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June 18, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: Disparate Ind. pols agree ISTEP answers needed

Lawmakers could seek study costs, fines from McGraw-Hill.

Indiana’s top Statehouse leaders all agree they’d like some answers from CTB/McGraw-Hill on the ISTEP-plus failures, and they could get some as soon as the end of the week.

A legislative panel studying why 78,000 test-takers were frozen out of the high-stakes exam last month plans to meet Friday to hear from CTB/McGraw-Hill President Ellen Haley on what went wrong. Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, meanwhile, plans an outside review determining the validity of the test results. That could be completed within a month.

Both are aimed at finding out how the state’s can’t-fail test failed.

“Obviously, we want some answers from CTB/McGraw-Hill. That is our greatest concern right now,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. “Going forward, are we in danger of having this happen again? Is it the vendor’s fault? Why did it happen? And what can be done to avoid it in the future? How did it impact the kids at the different levels?”

Nobody’s ready just yet to dump McGraw-Hill, which has a four-year, $95 million contract to provide the test. Nor is anyone ready to revert to paper and pencil. But the frustration has provided a bit of unity in a building where Republican lawmakers recently joined forces to hand Republican Gov. Mike Pence his first veto override last week.

“We have to hold our vendor accountable. It’s important that every vendor of the state provide the services that have been contracted in a timely and effective way, and we want to understand what happened with regard to the ISTEP testing,” Pence said.

The broad strokes of the troubles have been well-reported by this point. The state’s critically important standardized test stalled amid server troubles from McGraw-Hill, which apparently could not handle the crush of online test-takers. But the “how” has yet to be fully explained, and determining how to make sure it doesn’t happen again has not been reached.

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