The Washington Times-Herald

July 30, 2013

Report: ISTEP scores not affected by computer issues

By Maureen Hayden CNHI Statehouse Bureau
The Washington Times-Herald

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Computer problems that plagued the ISTEP+ assessment test this past spring showed “no negative impact on student scores” for the vast majority of Indiana schoolchildren who took the test, according to a third-party consultant hired by the Indiana Department of Education.

The analysis of test results by Richard Hill, director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, show ISTEP scores went up overall, despite computer interruptions that affected about 80,000 students. And Hill also found this unexpected result: The students who were interrupted in their online test-taking had somewhat larger gains over past years than those who were not interrupted.

Hill’s conclusions, released today, run counter to what Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz had anticipated, when she ordered the ISTEP analysis in May, fearing student test scores would be negatively impacted by computer problems originating with the testing company, CTB McGraw Hill.

In a statement accompanying the report, Ritz insisted that Hill’s findings don’t “mitigate the effect the interruptions had on students, parents and teachers throughout Indiana.”

Because of that, she said, she’s sticking by an earlier decision to let local school districts decide how much weight to give to the high-stakes test when determining teacher evaluations and compensation.

“I have spent the last several months talking with Hoosiers about the impact these interruptions had in the classroom,” Ritz said her statement. “Although Dr. Hill’s report found that the statewide average score was not affected by the interruptions, there is no doubt that thousands of Hoosier students were affected. As Dr. Hill stated in his report, ‘We cannot know definitively how students would have scored this spring if the interruptions had not happened.’”

That decision by Ritz, a Democrat who’s been critical of the use of ISTEP scores in teacher evaluations, didn’t sit well with Republican House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning of Indianapolis.

Behning has previously said that Ritz should have waited until the ISTEP analysis was completed. “Now it appears she mis-shot,” Behning said.

The ISTEP report was scheduled to be presented today to the legislative Education Commission. The analysis cost about $50,000 and will likely be covered by a financial penalty to be paid by the testing company, CTB McGraw-Hill.

Ritz said the state DOE is conducting “an ongoing negotiation regarding settlement with CTB McGraw-Hill.”

Individual ISTEP results have yet to distributed to students and schools. Ritz said the DOE is now processing ISTEP student results to be available online to parents and students.

About one-sixth of students taking the ISTEP test online were forced offline during the testing period in April and May because of inadequate computer memory. Most students were able resume taking the test within a few minutes.

In his analysis, Hill credited teachers and students for recovering quickly from whatever stress the interruptions may have caused.

“Although no data were collected that would confirm this hypothesis, it seems most plausible that the response to the interruptions, by both students and school personnel, was enough to overcome the potential problems created by the interruptions,” Hill wrote in his report. “Students apparently worked as diligently on the tests as they would have if they hadn’t been interrupted, and school personnel apparently minimized the impact of the interruptions on students’ testing experiences.”