State Impact Indiana: I-STEP Scores Drama

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July 30, 2013 — The story of Indiana’s troubled online ISTEP exams took a big step toward a conclusion this week.  A testing expert said Monday widespread computer problems on the exam website didn’t harm most students scores.  As StateImpact Indiana’s Kyle Stokes reports, the expert’s finding paves the way for state officials to use the scores in rating systems for schools and teachers:
By now, you probably know the story of this spring’s ISTEP exams:
Stevens: “It said there’s something wrong with your login. Your login, like, failed.”
But just in case — quick summary:
Stevens: “I’d log on, I’d log off, I’d log in again.” / Gruetzmacher: “We as a corporation suspended the testing.” / Stevens: “Most of the times, it didn’t even let me do barely even one question.” / Himsel: “The answer that he marked was not the answer the earphones reported back.” / Stevens: “So we just stopped…” / Himsel: “He hit on answer A, and it said that he selected answer B.” / Stevens: “…she didn’t really tell us to, we just got the point, and just stopped.”
This crazy story of Indiana’s 2013 ISTEP exam, at least for most students, is really just that:  a crazy story — “That one year where testing company server problems disrupted at least 79-thousand Indiana students’ exams.”  Kids’ individual grades don’t ride on the ISTEP results.  That’s not so for adults in Indiana schools; for them, the story’s still unresolved.  The state uses ISTEP scores to decide which schools get A’s and which get F’s.  At the district level:
Ritz: “This is the first year we are tying student test scores to teacher evaluation.”
State superintendent Glenda Ritz says teachers fear their ratings might hang on scores from disrupted tests.
Ritz: “That’s when you have individual student scores that could make a big impact on somebody’s pay, somebody’s evaluation.”
NAT SND “In preparation to begin here today, is Dr. Hill in the Senate Chambers”?
That’s what was at stake Monday, when the testing expert state education officials hired to review the ISTEP data unveiled his findings for lawmakers at the Statehouse:
Hill: “Students scored about as well as they would have done had no interruptions occurred. That may come as a surprise to many.”
The Center for Assessment’s Richard Hill reviewed data from the disrupted ISTEP exam at the student level, school level, state level; from interrupted and non-interrupted students.
Hill: “We sliced and diced it a whole bunch of ways. And basically what we found was that, no matter how you sliced it and diced it, all the groups seemed to make about the same amount of gain.”
In fact, Hill’s report even gave a preview of statewide ISTEP scores in each grade.  David Dresslar heads the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning:
Dresslar: “Not only were they not adversely affected by the interruption, they are up besides-which.”
The same thing happened in Wyoming in 2010 — test scores went up despite statewide interruptions on their testing website.  The increase leads Dresslar to say it’s time to move on.
Dresslar: “I think it’s pretty clear the scores are valid and they should be used.”
As for how they’re are used, Ritz says she’s given districts flexibility in using test scores for teacher evaluations.  Democratic State Representative Kreg Battles, a teacher by trade, says even if Hill’s report is solid, there will always be an asterisk by this year’s ISTEP results:
Battles: “If I’m a normal parent, I don’t care what that data shows. I know my kid came home upset. I know my kid’s test was interrupted. I’m always going to believe in my heart of heart, regardless of what that data says, that that kid’s test score was affected.”
Hill says his study isn’t over.  He’ll try to pinpoint students whose score suffered because of a disruption.  But he’s not optimistic he’ll be able to find one:
Hill: “We are truly looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Even if you can prove there was a disruption during a student’s test, Hill says it’s hard to prove that student’s score went down because of it.  If by chance he can, Ritz says that score won’t count against the letter grade for the student’s school.  But despite Hill’s report, Ritz expressed some uneasiness with calculating A-F school ratings using the data — those grades can impact schools long into the future.  But bound by state law, Ritz says Department of Education officials are ready to move forward with the calculations.  “It is what it is,” Ritz told lawmakers on Monday. “I don’t know what to do with [the data], except to use it.”  For StateImpact Indiana, I’m Kyle Stokes.

StateImpact Indiana is a collaboration of WFIU and Indiana Public Broadcasting stations to explain the effects of state education policy on people’s lives.

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