ANDERSON — As the Indiana Department of Education released ISTEP+ scores in November and school grades earlier this month, some local superintendents expressed a preference for the Northwest Evaluation Association test over the state’s standardized testing instrument.

“NWEA would be a much more viable solution to measure the progress of our Liberty students," said Dr. Jay McCurry, superintendent at Liberty Christian School. "It is a reliable, efficient, timely and actually effective tool, none of which describes the ISTEP+ assessment.

“I do prefer NWEA. It offers really tangible, and easy to use reporting. Each of our Liberty teachers would be able to quickly and easily group their students and better understand what each students needs are. Right now with ISTEP+ we have to wait months just to get results; at that point the students have moved on and it is too late in many cases to help the students in a timely manner.”

So what’s the difference?

The NWEA is what is known as a formative assessment given in the fall, winter and spring to measure student progress and growth so teachers can make decisions about instruction. This, some superintendents say, is the true reason standardized tests should be given.

The ISTEP+, however, is what is known as a year-end summative assessment intended to measure a student’s progress against the Indiana Academic Standards. It is necessary to help school districts remain compliant with state law.

What the superintendents call an “off-the-shelf" test couldn’t accomplish that because it likely would not be aligned with the Indiana standards.

The downside, some superintendents said, is that student performance as measured by ISTEP+ is used to reward teachers financially, and some teachers might be inclined to teach to the test, rather than provide a rich and varied curriculum.

“NWEA is not a ‘high stakes’ test, and it does not take as long to administer,” said Joe Buck, superintendent at South Madison School Corp. “NWEA gives immediate feedback, and the measurement of student growth over time in the subjects of reading, language arts and math provides valuable information to students, parents, and teachers.”

Daleville Superintendent Paul Garrison said his district uses NWEA, and he would like to see it replace ISTEP+ where possible.

“Those in favor of ISTEP+ want a test that can be used to grade schools as a primary use. Many of them don't believe NWEA is suitable for that use,” he said.

Garrison said he also would prefer a test like NWEA because it’s more cost-effective.

“If the individual state standards need more focus, then those concerns could be met with a very small state test focused only on those differences,” he said.

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