INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The failure of Indiana’s online standardized test last
week showed that the ISTEP+ exam is too big to fail, on many levels.
Beyond the obvious and critical role it plays in determining how children
advance in school, the test has more recently become a barometer for whether
teachers get pay increases and whether schools are making the grade. The
successful completion of the test also determines whether education
mega-contractor CTB/McGraw-Hill gets all the money it seeks from the state.
Incoming Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith said
that makes ISTEP+ “intensely high-stakes” testing.
With so many things at stake, it’s not surprising that McGraw-Hill and state
schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz would make their first focus after last
week’s testing disruptions getting the testing back on track. Determining
who should be held accountable - and what to do about the scores on tests
that were affected - will come later.
“Our first goal is to get through the actual testing window and to make sure
all students are taking the test,” Ritz said following a Wednesday meeting
of the state school board. DOE spokesman Daniel Altman said later that Ritz
is considering hiring a third party to review the validity of the test
scores but said the department’s first goal was completing the test.
Indeed, by the start of this week, state schools are expected to begin
testing 100 percent of the students they had planned on before the system
But the question of who will be held accountable still weighs heavily on
parents of the children whose tests were stalled, among many others.
Don Current, a 42-year-old web designer from Shelbyville, said he was
frustrated by the experience. His twin sons attend Loper Elementary School,
where the one-hour test period stretched to two hours Monday. Students
weren’t allowed to leave to go to the bathroom and their lunch was delayed
"Somehow, they should be held accountable for what they’re being paid to
do,” he said of CTB/McGraw-Hill.
Many educators have reported students in tears as computers froze or logged
them off repeatedly during the exam. That frustration has many school
officials wondering whether the results will accurately reflect students’
Under the most recent contract, a four-year deal worth more than $95
million, the state could fine McGraw Hill $50,000 for each day last week the
test was down. The contract allows for fines of up to $250,000 per day, but
only if the troubles persist more than 10 days in a row.
“From my stance, it’s almost a breach of contract,” said Tony Walker, a
school board member representing Gary said during a hearing on the troubles.
State lawmakers tied ISTEP+ test scores to merit pay for teachers in 2011
and reaffirmed this year that schools would be judged based on how their
students test, sticking to a grading system for schools and starting a
program that pays schools on how they score.
All of those answers depend on what the state and McGraw-Hill decides are
the most accurate results. In 2011, up to 10,000 students statewide were
logged off and some were unable to log back in for up to an hour while
taking the test. The state invalidated 215 scores that year because they
were lower than expected.
Perhaps the clearest determinant will be whether the state decides that the
tests completed during the system problems are valid. Many school officials
have questioned the validity of the scores given the problems, and ISTA has
demanded assurance that teachers’ pay won’t be adversely affected by scores
lowered because of the testing glitches.
BJ Watts, a school board member representing Evansville, encapsulated the
state’s dilemma when he said the data might not be good, but it’s also
impossible to move forward without some sort of testing data.
“I don’t necessarily think that you can toss it out, but I think there has
to be some realization and some understanding that it’s a little tainted,”