The Washington Times-Herald

September 19, 2013

ISTEP scores released after months-long delay

By Maureen Hayden CNHI Statehouse Bureau
The Washington Times-Herald

---- — INDIANAPOLIS – The much-delayed ISTEP+ scores that were released publicly Wednesday show continued improvement by students statewide on the standardized tests that measure proficiency the core subjects of math and English.

The results, released by the Indiana Department of Education, show 79.5 percent of students passed the English portion of the test and 82.7 percent passed the math portion. Statewide, 73.5 percent of students passed both sections of the test. The numbers show a small improvement over last year, when 79.4 percent of students passed English and 81.2 percent passed math. In 2012, about 73 percent passed both portions of the ISTEP test, up from about 71 percent in 2011.

The test is given in the late spring to students in grades 3 through 8 and also to high school sophomores.

Release of the standardized test results was delayed by more than three months, due to a series of events related to computer glitches that disrupted the online test-taking in late April and early May. About 80,000 of the 482,000 students who took the test were kicked offline at some point during the test, triggering protests from schools that feared the computer disruptions would result in poorer test scores. An independent review ordered by the Department of Education later showed “no negative impact” overall on student test scores, though about 1,400 test results may be thrown out.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz released the scores to the public Wednesday, with a statement acknowledging the problems that caused their delay.

“First, I want to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of Indiana students, parents, educators, administrators and the employees of the Department of Education for their efforts during the administration of this test,” Ritz said. “Despite considerable difficulties, our students improved their overall performance yet again, and deserve our congratulations.”

Ritz has been a tough critic of ISTEP, in part because of the high stakes associated with the test results. The scores earned by students are used to determine a wide range of other factors, including teacher pay, school funding, and the A-F school rating system.

The data released Wednesday show a wide range of results for individual schools; while some schools saw more than 90 percent of their students pass ISTEP, there were some schools that saw only about one-third of their students pass the test.

The numbers released Wednesday are still considered preliminary and won’t be finalized until after students and parents have the opportunity to request a re-evaluation of how the “applied skills” portion of the test was scored, according to DOE officials. Also, the results of the new science portion of the test aren’t expected to be released until late October.

The test results have come under close scrutiny by DOE officials since the computer problems threw a wrench into the test taking last spring. Ritz opted to delay release of the test scores until after they were reviewed by Richard Hill, director of the New Hampshire-based National Center for the Improvement of Education Assessment.

Hill looked at more than 79,000 tests that had been interrupted, and has recommended that nearly 1,400 scores be thrown out. But Hill also concluded that overall, the widespread testing interruptions appeared to have minimal impact on most student test scores.

Meanwhile, the DOE has requested $613,600 in damages from the online testing company, CTB/McGraw-Hill. The company has apologized for the computer problems during the ISTEP testing window and blamed the problems on computer servers that were overloaded by too many test-takers.