By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has hired an outside expert to determine the validity of ISTEP+ test scores of nearly 80,000 students who were kicked offline while taking the high-stakes standardized test.
Ritz announced Monday that the state Department of Education has contracted with the New Hampshire-based National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment (NCIEA), to analyze the results of tests interrupted by computer server problems at CTB-McGraw Hill, the test administrator.
Ritz said the need for an independent review was critical given that the test results impact teacher pay, school ratings and student placement.
“Because the stakes of this test are so high, the results must be beyond reproach,” Ritz said.
Nearly one in six students who took the ISTEP+ test this spring experienced some kind of disruption during the online test, Ritz said. Some students were booted off for a few seconds, before they could log on again, while others experienced longer outages.
Ritz said the “alarmingly high volume of test interruptions” was frustrating for parents, students and teachers alike.
“These interruptions were simply unacceptable and they call into question the validity of the test scores,” Ritz said.
The state Department of Education will pay $53,600 to NCIEA for the analysis, to be done independently of a similar review being conducted by CTB-McGraw Hill. Results from the analysis are expected by mid-July.
Ritz stopped short of saying whether any of test results will be tossed out, as some school administrators have called for.
But the Democrat Ritz made clear her disapproval of the weight the testing now carries, under measures passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, in determining such things as teacher compensation and the grades schools get under the state’s A-F accountability system.
Ritz said the standardized test is no longer used as intended, for measuring student learning. “I’m hoping that the state of Indiana wants to reduce the high stakes attached to this test,” Ritz said.
She’s already told local districts that they have the option to downgrade the significance of the test scores in regards to teacher evaluations.
House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican who supported the testing measures that Ritz opposes, said it’s too early to make any decisions about throwing out test scores.
“Let’s not get too far out on the issue, before we even know where we stand,” said Behning, who will lead a legislative review of the testing problems this summer.
“Everybody in the General Assembly is very aware of what happened and we’re very concerned,” he added.
Just how much impact the testing interruptions had is hard to determine without some analysis. Some local school administrators feared students who experienced the interruptions may have been rattled by the experience and not have done well.
After reports of computer problems during the test-taking period in late April, the state stepped in and extended the test period into May. In all, about 482,000 students completed the ISTEP+ test, most without experiencing problems.
To determine the validity of the tests taken by students who experienced the computer problems, NCIEA will compare student test answers pre- and post-interruption, and look back at prior-year test scores, to statistically determine the validity of this year’s results.
Whether the test administrator, CTB-McGraw Hill, will be asked to repay the state for the analysis is yet to be determined. Ritz said the state has several options, including financially penalizing the company under its four-year, $95 million contract with the state.
Indiana was one of at least three states that had major problems with CTB-McGraw Hill this spring related to the standardized tests that are federally mandated. The company, which controls about 40 percent of the testing market issued an apology in May, saying it regretted the impact of “system interruptions” that caused delays for thousands of test-taking students.
It was the third straight year that Indiana students experienced service interruptions during online testing administered by the company.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.