally need to have fully verified before I can move forward with a vote for one cut score," O'Brien said. "Right now, I don't have that level of confidence."

The proposal would have seen about 65 percent of students pass the test's language arts section, with about 59 percent passing the math section. More than 80 percent of students passed each part of the 2014 exam.

The ISTEP exam has been much-maligned in the past couple years due to big jumps in the hours of testing time needed and widespread disruptions as thousands of students were kicked off their online exams.

Democratic state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz has warned in recent months of many more students failing this year's ISTEP exam because of the new state standards, which were created after Republican legislators and GOP Gov. Mike Pence withdrew Indiana from the national Common Core standards last year.

Ritz said the Department of Education would work as quickly as possible with testing company CTB/McGraw-Hill to clarify any scoring adjustments needed between the online and paper tests.

"We will adjust what we need to be doing," she said.

The delay in test results not only shortens the time that teachers have information about how their students performed, but also pushes back calculation of A-F performance grades for schools and the awarding of merit pay increases for many teachers.

Some members of the education board, which is dominated by Pence's appointees, pointed blame at Ritz and her staff for the latest problem, saying they didn't receive a report about it until Tuesday night.

Board member Gordon Hendry called the new delay a "self-inflicted wound."

"This was very avoidable ... if the information had been delivered when it should have," Hendry said.

Board spokesman Marc Lotter said the board is scheduled to hold a special meeting Oct. 28 to address new high school diploma proposals and could take up the issue at that time.

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