Lawmakers look for replacement for lengthy ISTEP tests

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After years of testing turmoil, a lot of students, teachers and schools would like to find a new way forward for the state's ISTEP tests.

The test felt like it took forever to complete and schools are still waiting for results. Now, Indiana lawmakers are looking for a new exam to take its place, but judging by an education study committee meeting Tuesday, they aren't close to a solution.

Students needed more than nine hours to complete the ISTEP exams. The new school year will be almost half over before teachers see last year's results.

"The idea behind tests is, 'How did the child do and what can we do to remediate to make that child better?'," said Beech Grove Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Kaiser. "When you have six months lag time, when you have to wait six months, it is a worthless test to us."

Kaiser, other educators and some lawmakers want a new state student assessment and growth test that consumes less time, less money and offers quicker results.

"There's tests out there right now that are very affordable, that we could take the text in the morning and have results by that afternoon," Kaiser said.

One technology company gave lawmakers on the interim study committee on education a show-and-tell demonstration, showing how students use electronic clickers instead of pencils or computers. 
 
"You could use it every single day to collect feedback on your students," said Dr. Tina Brooks, Turning Technologies.

But answering essay questions with the devices would be difficult.

Making matters even tougher, Indiana is already revising the current exam to meet the state's new education standards. It's negotiating a $38 million, two-year contract with a new testing company. Finding a new exam is complicated and involves a lot of people.

"I hope you will include parents and educators, yourselves as legislators, and, of course, our students in asking good questions about accountability," said Dr. Laura Cain, Fort Wayne Community Schools.

There is good news about this year's ISTEP coming up in the spring - it's significantly shorter than last years. Third graders, for instance, who needed nine hours to finish the test last year will complete the new exam in less than four.