Update: No Changes Planned In I-STEP+ Exam

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February 11, 2015 —

INDIANAPOLIS – The Department of Education intends to move forward with the ISTEP exam as it’s currently scheduled despite action by Gov. Mike Pence to try to shorten the length of time students will spend taking it.

Any effort to reduce the length of the test would likely require legislation, something that would be difficult to accomplish with less than three weeks until the testing window opens, said Deputy Superintendent Danielle Shockey.

And Shockey said the governor’s efforts to try to make last minute changes has caused “massive confusion” among parents and school leaders. And she said it could cost the state money because the DOE already has a contract to provide the test as written.

“We are planning to move forward with ISTEP as planned,” she said. “That’s the expectation of the state and federal government.”

But Pence is now spending $11,000 – essentially $1,000 per day – on an outside consultant who will recommend ways to shorten this the ISTEP exam, which is projected to double in length.

Pence has hired Edward Roeber of Michigan, who specializes in large-scale educational assessments, to make suggestions to state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and CTB/McGraw-Hill, the company developing the exam. He’ll pay Roeber another $11,000 for advice leading to the 2016 test.

The governor said in a letter to Ritz that “doubling the length of the 2015 ISTEP+ test is unacceptable and requires an immediate solution.”

But neither Ritz nor the CTB will be required to implement Roeber’s suggestions, although both said they will cooperate with the study.

No one is “less in favor of testing and high stakes testing than Glenda Ritz,” said Daniel Altman, a spokesman for the superintendent and the Department of Education she oversees. In fact, Ritz’s opposition to standardized testing was a big part of her 2012 campaign, in which she unseated Republican Tony Bennett.

“This is obviously an issue near and dear to her heart,” Altman said. “It’s incredibly important to her.”

But Shockey said that this spring’s ISTEP test – which will range in total length, over several sessions, from 11 hours and 15 minutes for eighth graders to 12 hours and 30 minutes for third graders – is long for good reasons. Those include federal requirements and changes in state standards and assessments that were mandated by the Indiana General Assembly.

She said the state is in a transition year that requires a longer test – but one that’s still shorter than the ISTEP exam given the last time the state changed its standards and testing program.

Shockey said neither State Board of Education members nor the governor should be acting so surprised by the increased test length. Last August, the president of CTB/McGraw-Hill presented statistics to the board – which the governor appoints and at that time staffed – that showed the number of questions on the test would increase substantially.

In an announcement Monday, the governor repeatedly accused Ritz and the education department of failing to notify anyone that the test would be lengthened or that it would include substantially more test questions. Altman said Tuesday those comments were “either politically malicious or a serious sign of staff incompetence.”

Neither Pence nor Ritz had directly reached out to the other to try to find a compromise on the testing issue, save the letter Pence sent to the superintendent announcing who he’d hired to make recommendations about the exam. But Ritz was scheduling a special meeting of the State Board of Education to talk about the issue.

Altman said the department is preparing recommendations that could lead to a shorter test – such as eliminating social studies questions that the governor on Monday criticized – but said the changes would require legislative approval.

But an agenda released late Tuesday included a proposal from Ritz for a one-year pause in the state’s A-F grading system that is based largely on ISTEP results. Her staff did not mention that proposal during a meeting of more than one hour with reporters.

And the proposal comes just one day after Pence accused Ritz of a thinly unveiled effort to freeze the A-F accountability system. He said Ritz had proposed a similar move in a private meeting with him just one week before.

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