ISTEP replacement panel divided over offering specific plan

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The leader of a state committee reviewing how to replace Indiana's much-maligned ISTEP test is hesitant to make specific recommendations, something other members of the committee say is exactly what's needed.

The board has a couple of weeks left to tell state legislators how best to revamp the standardized exams, which are taken by more than 400,000 students a year at various grade levels. The Republican-dominated Legislature voted this year to mandate that the ISTEP test be replaced for the 2017-18 school year, but lawmakers have said that deadline will likely be postponed because of the difficulty of having new exams ready in time.

Committee chairwoman Nicole Fama, a principal in the Indianapolis Public Schools district, told members Tuesday she would work with their suggestions and draft a proposal ahead of the final meeting Nov. 29.

"Our recommendations are going to be very broad," Fama said. "From what I understand, this is just the first step of the process."

Committee member Wendy Robinson, superintendent of the Fort Wayne Community Schools, said she wanted to know the cost for some of the proposals and other details, adding: "Generalities are not enough."

Committee members discussed goals, such as shorter tests with quicker results and decoupling teacher evaluations from student exam scores. Parents and teachers blasted the exam last year after testing time jumped by several hours and schools faced months of waiting to receive scores from the company hired by the state to prepare and grade the tests.

Scot Croner, a committee member and Blackford County schools superintendent, said he believed the panel should give clear direction.

"I've had conversations with my local legislators," Croner said. "They want specifics. They want a detailed plan."

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, who chairs the chamber's education committee, said lawmakers won't have the time or experience to review the testing details that the committee has had over the past seven months.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who lost her re-election bid last week, said she worried the process was heading toward inadequate changes.

"We cannot leave this committee and have a longer test, a more costly test," Ritz said. "Parents will be outraged."

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