Senate education chief expects delay for ISTEP replacement

 A replacement for the ISTEP exam won't likely be in place for at least a year or two, despite a prior promise by the GOP-controlled Legislature to replace the much-maligned test by next school year.

Though lawmakers voted last year to repeal the exam, the Legislature is expected to extend the life of the current test so that a new version can be written and thoroughly vetted before it's administered, the education chief of the state senate said Tuesday.

Sen. Dennis Kruse said that in order for the state to "do it right this time," the new exam needs time for preparation and testing. Educators have "rightfully" said that the current version was not properly vetted, the Auburn Republican added.

"It looks like we're going to have to keep the test that we have now for another year or two," Kruse said. "It takes a couple years to develop a new test and we want to do it right this time."

The 2015 ISTEP exam ran into a litany of troubles after GOP leaders in the Statehouse dropped national Common Core standards and rushed to draft new state-specific benchmarks in 2014. Common Core, which established standards for what students should know after completing each grade, came under fire on the national level when some conservatives said the benchmarks amounted to a federal takeover of education.

Since lawmakers adopted state-specific standards, critics have described recent tests as too time-consuming for students and disruptive for teachers, sometimes including technological glitches and long waits for grading results.

The exam, which has been administered to Indiana students in some form since the late 1980s, is used to measure student performance and can factor into school and district grades, as well as teacher performance pay. Many teachers and educators have had reservations about the exam.

Teresa Meredith, the president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, expressed frustration at the delay, but not surprise at the extended timeline.

"We're really tired of so much focus on standardized testing, when we want to focus on teaching and learning again," Meredith said. "I'd say we're anxious for some stability."

Lawmakers said Tuesday that a new version would ideally be simpler, be administered later in the school year and include a tighter turnaround on grading.

They proposed a one-month deadline for results and an administration date in May. Additionally, they suggested prioritizing individuals with a teaching degree when selecting exam graders.

Plus, Kruse added, lawmakers may vote to change the name of the exam — regardless of whether the exam itself changes.

"The test is flawed and I would not agree that it doesn't have problems. It has a lot of problems," said Republican Senate Leader David Long, of Fort Wayne. "And that's why we're going to try to fix it."

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