The search for ISTEP’s replacement

By Max Bomber
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS — Now that lawmakers have ditched ISTEP, education leaders are searching for an alternative.

“This is the beginning of a new day in testing in our schools,” Gov. Mike Pence said when he signed the bill eliminating ISTEP into law on March 22.

The end of exam came after 2015 scores dropped by nearly 20 percent.

ISTEP’s demise, though, does not mean the end of testing in Hoosier schools.

“The truth of the matter is—we’re going to have accountability in our tests, but we’re going to find a better way,” Pence said.

The bill that ended ISTEP also created a panel of legislators and education professionals who are to propose new testing approaches and search for alternatives. The goal of the 23-person study panel is to research and find a way to reduce testing time, reduce the cost of administering the test and make the test more reasonable and transparent to schools, teachers and students.

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody was displeased with the signing of the legislation because Democratic lawmakers cannot make appointments to the panel.

“Mike Pence has time and again put his own political agenda ahead of the needs of public education – and has done everything he can to undermine Glenda Ritz’s role as the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction,” Zody said in a statement. “The fact is, Superintendent Ritz has said for years that the state needed to get rid of the ISTEP exam. But unfortunately, her advice fell on deaf ears.”

Under the statute, only Pence, Ritz, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, are allowed to appoint members.

Additionally, the chairs of both the Senate and House Education Committees are required by the law to be on the panel. Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, is the chair of the House Education Committee. Behning said the ISTEP exam served a purpose at one time, but that time now is gone.

“It’s like a pencil. I think it’s outlived [its usefulness],” said Behning.

Behning said several educators and higher-education teachers have contacted him about serving on the panel and he has sent the requests to the speaker and governor.  He said Bosma started working on appointing members to the panel as soon as the bill became law.

“I would like to see us look at what is out there, in terms of the world of assessment and what our options are. I don’t want any preconceived ideas, really, when it comes down to it,” said Behning.

Behning said he was watching Fordham University. The school recently held a contest that asked people and companies to submit proposals for a new systems of educational assessment. He said Indiana needed to show a similar openness to different options.

He also said he wants to make sure the panel is careful and doesn’t mandate a cumulative exam at the end of the year as well as a diagnostic informative test during the year.  He said the only concern with this thinking is the “constant cry” about too much time spent on assessments.

One thing Behning knows—he does not want is a strictly multiple-choice exam.

“I am pretty adamant that I do not want to see us go to a multiple choice test only,” he said.  “I want something that requires a written response.”

He said written responses helps students develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Behning said the test Hoosier students took this year was the first time the new standards were implemented in a significant way. That and new technology could have been the reason scores dropped.

The education standards have changed three times in recent years, but Behning said the test would be developed to comply with state standards. He said the standards today are very similar to the Common Core standards.

“You can’t very well say you want to move forward, if you are not willing to embrace some changes,” said Behning.

Ritz, however, did not think the change came soon enough.

“Gov. Mike Pence and others continue to put politics over education when it comes to testing our children,” said Ritz in a column. “I have said for years that we need to get rid of ISTEP. After years spent calling for an end to high-stakes, expensive, pass/fail assessments, our legislative leaders finally seem to understand this need.”

She said the system for changing the testing process was a political move when it should have been focused on the state’s educational issues.

“For reasons that have not been explained, and despite my personal written request to the governor and General Assembly leadership to serve as a co-chair on the most important committee that will affect our students, families, educators, and communities, the chair of the panel to study alternatives to ISTEP will be a political appointee of the most political person in the state: Gov. Mike Pence,” Ritz said in a column. “Our governor still does not understand that Hoosiers want an education agenda for their children, not a political one.”

Max Bomber is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

Correction: This story has been updated from its original version to show Rep. Behning will be watching Fordham University. TheStatehouseFile.com regrets the mistake.
To see all our corrections, go to http://thestatehousefile.com/info/corrections/.
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