Scrapping ISTEP results draws support

Local educators and parents support a proposal to scrap last spring’s ISTEP+ scores.

The idea is being discussed by state legislators.

Due to ongoing problems with getting the tests graded and accurate scores and data back to the schools, superintendents say the information will be useless.

The Indiana Department of Education has said the scores could be released in December, about eight months after students took the test and four months into the new school year.

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“Here we are, sitting in September, and we still don’t have last year’s scores,” said Greg Walker, superintendent of Brownstown Central Community School Corp.

Walker said “freezing” the scores for a year along with the state’s A-F school accountability grades, which are based on ISTEP+ performance, is the only fair solution.

Typically, schools have their test scores before the start of the school year and use the information to place students and to create the state’s required school improvement plans.

Those plans are now due in March, two months before the end of the school year.

“We need the data from those test scores,” Walker said. “That’s what drives your plans and shows you where you need to improve.”

The test scores and school accountability grades also factor into teacher evaluations and help determine pay raises.

Walker said the public doesn’t really know what goes into the accountability grades.

“It gives schools a negative identity when that’s not a true representation of the school,” he said.

Walker said he isn’t opposed to testing because schools need to be held accountable. But so does the state, he added.

“They need to get their act together,” he said. “If we are going to be held accountable, then they need to get us our results so we can figure out what we need to do. They don’t need to hold schools accountable for a flawed testing system.”

There has been some talk among state leaders of going to a different “off-the-shelf” test this year to save money.

Walker said he would be OK with that move as long as the test lined up with state standards.

The real problem is that there is too much politics in education today, Walker added.

“It’s not a place for it,” he said.

Seymour Community School Corp. Superintendent Rob Hooker said there’s no reason the schools shouldn’t have their ISTEP results back by now and that the state needs to toss out the scores.

“I think they should scrap them and start all over,” he said. “I’m puzzled by the fact that with computerization why we can’t have test scores back sooner. It’s maddening that we are waiting for scores from last year.”

Hooker said the state should switch to end-of-course assessments at all grade levels instead of ISTEP to evaluate students’ academic progress.

“The end-of-course assessments work instead of testing all students and then creating a score to compare with other groups of kids,” he said. “What needs to end is this continuing debacle of paying an overseas testing company to cause us this much stress because it comes down on our students. It’s unwanted and unnecessary, and I don’t know why the state board of education allows it to continue.”

Bonnye Good of Seymour, who home-schools her children, said there are alternatives to ISTEP that the state could use. She recently administered a standardized test called Terra Nova, formerly known as the California Achievement Test 6, to her oldest son.

“They didn’t want us to teach to the test and instead to just allow the test to measure what the child has learned,” she said.

After completing the test in July, Good said, she had results back in less than a week for just $40.

“I was able to see objective measurements and was pleased,” she said. “I think a lot of us feel ISTEP, and the weeks of preparation, removal of teacher-led extracurricular activities, stress, computer issues during the test and obscenely long wait times for scores, are not worth the hassle and negatively affect the kids and teachers.”

Good’s son attended public school in Seymour before the family decided to home-school.

“I wish that the schools could find something that provided a positive experience rather than the current one,” she said of testing.

Parent Chris Kaufman of Seymour doesn’t think schools need to rely on testing and that government shouldn’t be so involved in education.

“We should steer away from ISTEP, and there is no test in the world that can hold students and teachers accountable,” he said. “Students should be held accountable by their parents, and teachers need the government to leave them alone so they can make a difference in the lives of our children and make learning fun again.”