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Senate passes bill calling for ISTEP study panel

February 23, 2016

The Indiana Senate approved a measure on Tuesday that could ultimately lead lawmakers to ditch the state's troubled ISTEP standardized student exam.

A measure passed on a 38-10 vote would create a 22-member panel to "study alternatives to the ISTEP" and "make recommendations for replacing" the test.

"I think we need to put our ISTEP in our review mirror as soon as we can," GOP Senate leader David Long said last week. "The test is damaged goods in my eyes and a lot of other peoples' eyes and we need to move on from it."

The measure approved by the Senate is dramatically different from an earlier version of the bill that was approved by the House. That earlier version, sponsored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, would have allowed the State Board of Education to rescore the 2015 ISTEP exam, which was plagued by glitches. But the Senate overhauled the bill after a cost estimate indicated a re-score could cost the state $10 million or more.

"We could chase our tails on that forever," Long said. "A re-score is expensive and I don't know that it achieves much."

The 2015 ISTEP test, which was a revamped version of the exam featuring Indiana-specific academic standards, was hastily rolled out after lawmakers dropped national Common Core math and English standards. Students across the state bombed on the test, with scores dropping roughly 20 percent when compared to the previous year.

But even before the test was given, educators balked at its initial length, saying it would take a staggering 12 hours to complete. That led the GOP-controlled Legislature to pass a bill early last year shortening the exam.

Some students who later took it online still reported computer glitches, which were found to have an impact on their performance. And others have raised questions about whether the test was scored properly or even an accurate assessment—leading Behning to propose a re-score.

That's created a headache for GOP lawmakers and Gov. Mike Pence, who oversaw many of the changes made to the state's education system in recent years. Earlier this legislative session lawmakers rushed through two bills blocking student performance on the 2015 ISTEP from being used to determine teacher merit pay or negatively affecting school A-F grades, which Pence quickly signed.

Last week Pence said the recent repeal of the national No Child Left Behind education law allows all states to reconsider their testing policies. Now is an ideal time to "reconsider the ISTEP test and take a step back" to look for "ways we can do testing better" the Republican governor said, adding: "We test too much in Indiana and we ought to let our teachers teach."

Because the bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday was substantially changed, it must go back to the House for approval before it can be sent to Pence's desk.

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