By Noah Alatza
After state officials dropped the ISTEP+ exam in March of 2016, pursuing a new company to host the state’s key test has been in the works ever since.
Criticism of the ISTEP+ was notable, and with long testing times, technological problems and slow scoring, education officials have opted for a shorter exam.
Westfield Washington Schools Supt. Sherry Grate said she was cautiously optimistic about the new test, while also acknowledging that WWS uses many other measures when determining student academic status.
After receiving dozens of complaints, most notoriously after test-provider Pearson’s misleading of the district on dozens of ISTEP exams, forcing the district to invalidate scores.
While the middle school’s score is currently under appeal, as it is reviewed by the state’s board of education due to the mishap, the intermediate school’s letter grade dropped from a B to a C in to 2016-17 school year. District spokeswoman Kate Snedeker said the invalidation clearly affected Westfield’s scores, with just 66.9 percent of grades 3-8 passing.
Meanwhile, Carmel Clay Schools has maintained a constant A rating for several years and also touts the county’s highest 2017 ISTEP scores with 80.7 percent passing, far above the state average.
Hamilton Southeastern Schools saw a 72.5 percent ISTEP+ passing score, the second highest in Hamilton County. HSE Assistant Supt. Janice Combs said, “Absolutely ISTEP affected school ratings,” during the 2016-17 year.
While the replacement is being set up, students are still taking the controversial test this school year. Hamilton County students were expected to begin taking the new test as early as this spring, however a 2019 target date has now been set.
The Indiana Dept. of Education will pay the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research more than $43 million to design and distribute the test.
A three-year contract was approved with the company beating four other bidders. According to the contract proposal, test preparation alone begins at $3 million. The first year of testing in 2019 will cost $20.6 million, followed by $21.6 million in 2020.
The new test, now called ILEARN, or Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network, will garner a shorter testing window, with results expected to be released faster.
ILEARN will be a computer based test, administered to grades three through eight, with questions changing throughout the test, depending on whether a student answers the previous question correctly. Education officials said the changes will better assess student abilities inside the classroom.
ILEARN will be similar in nature to ISTEP+ in regards to what material students are tested on. Students will still be tested on the basics, English language arts and mathematics. Statewide, only 51.5 percent of students passed both tests.
“We are excited for what the future holds for education here in Indiana,” said Charity Flores, director of assessment for the Indiana Dept. of Education. “We will continue to move forward with the procurement process.”