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Report: 'No evidence' that ISTEP software glitch hurt scores

December 23, 2015

Investigators found no evidence that students were given incorrect lower scores on this spring’s high-stakes ISTEP exam as the result of scoring malfunctions, according to a report released Wednesday by the Indiana Department of Education.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s office charged a group of test experts with determining whether a software glitch caused testing company CTB McGraw-Hill to erroneously assign lower scores to students’ writing tests. An anonymous tipster had warned about the potential problem with the test, also known as ISTEP+.

But after comparing scores and other analyses, the investigators found “no evidence of changes in student scores on the writing section of the ISTEP+.”

““I am pleased that independent assessment experts found no evidence that the scoring process used by CTB McGraw-Hill negatively impacted student scores,” Ritz said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, due to the high-stakes nature of the ISTEP+ assessment, any doubt about testing validity causes a ripple effect through our schools and our communities.”

The so-called glitch related to how scorers for CTB McGraw-Hill electronically entered student scores for sections of the test. According to the tipster, scores entered too quickly on keypads could be assigned to the wrong section. 

CTB McGraw-Hill officials downplayed the problem as "very rare" and "anomalous." According to a timeline assembled in the investigation, the keypad issue was first reported internally on April 22—about two weeks after scoring began—and that supervisors took quick action to avoid it. A software update on May 1 eliminated the use of keypads.

But according to The Indianapolis Star, which first reported the issue, seven supervisors at the company said they believed the problem was serious and may have impacted thousands of test scores.

The investigation's conclusion comes as legislators and teachers push for changes to ISTEP, including the possibility of getting rid of it altogether in favor of another exam.

The most recent test was expected to yield lower scores because of harder items that correspond to Indiana’s new “college- and career-ready” academic standards. Public disclosure of the scores has been delayed several months due to issues with scoring particular technology-enhanced questions.

Gov. Mike Pence has already said he doesn’t believe teachers should miss out on pay raises that are attached to the scores via the state’s accountability system.

But Ritz has pushed for further clemency from accountability. She said the results of the investigation don’t change that.

“I still firmly believe that the 2015 ISTEP+ results should not be used to penalize teachers or schools,” Ritz said. “Now more than ever, it is imperative that Indiana legislative and education leadership support a hold harmless approach for our teachers and our schools.”

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