INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s new assessment test for students should not be implemented sooner than spring 2019, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said Wednesday.
“To roll it out in 2018 ... we could do it but it might not be pretty,” McCormick told an Indiana Senate education committee. "The spring of 2019 is probably a more realistic goal to do it and to do it well."
The Education and Career Development committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1003, which offers a new test, ILEARN (Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network), as a replacement for the troubled ISTEP. That exam would still be used until ILEARN is implemented.
Since the bill is still in the General Assembly, no vendor has been selected to administer the test.
McCormick also recommended that some end-of-course assessments, or ECAs, be dropped to avoid piling tests up on students in higher grades.
“The layering of test upon test upon test, that’s a concern because now we have middle-schoolers who are still under ISTEP and are also layering on ECAs. The same thing is true at the high school level in some circumstances,” she said.
Teachers typically use course assessments to obtain a snapshot of whether students have progressed in courses.
McCormick, making her first appearance before the committee, recommended keeping assessments optional for English 10, Algebra 1, U.S. history, U.S. government and biology. The bill would have schools administer an end-of-course examination in English/language arts, science and Algebra 1.
The bill is the result of a 23-member panel, consisting mainly of educators, that looked at ISTEP alternatives.
For Grades 3 through 8, McCormick recommended a computer-adaptive option in which questions get more difficult until they reach a level that indicates the student’s instructional knowledge.
The bill leaves open the format for the test, said its author Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis.
A number of educators urged the committee to move student assessment tests away from use for teacher evaluations, as ISTEP has been used. Instead, they included in recommendations use of a rubric system – a checklist – of qualities sought by a school system.
Among those testifying was Jean Russell, the 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year, who served on the ISTEP alternative panel.
“The experts that spoke to our panel all agreed that summative assessment scores were never meant to be used to evaluate teachers, and the original proposal from the panel that was accepted 21-2 included allowing local control within school districts to decide whether or not to use scores when evaluating teachers,” said Russell, a fifth-grade teacher for Southwest Allen County Schools.
Teacher Jessica Carlson of Garrett Middle School urged a change in assessments.
She said a sophomore whom she called Hailey had learning difficulties and tried five times to pass the English 10 graduation exam. Although she could apply for a disability waiver, the teen wanted to pass the test. On the last test, the girl passed the essay portion but failed grade-level questions.
“She cried, knowing she had worked three years to pass a test that she would never pass. … With our current ISTEP-ECA system, it is difficult to create a classroom environment that supports students like Hailey who struggle,” Carlson said.
McCormick noted that some Hoosiers have asked for a pause in ISTEP testing. However, she said that is not an option under federal guidelines.
"We have to provide something," she said.
A delay until 2019 may seem frustrating, she said.
"But I think most folks will understand when you say we have to get this right. I think the biggest concern from teachers, when I hear from them, is the punitive piece that's tied to it. And if we kick that can another year and there's punitive accountability tied to it, it makes them very nervous and that's where they get upset," she said.
"So that's the only piece that I can see that the state would have any flexibility in, to say we want to hold teachers accountable. We want to hold principals and superintendents accountable. That's not the issue. The issue is we want to hold them accountable in a fair and transparent manner and everybody thinks ISTEP isn't that," McCormick said.