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State board will consider more ISTEP changes Wednesday

Scott Elliott

The Indiana State Board of Education will again talk about the possibility of more changes to future state ISTEP tests to try to alleviate even further the length and cost of the tests this week.

The board will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday and also will address the future plans for two schools in state takeover: Indianapolis’ Arlington High School and Emma Donnan Middle School. Indianapolis Public Schools is bidding to return to playing a role in managing the schools, which were severed from district oversight in 2012.

After months of debate about various elements of the future ISTEP — issues like how long it should be, what company should write it, how much it should cost — the board is expected to vote on a resolution that would set out specific guidelines for the Indiana Department of Education to develop the 2016 test.

The problem is the boards’ approach differs from a plan state Superintendent Glenda Ritz presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month.

Ritz, for example, wants to add a new ninth-grade ISTEP and eliminate Indiana’s third-grade reading test, IREAD. Under her plan, reading would be tested within the English ISTEP tests at every grade, not just third grade. Her latest proposal is projected to cost about $75 million over two years, down by nearly half from what was projected late last year.

The state board’s plan is based largely off recommendations from two state testing experts Gov. Mike Pence hired to review the 2015 ISTEP. Those suggestions include cutting the number of questions that don’t count but are being tried out to create future tests and sticking with an ISTEP test in grades 3 to 8 along with high school end-of-course exams in English and algebra at 10th grade.

Marc Lotter, state board spokesman, said the board could still make changes to its testing plan at the meeting.

When it comes to IPS and state takeover, it’s possible the state board could make a final decision about how Donnan and Arlington will be managed next year.

Arlington was taken over by the state after six years of F grades for low test scores, but last summer its outside manager, the charter school network Tindley Schools, said it wanted out of its contract because managing the school had become too costly.

Since then, it’s been unclear who would manage the school next year.

In March, the state board and IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee reached a tentative agreement that while IPS would manage the school, the board would still ultimately be in charge.

Arlington will become the first school taken over by the state that will have some of its operations returned to district control. The board is expected to vote on a contract with Boston-based Mass Insight, which it will employ to consult with IPS as it oversees the school.

There are two agreements on the agenda about Donnan, which is currently being managed by Florida-based Charter Schools USA. One would allow CSUSA to manage the school until 2020. The other would establish a K-6 school in the same building, also to be managed by CSUSA.

Arlington and Donnan will eventually be part of a transformation zone, a turnaround strategy that involves grouping schools so students who are struggling academically can be found and helped earlier.

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