Committee studying how to replace ISTEP holds first meeting

A committee that will study how Indiana should go about replacing the troubled ISTEP exam held its first meeting Tuesday and will face a tight deadline to make formal recommendations to lawmakers before the test is ultimately scrapped in July of next year.

The 23-member study panel, which is comprised of educators, state officials and academics, heard expert testimony during a three-hour hearing at the Statehouse, though it is still a long way from making formal and policy recommendations to the Legislature.

University of Kansas testing expert Marianne Perie said that preparing a well thought-out test should take at least two years.

"This takes time to really design a good assessment" she said.

Lawmakers must move quicker than that, however, because they passed a law this year that will formally end the ISTEP exam next summer.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, declined to comment on whether she felt the Department of Education will have enough time to implement and administer a replacement exam. Her administration has previously criticized Republican Gov. Mike Pence's state board of education and the GOP-dominated Legislature for forcing major policy changes with limited time to enact them.

"We'll have a better idea about the time frame that we might need when we actually get to the purpose of the test and the vision of the test," said Ritz, who is on the committee. "Once we get to that point, the department … will start weighing in."

The committee is tasked with finding ways to reduce the amount of time students spend taking standardized tests and decreasing the cost of administering them. But they are also being asked to evaluate ways to increase the fairness of testing to students, teachers and schools. Another consideration for the panel is figuring out the impact the newly approved federal Every Student Succeeds Act will have on education in Indiana. The law replaces the No Child Left Behind law that was put in place more than a decade ago by former President George W. Bush.

Perie told the committee that it will be difficult to adopt one single test that accomplishes all of lawmakers' goals while also accurately measuring improvements made not only by students, but also by schools and teachers, who are awarded merit pay based on student performance. A test that accomplishes all lawmakers want would likely take a long time for students to take, she said.

The committee was created this year after lawmakers increasingly faced backlash for sweeping education policy changes that have been brought about during Republican rule in the Legislature and governor's office.

Those decisions, including a hasty withdrawal from the national Common Core standards, now pose a political liability because parents and educators have become increasingly weary of high-stakes testing as well as the rapid changes. Student ISTEP scores plummeted about 20 percent in 2015 when compared to the previous year due in part to a hastily rolled out test that was based on Indiana-specific standards for math and science that were adopted after the state dumped Common Core.

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