Both candidates running for state superintendent agree that the state’s ISTEP exam has to go.
But they disagree about what should replace it.
For Incumbent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, the ideal test is one given on a computer in which questions get more difficult as children answer questions correctly and easier as they get them wrong.
In contrast to the current ISTEP model in which students essentially either pass or fail, Ritz’s dream test would be given in parts throughout the year, culminating in a single score that could be used for state accountability. Breaking the test up, she says, makes the results less about punishing students and schools who score poorly and more about giving teachers useful information that they could use to help kids.
“I want to know where children actually do perform and how they grow over time instead of using the pass-fail approach that we’ve been using that does not inform teaching and learning,” Ritz said.
Ritz’ Republican challenger, Yorktown Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, had been vague about what kind of test she’d like to see Indiana students take, but recently revealed some key points at a candidate forum in late August. She has been clear about one thing: She’s no fan of Ritz’s leadership on the issue.
“Educators in the trenches are tired of the chaos, drama, and blaming,” she wrote in a press release after a key meeting on the future of testing in the state. “We deserve solutions.”
The future of ISTEP has been heavily debated for years, especially since the Indiana General Assembly voted last spring to scrap the decades-old ISTEP exam for a better option. The test had been plagued by computer glitches and scoring delays and had long been resented by educators who thought it took too long to administer and wasted too much valuable classroom time.
A state committee is now charged with figuring out a new plan for the exam to send to lawmakers by Dec. 1. Ritz serves on the committee and has spelled out a plan for testing that proposes a new structure for ISTEP’s replacement. She’s also lobbied for years to eliminate the state’s reading test and possibly cut the exam now used to determine whether high school students need extra help. In general, she says, she wants tests to take less time and be less redundant.
“You always want to strive to have less assessment and more teaching, always,” Ritz said.
McCormick agrees that testing should take up less classroom time but had not taken strong stands on what future tests should look like before the forum. When asked by Chalkbeat to comment on her vision for what the state should do next, she focused on the process for creating the new exam, not the exam itself, calling the current process “backwards.”
Instead of trying to figure out what the test should look like and then figure out how to use the results it provides, McCormick says the state should think about the process differently. She called for schools to have more say in determining details of their testing programs to best fit their districts’ needs.
“It would be important to look at what do we want to measure, and what does that accountability piece need to look like?” she said. “Then we can have an assessment for what it is we want to monitor.”
At the August forum, McCormick said she would be in favor of adopting the SAT, or something like it, for high school students and keeping a simple, ISTEP-like test for elementary and middle school students.
This story has been updated to reflect some of McCormick’s views on testing.