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ISTEP grading problems will impact roughly 22,000 high schoolers, but the scope of the testing issues is still unknown

Technical problems with the grading of the state ISTEP test are expected to affect the scores of roughly 22,000 students who took the 10th-grade exam, Indiana Department of Education officials revealed Wednesday.

The issue is one of two late-breaking problems with ISTEP scores that testing company Pearson notified the state about last week. The problems delayed the release of school passing rates, which were expected to be made public Wednesday.

The 10th-grade issue involved the grading of a graphing question on the math test. The other technical problem involved matching data for some students at schools that gave paper tests in grades 3-8 and 10. It’s still unclear how many scores were affected by the problem matching tests, but the company says it is only a small number.

“Now, what that means, we don’t know,” said State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. “We don’t know if it’s a hundred or a thousand. We have no idea.”

McCormick hopes to know more by Friday, including how many tests were improperly matched and how it will affect results for students and schools. The department aims to release updated scores to schools on Friday, but it will be at least a couple of weeks before the results are made public. Schools will be given 14 days to review scores before the Indiana State Board of Education meets to release the scores.

The error in the 10th-grade math question stemmed from a decimal-rounding discrepancy. The matching issue was due to incorrectly entered or messily written student information on paper tests that prevented parts of the test from being matched up and graded correctly, a Pearson official told Chalkbeat last week.

One bright spot for high school students is that the scores will only go up on the 10th-grade exam affected by the improper grading of the graphing question, according to Charity Flores, director of assessment for the department. That could help the roughly 22,000 students who should have received credit for the item but did not, she said.

“It may help a lot of students,” said board member David Freitas. “Yes, we are disappointed, but it’s not a double whammy here.”

Tests that are rescored because of the matching problem, however, could ultimately go down. “In the very worst case scenario,” Flores said, a student score could go from passing to not passing based on the results.

Flores said tests that had problems with matching could also fall into a third category: Undetermined. That happens when information is missing or students have not fully completed the assessment, she said.

Undetermined scores can count against schools when the state is calculating the participation rate on state tests, said Maggie Paino, director of accountability. The board, however, voted to hold schools harmless by counting scores that were invalidated during rescoring as participants.

The grading problems are the latest in a series of technical issues Indiana has had with ISTEP in recent years. Repeated testing problems with CTB McGraw Hill, the prior vendor, were part of what led the state to contract with Pearson in 2016.

The state could ultimately pursue financial damages from Pearson for the issues the scoring problems caused this year, but how much money the department would seek will depend on the final results, said Marsha Bugalla, general counsel for the department of education.

Scott Overland, a spokesman for Pearson, said he could not speculate on potential damages.

“There have been no formal claims made for liquidated damages by IDOE,” he said. “As a result, Pearson cannot speculate on any potential amounts or purported calculations. Pearson is 100% focused on delivering updated reports.”

Pearson has been very responsive since the issue was reported, said McCormick. But the last-minute problems with the test are a headache for parents, students, and teachers, she added.

“It’s frustrating because our team in assessment works really, really hard to get things right,” she said. But “on this one, we are at the mercy of the vendor getting it right.”