ISTEP: Practice makes perfect?


Changes to this year’s ISTEP+ test mean Hoosier schools will be taking more time out to practice.

Instead of spending 20 minutes to an hour taking a practice test, third- through eighth-graders will be required to take three to four hours to practice.

While some local administrators say this is more time away from regular curriculum, they realize the practice test helps the students be better prepared.

“Given the circumstances of the new college and career readiness standards and technology-enhanced questions this year, I’ll take the practice,” Crothersville Elementary School Principal Chris Marshall said. “I personally believe it’s advantageous for us.”

Tom McCool, principal of Brownstown Elementary School, said he was going to meet with staff Thursday to inform them of the additional time to be spent practicing.

He said the good thing is that not all classes have to do the practice test at the same time.

“The whole thing about the test is to find out what the kids know,” McCool said. “I think it’s just a lot of change in a short period of time, and I think we’re just going to have to do like we have in the past — put the kids at ease and just find out exactly what they know and move from there.”

Medora Junior-Senior High School Principal Chrystal Street said she’s hoping there are no interruptions, such as weather forcing school to close, so the kids get to practice.

“We want to do everything we can to be ready,” Street said.

Schools received an email from the Indiana Department of Education this week telling them about the ISTEP+ practice test changes. Department of education spokesman Daniel Altman said the additional time spent practicing is being required so that students will have more time to get used to the new exam.

The new form of the test is based on Indiana’s new academic standards. Those results will factor into teachers’ annual evaluations, which determine whether they qualify for raises. The state also uses ISTEP+ scores to assess and assign letter grades to schools.

“Because it’s a new test, we wanted to make sure students had plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the rigorous content and the types of questions,” Altman said.

Schools with students taking the applied skills portion of ISTEP+ with paper and pencil have to give the new practice test between Feb. 17 and March 11. Schools giving the applied skills portion of ISTEP+ online have between Feb. 17 and March 13 to complete the practice test.

The practice test is broken up into four sections, each lasting 25 minutes to 75 minutes, which cover math and language arts lessons. Fourth- through seventh-graders have a fifth practice test session of about 40 minutes that covers either science or social studies.

The 75-minute sections on the practice test will be longer than any of the sections on the actual ISTEP+ exam, none of which is longer than an hour, according to documents the department of education sent to schools.

Schools are not required to give the practice test for the entire length of each section, so if all students in a class finish early, then the class can move on to another lesson, Altman said. The additional time is necessary to make sure all students are fully prepared for the high-stakes test, he said.

“If it’s going to exist, we’re going to make sure that students and schools are as ready for it as possible,” Altman said.

Earlier this month, schools around the state — including Jackson County — spent an hour trying the online portion of the test to let the testing company, CTB/McGraw-Hill, know if its server could handle the volume without problems. Some schools had students participate, while others just had staff test the school’s computers.

Several schools, however, encountered a variety of issues and either weren’t able to log on or couldn’t complete a test.

The testing company made some improvements, and on Feb. 12, schools will be giving it another try.

Marshall said getting an opportunity to try the online practice test is beneficial to students.

“Normally, I’d be very concerned about the extended time allotted for practice testing based on prior year’s experience,” he said. “But since there’s a lot of new technology-enhanced item types, I don’t mind too much since this will give my students exposure to these new item types.”

Marshall said the last thing he wants is for students to struggle in operating the new online testing system.

“Hopefully, this practice session will give them more confidence in maneuvering in the new system,” he said.

Tom Lange, a reporter for The Daily Journal (Johnson County), a sister newspaper to The Tribune, contributed to this story.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Here are the windows for the practice ISTEP+ exam:

Feb. 17 to March 11: Schools using the paper-and-pencil applied skills portion

Feb. 17 to March 13: Schools using the online applied skills portion

Here are the windows for the actual ISTEP+ exams:

March 2 to 11: Paper-and-pencil applied skills portion

March 2 to 13: Online applied skills portion

April 27 to May 15: Online technology-enhanced portion


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