Indiana Senate panel advances ISTEP replacement bill

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WANE) – The ISTEP exam is one step closer to possibly being terminated. A state senate education committee advanced House Bill 1003 Wednesday setting guidelines for a new state test that will replace the exam.

The new test will be called ILEARN which stands for “Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network.” It would be given for the first time in the 2018 – 2019 school year.

“it would be a more vetted test,” said state senator Dennis Kruse (R), who is also the senate’s education and career development chair. “It would be more accurate. The current test was put together in a year. Too quick and it wasn’t really vetted and the test questions weren’t tested with samples with students ahead of time.”

Kruse said ILEARN will be much more than just better questions.

Students will take it once at the very end of the year instead of twice a year like with ISTEP. Indiana teachers will be able to grade the written parts of the exams. The ILEARN planners also plan to get rid of administrative glitches and delays.

Other changes are ILEARN’s exam results will come out quicker, the same year the test is taken and high school tests will be required to take a version of ILEARN that is an adapted version of a “nationally recognized” college or career-readiness exam such as the ACT or SAT.

State representative Bob Morris (R) said he’ll be watching closely to make sure ILEARN is clearly better than ISTEP.

“Listening to the teachers in Fort Wayne, we needed to do something in regards to ISTEP and the number of problems that we had with our private contractor that was issuing the test,” he said. “This is very important for the students as well as the teachers in our state.”

Critics are noting the state has not yet picked a new test and are worried that the tight timeline and uncertainty could lead to the same circumstances that prompted lawmakers to ditch the ISTEP. Kruse said they are taking their time to do this right.

“We have no choice,” he explained. “It takes a year to two years to develop a new test. So we’re deciding now that we want a new test and so it’s simply going to take that long to do. We don’t have a choice and we want to do it right. We don’t want to rush into it. We rushed into the one that we have now. We don’t want to repeat that again.”

Southwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Phil Downs is happy the ISTEP replacement bill is making progress because he does not like the ISTEP exam.

“It’s just been a mess,” he said. “We don’t get any good information out of it. It’s expensive as heck. It was not well put together. It was not well run. Southwest has a long history of complaining about this.  It’s time to use the flexibility that the feds are getting out of this process by giving it to the state and I think the senate yesterday recognized that. It’s an opportunity for us to come up with a system that’s going to be great for Indiana’s girls and boys.”

Downs is hoping for three elements from ILEARN. First he’d like to see computer adaptive testing which adapts to the examinee’s ability level as they take the exam. Secondly, he prefers an “off-the-shelf” test that comes ready-made as opposed to a fully designed original test. He said off-the-shelf exams are expensive and unnecessary. He also hopes legislators allow the state superintendent and board of education some flexibility in how the test is administered, interpreted, and leveraged. He believes the ISTEP currently holds too much power.

“The problem we have is for 16 years we’ve all been conditioned to view testing as one way of doing things and actually there are a number of ways you can assess how well things are going and so we need to get out of the mindset that there can only be one test for everything because there can’t be one test for everything,” he said.

The ISTEP replacement measure was approved Wednesday on a 7 to 4 vote now goes to the full Senate.