INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana is hiring an outside evaluator to review the state’s ISTEP results after 16 percent of students’ tests were interrupted in May, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz announced Monday.
Meanwhile, she said, schools should minimize the importance of the test as they produce the evaluations on which teachers’ salaries are based – and some scores could be scotched when the state puts together its A-through-F school ratings.
The moves are intended to sort out what to do with the results of 78,269 students whose online testing sessions were delayed in April – some for seconds or minutes, others for longer periods of time.
“These interruptions were simply unacceptable, and they call into question the validity of the testing data,” Ritz said. “Because the stakes of this test are so high, the results must be beyond reproach.”
The Indiana Department of Education is spending $53,600 to hire the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment to determine whether the scores earned by students whose tests were interrupted are valid.
Ritz said she has talked via conference call with the organization’s co-founder, Richard Hill, who is based in New Hampshire and will conduct the review. She said she hopes he can complete that process in four to five weeks.
Officials from the Indiana State Teachers Association said the study is a step in the right direction. Their members' salaries are impacted by their students' scores.
"Well, I think that's the real issue, the high-stakes piece. You know, any other year, you would just say 'Ah, we'll re-give the test and, you know, look at past years and see how the students performed.' You know, that's really not a good idea this time because of the impact," said Teresa Meredith, Vice President of ISTA.
Afterward, Ritz said, state education officials can determine which scores should count for the purpose of the state’s A-through-F school “accountability” ratings and can give schools more specific information on how they should interpret the results.
Ritz said she did not yet have answers to a number of important questions – including how much the testing company, CTB/McGraw-Hill, will pay the state through contractual fines and other damages as a result of the interruptions.
The company said in a statement that the problems are “not acceptable” and that it regrets “the inconvenience we have caused.”
Ritz is a Democrat who ousted former Republican state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett in November’s election after criticizing the state’s reliance on standardized tests on the campaign trail.
She said the problems Indiana experienced this year underscore the problems with attaching teachers’ salaries and schools’ reputations so directly to ISTEP results.
“I’m hoping Indiana wants to reduce the high stakes attached to this test,” she said.
State Senate Education and Career Development Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said Ritz’s course of action was the right one.
“Superintendent Ritz and the Indiana Department of Education have taken proper action in hiring an outside consultant to review this year’s ISTEP test results. Since nearly 20 percent of students had some technical difficulty with the test, the four to five week timeframe to complete the review is very reasonable,” Kruse said. “Those who suffered the most were students and hiring an outside advisor to validate ISTEP scores was the right thing to do.”
Follow Norman Cox on Twitter: @normancox6