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Splinter group takes matters into its own hands ahead of looming ISTEP panel deadline

After six months of meetings, the 23 educators, lawmakers and community members charged with coming up with a replacement for the unpopular ISTEP exam have reached no major consensus on a plan to present to the legislature by its Dec. 1 deadline.

But a faction of members on the ISTEP panel are now trying to ramp up the conversation by introducing a plan of their own.

The group of eight ISTEP panel members — seven educators and a business leader — say they took matters into their own hands after growing concerned that the deadline was looming with few signs of progress.

The legislature last spring voted to scrap ISTEP and replace it with a new exam by 2018. That timeline, however, is seeming increasingly unlikely.

Read all our testing coverage here.

It’s not clear whether the full panel will embrace the proposal put forward today, but the eight members behind it say their plan reflects input from Indiana educators.

“We tried to capture what we have heard from people all over the state,” said Wendy Robinson, a superintendent from Fort Wayne who was one of the eight members behind the proposal. “It is not impossible for people from diverse backgrounds to actually come to consensus on something … at some point, we have to ask educators what works.”

The group’s plan calls for a system similar in some ways to what Indiana has had in the past. It was presented today at the panel’s second-to-last meeting, and includes a few main components.

Students would:

  • Take one year-end math test and one year-end English test that would incorporate some social studies themes in grades three through eight.
  • Take a year-end science test in in grades four and six.
  • Take year-end tests in Algebra I, biology and ninth-grade English.
  • Show they are ready to graduate high school by completing Advanced Placement or dual credit courses or taking a college entrance or military placement exam, among other options.

The state would:

  • Eliminate the third grade reading test, IREAD.
  • Eliminate separate social studies tests.
  • Have experienced Indiana teachers grade writing tests.

Nicole Fama, an Indianapolis Public Schools principal and the panel’s chairwoman, said she’d work with panel members and staff over email to compile final recommendations, which could include ones from the plan presented today. The panel has just one meeting left before it votes Nov. 29 on the final recommendations.

Throughout the past few months, the panel’s legislator members have repeatedly said ISTEP might stick around for another year or more given the challenges to creating a new test within a short timeline outlined in the original bill. Lawmakers have the final say what the new test would look like over how the state’s current testing law would change, and they aren’t obligated to take the panel’s recommendations into account.

Fama said the panel does agree on some aspects, including that the test should be shorter and that teachers and parents should get results quickly. But those general conclusions didn’t require months of work, panelists said.

“We (educators) were placed on this committee for a reason,” said Ken Folks, a superintendent from East Allen County, another of the eight panelists who created their own plan. “Everything (Fama) said is very general, and I don’t believe that that’s our purpose on this committee. I find it unacceptable to produce a proposal without specifics.”

Robinson and the other educators who worked with her said they won’t give up, and they want to continue to work with lawmakers after the panel concludes its meetings.

“We didn’t sit here all this time not to be heard,” Robinson said. “We’re not backing off.”