By ALLEN LAMAN
INDIANAPOLIS — Before the Indiana Legislature officially adjourned for the year early Saturday morning, the state’s House and Senate approved the parameters for a new, annual examination that is slated to replace ISTEP beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The bill now awaits Gov. Eric Holcomb’s signature to officially make it a law.
This means the current, controversial test still has a minimum of one more year of life, but school corporations will be allowed to temporarily determine whether teacher evaluations must include state test results for the 2017-18 school year.
Still, at least one local school administrator believes the new test — dubbed ILEARN — will miss the mark.
“I don’t see it as better,” Todd Hitchcock said, comparing ILEARN to ISTEP. “I would argue it’s a step backwards. “The goal, the whole purpose, was to reduce testing, but instead it’s been increased. How could it not be a step backwards?”
Hitchcock is the assistant superintendent of Greater Jasper Schools. Several other local superintendents declined to comment on the new exam.
Under the new law, students in grades three to eight will still be required to take the annual math and English tests, and high school students will be required to take both exams at least once in grades nine to 12. Students will also be tested in social studies once in fifth or eighth grade.
The exams will be given during one testing period at the end of the school year, as opposed to the current ISTEP model, which spans two sessions in late winter and spring.
Students will also need to pass the end-of-course assessments in ninth-grade biology, Algebra 1, sophomore English and government to graduate. Hitchcock said the addition of the government test is especially problematic because students don’t have much time to earn the credit if they fail.
“I don’t doubt the importance of U.S. government,” he said of the class, which is usually taken by senior students. “But I don’t believe putting in a graduation requirement that now requires students to pass a test at the very end of their high school career is a good idea.”
ISTEP has been widely criticized for being inefficient, time-consuming and expensive. Lawmakers officially repealed the exam last March, originally setting an expiration date of July 1, 2017, which was later pushed back.
Hitchcock explained that a committee of educators worked on a test recommendation with legislators over the past year, and the addition of more tests was not part of their advice.
“That’s a little disheartening for educators,” Hitchcock said. “When you work for something and you think you’re part of the process, and then get shoved aside at the last minute.”
High school students could also reach graduation requirements by taking some form of nationally-recognized college or career readiness assessment, which would include either an Advanced Placement or international baccalaureate test, college entrance exam, industry exams or other test approved by the Indiana State Board of Education.
Hitchcock did note that students who don’t pass the four exams listed above could still graduate through other avenues.
“But I think they’re just increasing the number of students who may need to get those alternate waivers,” he said.
While House Bill 1003 establishes ILEARN’s parameters, the test itself will be developed over the next year, and a vendor will also need to be selected. Currently, the state contracts with British test writing company Pearson.