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Indiana schools can choose to give IREAD test in the fall, despite state superintendent’s concerns

Primary school
A boy reads a book.
Photo by Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance via Getty Images

Indiana districts can opt to give the state’s third-grade literacy exam to fourth-graders this fall after many students missed the high-stakes tests when the coronavirus closed school buildings.

The State Board of Education voted 9-1 Wednesday to allow schools to administer the makeup IREAD3 even though State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick — who voted against the measure — raised concerns that the test wasn’t created to be used to measure progress.

Administrators can use the extra IREAD exam to assess the reading skills of fourth-graders early in the school year, board members said, to help students catch up after months without in-person instruction. Typically, third graders who don’t pass the test after at least two attempts are held back, but the fall test won’t have any ramifications.

Nationwide, state leaders are scrambling to figure out how to quickly assess students after an unprecedented gap year in testing data, and how to navigate federal standardized testing requirements as schools reopen.

“I certainly appreciate the fact that it’s optional,” said Board Chairman B.J. Watts. “Without a doubt, we understand that there’s been educational loss over the last several months. I think this gives schools a tool.”

The move could slow McCormick’s push to scrap the test entirely, which was bolstered by the one-year cancellation. She has called for Indiana to use its more general standardized test, ILEARN, to assess reading ability, although the state board has yet to consider the idea.

Schools already have other tools for assessing students, McCormick said before the vote, and IREAD wasn’t built to be “diagnostic.” The state spends “a lot of money” on testing, she said.

IREAD costs the state $300,000 a year, according to the Indiana Department of Education. The department is still negotiating how much it will pay for the cancelled spring 2020 exam, said spokesman Adam Baker.

State leaders have not discussed trying to make up for the missed year of ILEARN in grades three to eight after the federal testing requirement was lifted for one year. High schoolers who didn’t finish the 10th grade ISTEP exam before it was cancelled will be required to make up the exam to graduate.

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