ISTEP review panel’s leader says exam is ‘just too long’

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The leader of a new state panel says the committee will be doing a deep analysis to recommend a replacement for Indiana's unpopular ISTEP student exam.

Nicole Fama, the principal of a charter-like Indianapolis school, was appointed by Gov. Mike Pence as chairwoman of the 23-member committee. Other members include Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, legislators and educators from traditional public and charter schools.

The panel will look at all options for a new standardized test starting with the 2017-18 school year, Fama told The Indianapolis Star.

"The test is just too long," she said. "So we want to look for a better option—collectively. I think we want to do right by kids, and we want to do right by teachers."

Committee members are expected to begin meeting this month, Fama said, with the deadline of recommending an alternative test to the General Assembly by December.

Legislators created the panel during this year's session after complaints from parents and educators over the ISTEP exam, which is now taken by students in grades 3-8 and 10.

While Ritz has long called for student testing to be rethought, the idea to scrap the ISTEP did not gain currency until recent months with Pence and legislative Republicans, who have supported school accountability measures that use student scores on the test to determine school grades and help award teacher merit pay.

Fama leads a school that the Indianapolis Public Schools this fall will convert to a setup similar to a charter school where it remains in the district but won't have to follow the district's collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union.

Other committee members say they're worried about deciding on test recommendations by the December deadline.

Those members said they were open to Indiana moving toward an off-the-shelf test as opposed to writing its own standardized exam from scratch. They also want the test to mirror the types of skills that will eventually help students succeed in college admission tests, such as the SAT and ACT.

"I want to make sure we get it done right. I don't want to work for the next five months, six months, and say two years from now that we didn't quite get it right and we need to go back to the drawing board," said Scot Croner, superintendent of Blackford County Schools, who was appointed to the panel by Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma.

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