Panel gives recommendations for ISTEP replacement

By Derreck Stahly

INDIANAPOLIS — A panel charged with recommending a replacement for the ISTEP cast a vision Tuesday for a shorter, more efficient standardized test for Hoosier schoolchildren.

The recommendations are designed to address many of the concerns that the public has with the controversial standardized test. The panel has struggled with the question of how to replace ISTEP for seven months.

On Tuesday, the answer to that question started to take shape, though much of the changes are now up to the Indiana General Assembly.

The recommendations the panel endorsed by a 21-2 vote amounted to: “A shorter test, something that hopefully accurately measured the standards, one testing window not two, a chance for Hoosier educators to grade these tests instead of people off Craigslist,” said Nicole Fama, panel chair and Indianapolis Public Schools principal.

The panel encouraged lawmakers to approve a new assessment plan that’s focused on students and provides schools with quicker and more useful results. The panel, whose membership included school leaders and lawmakers, want results within a month of the test’s completion. Currently, schools wait months for results, long after school leaders say the data are useful.  

The push for quick grading could lead the state to build a test reliant on multiple-choice questions.

However, Rep. Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican and chair of the House Education Committee, said the test shouldn’t solely rely on those question types.

“More open-ended response, where kids can actually show how they came to the answer rather than just regurgitating,” Behning said.

Other recommendations laid out in the plan would require the test to be created using an off-the-shelf assessment, rather than starting from scratch.

Students in Grades 3-8 would take assessments in math and English/language arts each year, with science tested in Grades 4 and 6.

High school students would be required to take tests after completing Grade 10 English, Algebra and Biology, and must pass the English and math exams to graduate. That plan reinstates popular end-of-course assessments the state had replaced with a general Grade 10 ISTEP.

Tuesday’s recommendations passed decisively, but outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz criticized the plan.

“Earlier this year, Indiana’s General Assembly said that the time had finally come for an end to the inefficient, expensive, pass-fail, high-stakes ISTEP system,” Ritz said. “The recommendations adopted today will do nothing to shorten the time of the test and will not save Hoosiers any money nor reduce the high-stakes associated with ISTEP.  I will continue to work with Hoosier families and educators to ensure that their voices are heard in the Statehouse and that ISTEP is finally brought to an end.”

The panel was created when lawmakers repealed the ISTEP during the past legislative session. Students were expected to take the new test starting in the 2017-18 school year, but lawmakers are expected to delay the rollout.

Lawmakers will debate the new testing system during the upcoming General Assembly session that begins in January.

Derreck Stahly is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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