Education

State Settles With I-STEP Testing Company

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August 7, 2014 — State Impact Indiana’s Rachel Morello reports.

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TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – CTB/McGraw-Hill will provide up to $3.4 million in credits and services to the state and Indiana schools to make up for problems with 2013 ISTEP testing.

In an agreement signed last fall but only made public on Wednesday, the company says it will reduce the cost of its next testing contract with the state by $458,000 and then provide as much as $2.9 million in future in-kind services.

CTB President Ellen Haley said the deal provides Indiana with “significantly more than was required by the contract.”

Superintendent Glenda Ritz inked the deal with CTB/McGraw-Hill in October, about six months after the company’s server problems caused the tests to crash or glitch for roughly 78,000 students. But Ritz never alerted the State Board of Education about the agreement, leading some of its members to cry foul during a board meeting Wednesday.

“I’m stunned,” said Brad Oliver, one of a number of board members who has had a rocky relationship with Ritz since she was elected superintendent in 2012. He said the board, chaired by Ritz, has had conversations about testing and assessments for months that could have incorporated a discussion about the settlement but never did.

“There is a role for the board to play,” Oliver said. “How do we get through whatever this is – this us verses them?”

Tony Walker, a board member from Gary, said he’s not even convinced the proper people signed the contract. It’s “highly questionable if it’s legally binding,” Walker said.

But Ritz said negotiating contracts is something the Department of Education and previous superintendents have always done – without board oversight.

She said elements of the settlement are now being incorporated into CTB/McGraw-Hill’s next contract, which will cover standardized testing for the 2014-15 school year. The education agency is working with a lawyer from the Indiana attorney general’s office on that contract, she said.

The deal calls for CTB to credit the state $400,000 plus another $58,000 to reimburse the Department of Education for hiring an expert to test the validity of the 2013 ISTEP results. That review found that the problems did not have a measurable negative impact on statewide scores. Still, the state invalidated nearly 1,400 scores based on the amount of interruption suffered by students.

The deal also calls for in-kind services of up to $2.9 million, most of which are for services not named in the agreement. Michele Walker, the education department’s director of student assessment, said that will include materials to be used for social studies and science pilot testing.

Also, CTB will give the state more detailed reports to show student achievement by category, in part to help teachers better understand how student achievement changed during the time students were in their classes.

Michelle Walker said the company also plans to conduct three student art workshops at Indiana schools and then sell that art to benefit local schools.

Board member Sara O’Brien said the art program will likely be available only to a small number of schools – while the 2013 testing problems affected hundreds of schools across the state. She questioned whether that’s fair compensation for those schools.

But Walker said the art program is just an add-on to the overall agreement, not a major part of the compensation for problems.

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