McCormick rejects Ritz’s favored ISTEP changes, backs SAT as high school exam

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Jennifer McCormick, a school superintendent from Yorktown running for Indiana superintendent of public instruction, has revealed details of how she’d like to see Indiana’s testing system change.

Democratic state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and McCormick, her Republican challenger, both spoke Friday at an event sponsored by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, an organization that backs public education and has lobbied against private school vouchers and other education reforms in recent years.

Until the event, McCormick had been vague about her positions on some major education policy questions, but she offered more specifics and said her full policy agenda would be revealed after Labor Day.

Her biggest proposal was keeping state tests in grades 3-8 relatively the same as the ISTEP exam but replacing the 10th grade ISTEP test and end-of-course exams for high school students with the SAT college entrance exam instead.

That differs sharply from changes Ritz has been pushing on a state committee charged with overhauling the state’s testing system and submitting a plan to lawmakers by Dec. 1. She wants shorter tests given throughout the school year, culminating in a single score that could be used for state accountability.

Breaking the test up, Ritz says, would give teachers useful information that they can use to ensure students improve and shift the exam away from being what she considers a punitive one-time pass-or-fail snapshot of student learning.

McCormick said doing it that way would would be worse, not better, for students.

“That makes interim (tests) look very different,” McCormick said. “It’s going to be like having three high-stakes tests all year long.”

McCormick said she thinks testing is important to understanding how students are doing, but it shouldn’t be as pervasive and take up as much classroom time as it does today.

She said her plan would be to use a simple “summative” exam for grades 3-8. That’s fairly similar to what Indiana is already doing with its ISTEP exam for elementary and middle school students. Such exams give students a score based on one “snapshot” in time.

For high school, McCormick said she’d like the state to explore using the SAT instead of a 10th-grade test or end-of-course exams in algebra and 10th grade English, which Indiana gives today. Using the college entrance exam could help families by giving students a chance to take a test required for college once for free, she said.

McCormick said she is strongly opposed to tying the state exam to “interim” tests that schools give throughout the year to prepare for ISTEP, such as the Northwest Education Association’s MAP test.

At Friday’s presentation, Ritz said Indiana shouldn’t keep the status quo of a pass/fail test. Her testing vision, which she said she’d detail more fully at the next ISTEP replacement panel meeting on Sept. 13, is bold compared to what lawmakers and other policymakers have so far suggested.

“I want to take advantage of every piece of flexibility we can (under new federal law),” Ritz said.

The future of ISTEP has been heavily debated as of late, especially since the Indiana General Assembly voted last spring to scrap the decades-old ISTEP exam for a better option. The test had been plagued by computer glitches and scoring delays and had long been resented by educators who thought it took too long to administer and wasted too much valuable classroom time.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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