Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

May 7, 2013

Bennett: Glitches show limitations of high-stakes testing plan

ISTEP now plays a prime role in evaluations, pay

The dog ate my home-work.

That age-old excuse — based on a shockingly unforeseen complication — rarely works for a kid who didn’t finish yesterday’s math assignment.

Yet, in a role reversal, Indiana school children, along with their teachers and administrators, are left to accept an explanation for a disruption best described as the mother of all ironies. The company contracted by the state to administer the ISTEP+ tests apparently didn’t fully test its online testing system. As a result, the high-stakes, standardized tests had to be shut down mid-stream Monday and Tuesday last week after school districts around the state experienced connectivity problems and students getting booted offline.

So, the equally frustrated state Department of Education resumed ISTEP at half-speed on Wednesday. The state asked schools to reduce the daily test-taking pace by 50 percent and promised to be flexible with local districts hustling to meet the May 15 completion deadline.

The company, CTB/MacGraw-Hill assured the DOE that students’ responses before the online shutdowns will be saved, and that the validity and accuracy of the ISTEP won’t be compromised.

The company had an explanation.

In a news release, CTB said it tested the system in a simulation of “live school assessment scenarios. However, our simulations did not fully anticipate the patterns of live student testing, and as a result, our system configuration experienced service interruptions that impacted the testing process.”

Pardon Hoosiers, staring skeptically at the CTB statement, arms folded, foot tapping on the floor.

In a different era, it would be easier to take the problem in stride. A kid’s thought process and preparation gets abruptly halted one day, forcing a restart the next day. The youngster might score a little lower, but stuff happens, and life goes on, right? Sometimes Fido chews up the math workbook. Sometimes the testing company miscalculates the volume of test-takers.

The day of high-stakes standardized testing is different. The political push for school accountability reforms in recent years has elevated the impact of standardized tests beyond just measuring a student’s progress. Instead, ISTEP now plays a prime role in determining a school’s grade and teachers’ evaluations and pay. Thus, a disruption in the execution of the test — for which entire districts prepare all year — is kind of a big deal.

“The difference between one or two students’ scores can make a big difference to a school,” Vic Smith, a board member of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, said Wednesday by phone from Indianapolis. Smith was attending a meeting of the state Board of Education, where he said “everyone’s concerned.”

Since the four-year, $95-million deal with CTB began in 2011 under former superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett, ISTEP has encountered online problems in various parts of the state. This week’s snafus are more profound. Current superintendent Glenda Ritz, who inherited the situation, called for testing to shut down on Tuesday after 27,000 students were affected.

As testing apparently resumed with minimal problems Wednesday, Ritz promised to find answers to the testing breakdowns. “We are well aware that the results of this high-stakes test inform school accountability, as well as staff performance evaluation/compensation,” she said in a news release. “After the testing is complete, the IDOE will be identifying any factors that may affect these areas and determine what action might be needed.”

During her successful campaign in last year’s election, Ritz questioned the over-emphasis of standardized testing. Too much “teaching to the test” was draining creativity from classrooms, Ritz and many other educators contended. Even without two days of online testing system crashes, such standardized tests — especially those loaded with all of ISTEP’s implications — add another factor that schools and educators have to handle:, tension. “There is a lot on the line,” state Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, said Wednesday. “And there’s a lot of pressure, and the kids know it.”

Ideally, last week’s problems will have a humbling effect on those who keep pushing new reforms into reality before the previous round’s effectiveness can be measured. A student taking the ISTEP can have an uncharacteristically bad week. And, as Hoosiers have now seen, a testing company can have a bad week. Maybe the reform movement should reconsider the impact of those bad testing weeks on kids, their parents, educators and schools.

Mark Bennett writes for the (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. He can be reached at mark.bennett@tribstar.com

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
  • Take a walk to school At the risk of sounding like “old fogies,” we remember walking to school when we were kids.Back in the day, that’s how it was. If it was within walking distance, you were walking to school.Today, like much else, it’s a very different picture. The vas

    July 31, 2014

  • DAN COATS: New Harmony marks its 200th anniversary Situated between St. Louis and Louisville, New Harmony is a small town in southwest Indiana smaller than 1 square mile in area. Fewer than 1,000 Hoosiers call this serene Posey County community home.Despite its size, the town has monumental significa

    July 31, 2014

  • LETTERS: Marriage culture in area must change Marriage culture in area must change Last week's article on the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Kids Count report caught my eye. While I'm happy that Indiana is improving in the educational domain, the poverty statistics are saddening. I was just s

    July 31, 2014

  • A lookat IU salaries Of the five highest paid employees of Indiana University, three are involved with athletics. That was the case in 2013 as well.In new evidence that spending on athletic department salaries is outpacing the rest of the university, if not the vast majo

    July 31, 2014

  • Rob Burgess House of Burgess: Let's put lethal injection to sleep

    It was only a matter of time before this happened again; and I’m sad to say I’m not surprised at all.
    On July 22, the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for the killing of Arizona death row inmate James R. Wood III, who had filed suit requesting a delay until the state revealed the details of the drugs that would be used to end his life.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Plot a plan to quit now OK, so maybe today isn’t the perfect day to quit smoking. For years, the experts were preaching any day was a good day to quit, and they had annual campaigns encouraging people to give up the habit.The campaigns raised awareness, and they led many sm

    July 30, 2014

  • LETTERS: City should celebrate its young track star City should celebrate its young track starCongratulations to Tionna Brown, who has given the city of Kokomo the platform to acknowledge what commitment, perseverance, sacrifice and determination can do.I find this a unique opportunity for her Common

    July 30, 2014

  • ANDREA NEAL: Fleeting canal era had lasting impact on state Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays leading up to the celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial in December 2016. In 1825, the Erie Canal was completed to great fanfare. Cannon fire, parades, balls and speeches celebrated the speed and ski

    July 30, 2014

  • Schools need kids' parents For school-age children in southern Miami County — and their parents — this is a seminal week. Classes start at Maconaquah schools on Friday.School starts for the rest of the Kokomo area next week.Before your children head back to school, ensure they

    July 29, 2014

  • TOM LoBIANCO: Pence, Bayh crowd field with questions In the 2016 political landscape, a pair of the state's political big dogs -- Republican Gov. Mike Pence and former Democratic U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh -- have potential candidates holding their breath and waiting on them. Until Pence says otherwise, he's

    July 29, 2014

Featured Ads
Only on our website
AP Video
Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Obituaries
Poll