ISTEP testing resumes, but questions remain for CTB/McGraw-Hill

Glenda Ritz, State Superintendent of Public Schools
Published: .
Updated: .

ISTEP+ testing resumed for Indiana students Wednesday after computer issues interrupted the tests for two days in a row.

Wednesday's testing went smoothly with no significant disruptions, according to the Department of Education. Eyewitness News found there was good reason for that.

This was the first year of a major switchover to online ISTEP assessments, but ISTEP turned into ISTOP.

BJ Watts is a fifth grade teacher in Evansville. He also just happens to be a member of the State Board of Education.

"To just say, 'let's go, wait no, hold up. Let's go, no, hold up.' It's frustrating," he said.

Watts was in Indianapolis to attend a meeting of the State Board of Education. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz conducted the meeting.

"This is really the first year for a huge number of students to be taking online assessments," Ritz said.

Ritz said Wednesday testing seemed to go a lot more smoothly, but with good reason. The daily test load was reduced by 50 percent and the test period has been extended from May 10th to May 15th.

Everyone seemed hesitant to appropriate blame, but they all agree blame is needed.

"Whoever is responsible, it's unacceptable," said Watts.

Ritz says it's too early to assess blame, but speculation points toward system overload. Indiana is the largest contract that CTB/McGraw-Hill has. The $95 million four-year contract the state currently has with the company expires next year.

Some board members were openly discussing the possibility of invoking a breach of contract clause. However, there's another problem looming: the validity of the tests.

A teacher himself, Watts says he believes the test results are now tainted.

"The perception of myself as a high school teacher. The perception of my building. The perception of my school district all heavily weighed on the results of this test. Whether we like it or not those results are now tainted in my opinion," said Watts.

Eyewitness News asked Superintendent Ritz that every question.

"Is the validity of the test now in question?"

"We have to look at all that. My first goal is to just get through the testing window," she said.

Now the company responsible for the test is under scrutiny as well as the $95 million contract it has with the state.

ISTEP impact

Some 300,000 Indiana schoolchildren were able to finish their ISTEP tests on Wednesday. Hopefully some of the 27,000 who couldn't finish on Tuesday were a part of those who did finish today.

Parents need to keep in mind: it's not the content, it's the computer. System overload is reportedly to blame but even bigger problems may be on the way, as Watts eluded to earlier.

"The students are frustrated. I see it everyday. The teachers are frustrated. It is hard to disguise that so is the data as reliable as we would like? I don't think so," he said.

Your children's test scores have long-term repercussions. If students record poor or failing scores, teachers' jobs could be at risk as well as the principal's. It could also mean the difference between a successful or failing school which could hurt attendance and state funding.

As a superintendent at Adams Central Community Schools, Mike Pettibone knows all about that.

"If they aren't valid, then how will you grade students? How will you grade teachers?" he said, referring to the state-mandated system that relies on ISTEP scores. "How will you grade schools?"

Pettibone's seat on the State Board of Education will also give him an influential voice in the matter.

Teresa Meredith sat in the back and listened to the debate at the State Board meeting. She currently is Vice President of the Indiana State Teachers Association but she will ascend to the organization's top spot in August.

"It's high stakes testing. In the spotlight. It is much more than a computer test that didn't work well," she said.

Eyewitness News asked Superintendent Ritz about that sentiment.

"What would you say to principals and teachers whose jobs could be at stake because of these tests?"

"I can tell you that I understand the high stakes and the high stakes accountability for schools as well as high stakes for teachers evaluation and comparatives related to that. So the validity of student assessments needs to be determined first but I would assume we will have to address those two high stakes issues at some point regarding the interruption to the test," said Ritz.

In order to assure success schools have been advised to decrease their daily test workload to 50 percent on Thursday as well. The Indiana Department of Education has also extended the testing deadline to May 15th.

The IDOE says it has assurances from McGraw-Hill that ISTEP testing can continue Thursday.