Carroll Consolidated School Corporation switched to all paper pencil tests last spring. This was after Carroll experienced some technology issues during practice tests.
There were multiple questions on last year’s ISTEP that required students to think and process and respond to large amounts of writing. There is nothing wrong with that method of assessment. The problem was the students were given eight to twelve minutes to complete some of these sections that had multiple pages. Teachers commented these sections didn’t seem to be developmentally appropriate for the age of students. There are limits to how hard you can make a test for 3rd or 4th graders before they just shut down.
Some of the stress educators feel is simply due to the rate of change the last few years. Most educators acknowledge the need for accountability and documented progress for students. The key is all parties have to understand how they are being measured and assessed. The stress over the past year has been the change in the assessment was a real unknown for parents, students, and teachers. The Indiana Department of Education has communicated to schools that there is a strand of questions in the 2014 ISTEP and 2015 ISTEP that are similar and these can be used to track student growth. These student growth scores account for a large part of a teachers’ evaluation. This is required by state law. This was further complicated when the state cut the test sessions in half due to the public outcry about the length of the test.
Educators are taking a wait and see approach. The State Board of Education understands the importance of their decisions. That is why they are being careful and reflective. Early results show a 20% decrease in student performance statewide. We can expect the same for our results. The data has not been provided to us yet.
For the last ten years, we have had a consistent system of assessment. People understood the tests and designed their curriculum so students would be successful. I compare all these changes to running a mile in gym. For years students knew they had to run the mile in gym class at the end of the term. The gym teacher communicated to students the expectations to improve their time over the school year. There may have been a specific cut time for earning a definite grade. Perhaps, the teacher had a record board which documented the best mile time over the years. These changes can be compared to changing the assessment to a three-mile run instead of a one-mile run. You could measure the students' progress at the one-mile mark and compare it to the previous year. However, the pace of the total race is different. How you run the first mile of a three-mile race is different than just going out and running a mile. We definitely have a different race to run now. The test will be longer. It will be harder. I have full confidence in our teachers and students in their ability to adapt to the new system and rigors. We just need time to understand the assessment, examine results, and change our curriculum. It took schools about five years to fully understand and adjust to the ISTEP test. We can anticipate a similar timeline with this change.