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Scott Elliott

Senate panel nixes pricey ISTEP rescore

Despite months of controversy over last year’s state standardized exam, Indiana legislators have effectively dropped an effort to rescore the 2015 ISTEP.

A bill that was initially introduced to force a rescore of the problem-plagued test was quietly amended today to remove language that would have made a rescore possible. The bill itself — House Bill 1395, which would trigger an ISTEP review that could lead to the state scrapping the test completely by July 2017 — moved forward with an 8-3 vote in the Senate Education Committee today.

Some legislators remain concerned about the 2015 test, which was beset with scoring delays and technical glitches, but the $8 million to $10 million price tag on the rescore made that a tougher sell.

Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said the high price of the rescore would have needed approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee. That could have doomed the bill, so the rescore was dropped.

Kruse also isn’t concerned that there’s a need for a rescore at all. He said he thinks the test itself was fine, but the problems have been with the technology used to administer and score the exam.

“It was the technical computer stuff that messed it all up,” Kruse said. “It wasn’t that the test wasn’t valid, and it wasn’t that the kids weren’t capable of answering the questions.”

The rescore measure was a big part of why the bill was introduced earlier this year. After the Indianapolis Star revealed possible scoring mistakes from test creator CTB, educators, legislators and members of the public raised concerns that scores might no longer be accurate, prompting Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, to propose the bill.

Behning said if it was up to him, he’d have kept the rescore option in, though the Indiana Department of Education’s repeated assurances that the test is OK have reduced some of his concerns.

“If the education committee, the department, everybody is going to say 100 percent with guarantee that we will have no problem using it as a baseline next year, I’m OK with that,” Behning said.

When the bill went before the Indiana House earlier this month, where it passed 86-11, Behning had already scaled back the bill’s language, instead allowing the board to rescore a smaller sample of test scores at a lower cost rather than all 500,000 tests that kids took last year.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and state board officials have said this year that they stand by the validity of last year’s test. The board announced at its last meeting that the results of a review by independent test experts showed no major problems with the accuracy of test scores. Marc Lotter, the board’s spokesman, said the board did not have a position on removing the rescore option from the bill.

“Given the potential cost to taxpayers, we will follow the direction of the Legislature on that issue,” Lotter said in an email.

The amended bill, now focused exclusively on the future of ISTEP, will next advance to the full Senate.

Other changes to the bill made today include new rules for selecting who will serve on the committee charged with deciding ISTEP’s fate, as well as the scope of that committee. The unamended bill called for a committee to study the state’s entire testing and accountability system — the current version revolves mainly around testing. The amended bill also calls for the committee to include an expanded group of educators and policymakers appointed by Ritz, Gov. Mike Pence, and Republican legislators.

A separate amendment to make Ritz a co-leader of the committee failed.

Behning said he doesn’t agree with all the changes to the bill, but he accepts that amendments are part of the legislative process. The focus, he said, should remain on Indiana’s next generation of tests.

“This process works in such a way that we all have to negotiate,” Behning said. “Obviously it’s still my bill, there’s conference committee and we’ll continue to have the debate.”