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ISTEP looks likely to survive after long legislative debate

Shannan Muskopf via Flickr

A tug-of-war over the future of state testing in Indiana lurched back toward the Indiana House’s plan to use an expanded ISTEP exam, at least for the next two years.

Widespread concern over the growing costs of ISTEP prompted Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, to lead an effort to find a cheaper way to measure student academic progress. But Kenley said today he could go along instead with a plan to study future changes to state tests rather than an immediate overhaul.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s original proposal presented back in December would have cost the state about $65 million per year, a 45 percent increase over what the state pays now. Ritz said the price hike was driven by the need to measure Indiana’s new, more challenging standards that aim to better prepare high school graduates for career and college, in part by using more more sophisticated testing methods.

Ritz has since revised her proposal, cutting the potential cost to about $37 million per year. But Indiana State Board of Education member Sarah O’Brien’s proposal earlier this month was estimated to cost about $50 million per year, though O’Brien disputed the figure.

Instead, Kenley pushed for the state to adapt a national “off-the-shelf” test in place of ISTEP. He often suggested an exam created by the Northwest Evaluation Association could serve the state’s needs. That test is now used by Indiana school districts to gauge student improvement in preparation for ISTEP.

Kenley continued to fight for the idea, even as House Republican leaders resisted. When the House passed a bill keeping ISTEP and the Senate passed a bill with Kenley’s plan to dump it, that set up a showdown.

Today, Kenley said he wasn’t sure the full legislature would have gone with his plan, so he agreed to study the future of Indiana’s state testing instead.

“I think I can live with it,” Kenely said.

But Kenley also said he hoped more discussion would eventually lead to a broader overhaul of the state’s testing system.

“I feel very comfortable with all the principles we’ve articulated about standardized testing — that we can answer the questions about how your kids compare to other states, that we can reduce the length of these tests, that we can make them simpler and that we can make them teacher-friendly,” he said. “I just think we (can) do better for everybody and we can make it cost less.”

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