State panel backs shorter ISTEP exams without saying how

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A state committee suggested Tuesday that shorter tests be selected to replace Indiana's troubled ISTEP student exams without specifying how to reach that goal.

The educator-dominated panel voted 21-2 in favor of recommendations to state legislators that include moving the testing period from its current March and April times into a single time span in May to help stem classroom disruptions caused by the standardized exams now taken by more than 400,000 students a year.

The committee was formed by the General Assembly after it voted earlier this year to mandate that the ISTEP test be replaced for the 2017-18 school year—although it is unlikely a new exam will be ready by then. Lawmakers are expected to consider the testing revamp during their session that starts in January.

House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning, an Indianapolis Republican, said he believed the state would ultimately end up with a different-looking exam but that the current test will probably be used for next school year.

"By pushing it too quickly you're going to end up having problems," he said. "You're better off doing it more deliberatively and making sure you have a quality product in the end."

The ISTEP exams have been plagued by long delays in results and growing time needed for students to take the tests, prompting widespread complaints from parents and educators.

Outgoing state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz voted against the panel's recommendations and objected during Tuesday's meeting about not being allowed to offer changes to the proposal. Committee chairwoman Nicole Fama, a principal in the Indianapolis Public Schools district, described the report as a consensus among the members.

Ritz, a Democrat leaving office in January after losing her re-election bid, said the proposals represented a status quo on testing.

"The recommendations adopted today will do nothing to shorten the time of the test and will not save Hoosiers any money nor reduce the high-stakes associated with ISTEP," Ritz said.

Other recommendations from the panel include calling for testing companies to provide results within a month of the tests and giving local school districts more control over how student test scores will be considered in teacher evaluations. Students in grades 3-8 would face math and language arts exams each year, while fourth- and sixth-graders would also take a science test.

Committee member Wendy Robinson, who is superintendent of the Fort Wayne Community Schools, said she hoped legislators realize that a single exam can't be used to determine the progress of students and also evaluate the performance of teachers and schools.

"Every expert who testified told us we were using ISTEP for too many things, that no one test can do four or five different things," she said.

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