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Ritz objects to ISTEP re-score measure proposed by GOP

January 19, 2016

Whether the 2015 ISTEP should be re-scored due to well-documented problems with the roll-out and administration of the exam is once again pitting GOP leaders in the Legislature against Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, whose administration says there is no evidence supporting the need for such a step.

"We don't have any data that says that it's needed," Ritz spokesman Daniel Altman said Tuesday, noting state estimates show a re-score could cost millions of dollars. "That's a lot of money that you are talking about for something that the data shows us is not needed at this time."

Republicans, including House Education committee Chairman Bob Behning, have said the handling of the 2015 exam was a "disaster" that led the state to sever ties with testing company CTB/McGraw-Hill after the release of student scores was delayed for months and disparities were found between the paper and online versions of the test. But Behning and other Republicans also question Ritz's oversight of the company and say something should be done to establish the legitimacy of the test, which underwent an overhaul before 2015 that made it more difficult.

They say a re-score is important because the test will be used as a baseline to judge future student performance.

"Obviously, we had significant problems," said Behning, of Indianapolis, who thinks that despite the issues, the underlying test was not flawed. "I think the big problem was implementation." He has filed a bill calling for a re-score.

Altman says Ritz's administration worked to address problems with the test, even going so far as to have an outside consultant review it for irregularities. He said the review found no significant problems with the way the test was scored.

The call for a re-score is the latest proposal put forth by Republicans, including Gov. Mike Pence, to address problems that they played a significant role in creating.

The 2015 exam was hastily rolled out on a shortened timeline after GOP lawmakers in 2014 scrapped the state's participation in national Common Core standards, which had drawn fierce backlash from conservative critics across the country who said they amounted to a federal takeover of education.

This session, both chambers of the Legislature have fast-tracked measures that would give teachers and schools a one-year reprieve from being penalized for poor student performance after scores on the 2015 test plummeted by 20 points with just over half the students who took it passing. School A-F letter grades, as well as teacher merit pay, are determined at least partially by student ISTEP performance.

Democrats on Tuesday sought to capitalize on the issue when one of the measures was up for debate.

"Even the most staunch testing zealots are starting to come to their senses about the hazards associated with a system that simply places too much of an emphasis on the passage of this particular test," said state Rep. Terry Goodin, a Democrat from Anderson who is also a rural school superintendent.

But Behning said Republicans are well aware of the problems that have emerged and are working in good faith to find a fix.

"If everything we did was right from the very beginning, why would we need to come back?" Behning said, referring to the annual legislative session.

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