The first half of this year’s ISTEP+ got underway Monday with educators reporting no problems, but some parents complained testing puts too much stress on their children, preventing them from learning.

Students in third through eighth grades and high school sophomores across the county are being tested on language arts and math as part of Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress Plus. Grades four and six and sophomores taking biology also are tested in science, and students in fifth and seventh grades will take a social studies test.

Lori Lister, principal of Cortland Elementary School, said testing has been going well so far. She also serves as the testing coordinator for Seymour Community Schools.

“Students are being encouraged to do their best and to show us what they know,” she said.

Brownstown Central Superintendent Greg Walker said students took practice tests last week and also said testing was going smoothly this week.

One of the reasons Lister and Walker don’t expect any problems for the first round of testing is because the majority of students are taking the test the old-fashioned way, using paper and pencils.

Sophomores will test online except when taking the math portion, Lister said.

In past years, there have been issues with students taking the online test that led educators, parents and state officials to question whether the scores were accurate.

ISTEP+ looks to be on its way out, as many agree the test is a flawed way of measuring student performance. Hoosier students have been taking ISTEP since the late 1980s.

State legislators now seem to be on board with ditching the test after the state dropped national Common Core standards, leading to widespread problems with the 2015 ISTEP exam.

Lawmakers recently have used terms like “disaster” and “mess” to describe the 2015 ISTEP exam, which was developed in a matter of months by CTB/McGraw-Hill, a testing vendor the state has since fired.

As legislation to eliminate the ISTEP moves forward, what remains to be determined is how students will be tested in the future, how to ensure a replacement exam will be fair and what impact the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act will have.

The test might be eliminated as early as July 2017.

“We test too much in Indiana, and we ought to let our teachers teach,” Gov. Mike Pence told The Associated Press.

Schools have until March 11 to finish current ISTEP testing, including makeup tests for students who are absent. Each portion of the test generally lasts around 35 to 40 minutes with the English/language arts test lasting one hour.

Some schools have organized theme days this year to help take away some of the stress of testing.

Students at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School are being encouraged to wear silly socks this week as a way to “sock it to the test,” and Seymour-Redding and Seymour-Jackson conducted convocations last week to get students excited about passing the exam.

Parents can help students be ready to take ISTEP+ each day by making sure their children are getting a good amount of sleep at night and are eating breakfast in the morning. Lister also said parents should just encourage kids to do their best.

Teachers are helping students keep up their energy by providing healthy snacks for them during testing breaks.

Parent Jenn Phillips said her daughter was very nervous about taking ISTEP this year at first but after Monday felt better about the situation.

“She said it wasn’t bad at all,” Phillips said. “We told her we believe in her and she could do it as long as she stayed focused.”

Karrie Bevers of Seymour said she hates ISTEP week as much as her kids do.

“They stress out so much because they want to do well,” she said. “I try to keep their stress level down by making sure they get a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast in the morning. We try to have low-key nights, and that seems to help, too. Tonight, I plan on having a game night to help them relax.”

After wrapping up the first round of ISTEP+ testing this week, third-graders will begin the IREAD-3 exam next week, and the final round of ISTEP+ will be from April 18 to May 6.

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