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Some schools affected by flawed ISTEP exam question

March 4, 2016

Some schools are being affected by a flawed question on Indiana's standardized ISTEP student exam, which began Monday with a portion in which students answer open-ended questions.

In an alert to schools regarding information flagged as "extremely important," the Indiana Department of Education told schools Wednesday that a question on the sixth-grade math test could confuse students and cause issues with scoring, The Indianapolis Star reported. The state decided Thursday that the question wouldn't be included in a students' scores.

The flaw only affected schools that give the first round of the ISTEP by paper and whose students had already done that part of the test. Students will still take the test question, but it won't count toward their scores.

At Greenwood Schools, the testing coordinator and two other administrators reviewed about 250 test booklets before the state muted the impact of the test question.

"Needless to say, it took an immense amount of time from three administrators. There have been mistakes before, but in my memory, none that were quite so immediately found that required attention from the schools prior to sending in the tests," said Rebecca Rinehart, the district's technology director.

Problems with the test are a normal part of the process, according to administrators, but issues with the question were more serious because of the impact it could have on the results.

Cari Whicker, a State Board of Education member and sixth-grade teacher in Huntington, said she had issues with the test question when her students took the exam this week.

"It appears the Department of Education and its testing vendor caught the problem and told schools how to correct it, but I wonder why they couldn't fix these issues before they end up in the hands of teachers and students in the classroom," Whicker said in a written statement.

The problem with the test question follows the department's decision to cut ties with its longtime testing vendor, CTB/McGraw Hill, and to hire Pearson Education to administer the ISTEP this year and in 2017.

As of Wednesday, Pearson had "administered nearly 117,000 successful ISTEP tests, with no major problems reported and low call volume," according to company spokesman Scott Overland.

The Department of Education also alerted schools about a typo in a question on the sixth-grade science test, but said the typo "does not impact the answer."

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