By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — With glitches that interrupted exams statewide, students with test anxiety only found more grief, not relief, when they came to school to take the online portion of the ISTEP+ in April. And it wasn’t just students left on edge.
Many schools had to suspend testing for two consecutive days and the test window had to be expanded to accommodate schools’ schedules. Even then, there were concerns for some about whether ISTEP testing would bleed into the End of Course Assessments some junior high and high school students take.
However, educators across Madison County left to wonder whether the interruptions would affect test scores received some positive news Monday.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz announced that the Indiana Department of Education has hired an outside expert, the New Hampshire-based National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment (NCIEA), to determine the validity of those scores.
Ritz said the need for an independent review was crucial given that test results impact teacher pay, school ratings and student placement.
”ISTEP is becoming a higher stakes test all the time,” said John Lord, principal of Maple Ridge Elementary. “Anything we can do to validate scores is positive.”
Across the state and in Madison County, students struggled as computer screens froze and the online system kicked them out of the exam. Nearly 80,000 Indiana students were affected.
Lord said the teachers got students geared up for an exam that failed them for the first few days. It was a “roller coaster ride with kids” — and not the kind of ride that has you screaming for more. Rather, it was the kind that gets stuck on the tracks and makes you wish you’d never gotten on in the first place.
Leora Lashure, who had a third- and sixth-grader in Elwood Community Schools, said there was some “stress and chaos” with the test glitches, causing some concern about the affect on student performance.
Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Felix Chow said the kids have a lot of pressure on them to do well, and that “this fiasco” had a negative impact. To what extent, though, no one can be sure yet.
”A thing like this may seem minor to an adult,” he said, “but (an adult has) no idea the psychological impact on kids.”
Lord added that the glitches were frustrating for teachers who worked hard to motivate and prepare their kids. The problem has also delayed the time frame in which schools receive scores from mid- to late May to mid- to late July —feedback schools like Maple Ridge use to develop school improvement plans.
To determine the validity of the tests taken by students who experienced computer problems, NCIEA will compare student test answers pre- and post-interruption, and review prior-year test scores to statistically determine the validity of this year’s results.
Both Chow and neighboring Daleville Community Schools Superintendent Paul Garrison agreed that Ritz’s decision to bring in a third party was the right one.
”I believe there was enough interruptions into the process that it does raise a legitimate question whether the validity of the test has been compromised through the technology failures that occurred,” Garrison said. “So I think looking at that question is a good thing.”
Indiana was one of at least three states that had major problems with test administrator CTB-McGraw Hill this spring.
This year was the first that the online multiple choice portion of the ISTEP was mandatory for all public schools and private schools on vouchers, and Lord said he hopes CTB-McGraw Hill has fixed all the kinks by next spring.
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