A little more than a year ago, lawmakers made the dramatic call to “repeal” the state’s beleaguered ISTEP test without a set alternative.
Friday night, they finally decided on a plan for what should replace it.
Next, the bill will go to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who can sign it into law, let it pass into law without his signature or veto it.
The new test would be used for the first time in 2019, meaning ISTEP still has one more year of life. In the meantime, the Indiana Department of Education will be tasked with developing the new test and finding a vendor. Currently, the state contracts with the British test-writing company Pearson.
House Speaker Brian Bosma said he was very pleased with the compromise, which he thinks could result in a short, more effective test—although many of those details will depend on the final test writer.
However, a number of Democrats, and even some Republicans, expressed frustration with the testing proposal.
“The federal government requires us to take one test,” said Sen. Aaron Freeman, a R-Indianapolis. “Why we continue to add more and more to this, I have no idea.”
For the most part, the test resembles what was recommended by a group of educators, lawmakers and policymakers charged with studying a test replacement. There would be a new year-end test for elementary and middle school students, and high schools would give end-of-course exams in 10th grade English, ninth-grade biology, and algebra I.
An optional end-of-course exam would be added for U.S. government, and the state would be required to test kids in social studies once in fifth or eighth grade.
It’s not clear if the plan still includes state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick’s suggestion to use an elementary and middle school test that would be “computer-adaptive” and adjust difficulty based on students’ answers.
The plan does make potentially significant changes to the state’s graduation requirements. Rather than having ECAs count as the “graduation exam,” the bill would create a number of graduation pathways that the Indiana State Board of Education would flesh out. Options could include the SAT, ACT, industry certifications, or the ASVAB military entrance exam.
Test researchers who have come to speak to Indiana lawmakers have cautioned against such a move, as many of these measures were not designed to determine high school graduation.
While teacher evaluations would still be expected to include test scores in some way, the bill gives some flexibility to districts as to specifically how to incorporate them, said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and the bill’s author.
Currently, law says ISTEP scores must “significantly inform” evaluations, but districts use a wide range of percentages to fit that requirement.
Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.