A Look at the New ISTEP Test
Writer / Kristen Sexton . Photos / Provided
Certainly you have heard the recent rumblings about upcoming changes to tests students have been taking for many, many years. There are major changes to the ISTEP tests, high school End of Course Assessment (ECA) tests and College and Career Readiness testing. The ISTEP+, or Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress, will be different in the years to come, starting with this school year’s version. At this time, The Indiana Department of Education, Governor Pence and state legislators are still addressing changes that may affect the students of Center Grove Schools, along with students elsewhere in Indiana. While this time may be confusing for everyone, the Center Grove Community School Corporation is committed to keeping students, parents and teachers informed.
At a very high level, three different groups, none of which has complete control over testing, control statewide assessment testing, the Board of Education, led by Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz, the Indiana state legislature and Indiana’s Governor, Mike Pence. Two years ago, the state Legislature developed Indiana-specific standards for testing that focused on College and Career Requirements, versus the Common Core requirements of the past. Those standards and pilot test we released in April of last year, but the pilot test was pulled back the next month. During the summer of last year, new standards were adopted and set to go into practice during the 2014-2015 school year. These new standards have created a newly formatted ISTEP+ test.
The Important Changes
The purpose of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress is to measure student achievement in the subject areas of English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The new test will still measure these, but in a different way. Important to remember, is that the ISTEP+ will be administered in small chunks, over multiple days. While the testing time could total up to 12 hours, students will not be required to finish the entire contents of the test in one sitting. Per Center Grove Community School Corporation’s website, the following are important ways ISTEP+ is changing:
• The test will still be given in two testing windows. The first window (the former Applied Skills portion) will contain writing prompts and other response-type items. Writing prompts will now be based on text readings and students will be asked to respond to a writing prompt that is based on the content of the reading. Students will be expected to provide evidence from the text to support their responses.
• Technology-enhanced items will allow students to use computer “tools,” manipulate items on the page, highlight or otherwise use technology to assist with their answers.
• The new ISTEP+ will be focused on the higher-level thinking skills that are prompted by the new College and Career Ready (CCR) standards. This will require students to select their own tools without prompts (such as a protractor or ruler), to solve multistep problems, and to provide evidence or discuss how to solve a problem.
Part one of the ISTEP+ testing will begin in March, and Part two in late April/early May. Much of the reason for the longer format is the addition of practice questions, which will be used to develop the testing that will be administered next year. These questions are meant to be used as instructional, in order for the teacher to guide the student in finding their answer. This data will then be analyzed when creating the format and questions of next school year’s test. These types of questions can be very good for the students, as it allows them to use problem-solving skills to find answers.
Local Control is Minimal
Because the new College and Career Requirements standards are very similar to Common Core standards, the work that teachers have been doing with students in Center Grove schools will prepare them for the new standards as well. According to Center Grove Community School Corporation’s website, “teachers have had ongoing workshops, coaching support and information during the year to help them prepare.” In addition, “students have been given the state Acuity tests, which are more reflective of the types of questions our students may see.” Dr. Wendy Kruger, Director of Curriculum, says it is important for students and parents to, “take a deep breath. If your student has done well in the past, they will do well now,” even under the new standards. She also points out that, “we do not have control over this at a local level.” Local school systems will just need to wait to see what The Board of Education, the Indiana state legislature and Indiana governor decides is best for Indiana students. In her opinion, now, too much focus is being put on the politics involved, instead of the teachers and students that will ultimately be affected. The most important thing, she feels is that students feel “comfortable and confident” in their ability to take, and pass, the new test. While the ISTEP+ will be different, Center Grove schools are doing everything they can to make the transition an easy one for teachers, parents and students. They have developed a website with information about how the ISTEP+ is changing, how students and teachers are preparing, and what parents can do. The information can be found on the Center Grove Community School Corporation’s website, at centergrove.k12.in.us\INtesting101.
Once again, it should be stressed that students have all the tools necessary to successfully pass the ISTEP+. According to Dr. Kruger, Center Grove students currently in Third grade have been preparing for this type of test since kindergarten. The curriculum their teachers have followed has been in line with Common Core Requirements, and therefore will not be much different from the testing under the new College and Career Requirements. While the test’s new formatting has created some controversy, it should be pointed out that even next year, while the content could be the same, the format will most likely change. In the end, those of us at a local level must trust The State Board of Education, the state Superintendent of Education, the Indiana state legislature and Indiana’s governor to make the right decisions for the education of our students.