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Indiana asks vendor about possible problems with test scores

December 14, 2015

The Indiana Department of Education asked the company that scores an important standardized test for students in third through eighth grades for the number of test items and schools that may have been affected by a computer malfunction that could have caused results to be inadvertently changed.

Ellen Haley, executive vice president of McGraw-Hill Education CTB, downplayed the problem in a Dec. 8 letter to Indiana Department of Education, saying the issue "was very rare" and "did not affect student scores."

The high-stakes test, known as the ISTEP+, is given in the spring to 500,000 Indiana students. Final results for this past spring haven't been released amid concerns that changes may have led to significant drops in scores. The state Department of Education has said average scores on the math portion of the ISTEP are expected to drop by 24 percentage points, with English scores falling by 16 percentage points.

The ISTEP exam has been heavily criticized in the past couple of years because of large increases in the amount of hours of testing time needed to complete the test and widespread disruptions as thousands of students were kicked off their online exams.

ISTEP scores are a factor schools' annual performance evaluations in which they are given A-F letter grades by the state. The scores also can affect teacher raises.

The Education Department asked CTB to investigate whether a computer malfunction was causing grades to be changed after it received an anonymous letter about the problem, The Indianapolis Star reported. Haley responded that the company's data monitoring and double-checks of some individually scored questions did not indicate an impact on student scores.

"The issue was not a common occurrence, was actually difficult to create in live scoring, and was fixed quickly—both in on-the-floor instructions and then technically in the PEMS software," she wrote. "Based on CTB's quality control tests, there was no need to rescore any tests as a result of the keypad issue."

Education Department spokesman Daniel Altman said he did not want to speculate on the accuracy of the test scores.

"We are going to obviously work with CTB to ensure that every single student gets the score that they earned on the test," Altman said.

CTB is re-scoring tests, a normal part of the process where parents whose students failed can request a review. Such requests doubled this year.

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