The ISTEP: A Test That’s not Passing the Test

May 14, 2013

by Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., J.D.

In the past few weeks, we have heard horror stories throughout Indiana about testing under ISTEP+ — particularly the overload of the computer system and the failure of the testing company’s servers to handle the testing.

State Board of Education members expressed frustration about what Indiana educators and education policymakers widely viewed as a disastrous testing experience.

Several state board members expressed concern about the validity of an ISTEP+ that had to be suspended several times in the first week of testing. One admitted that the data was now “tainted.” Another called the most recent ISTEP+ glitch “embarrassing.”

Teachers and principals are justifiably angry. Not only is a teacher’s pay based on students’ ISTEP+ results, but employment can be canceled if scores are not up to par.

Moreover, there are serious constitutional questions about a system that determines teachers’ pay and continued employment on questionable standardized testing, but that is a discussion for another day.

Four years ago, research published by the Indiana Policy Review Foundation found that the state would likely spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars on ISTEP+ testing alone. This was a direct cost only and did not include the costs of teacher, counselor, para-professional and principal salaries incurred in the ISTEP+ administration.

Despite this enormous cost, however, Indiana educational policymakers have expanded standardized testing of our students.

A partial list of these tests includes: Acuity (Grades 3-8, Algebra I, English 10); End of Course Assessments (Algebra I, English 10, Biology I); IMAST (Grades 3-8); Indiana Course-Aligned Assessments; IREAD K-2; IREAD-3; ISTAR; ISTAR-KR; ISTEP+(Grades 3-8); LASLinks (K-12); mCLASS (K-2); National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — Grades 4, 8, 12; and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — all aligned to Common Core state standards.

In summary, an already behemoth standardized-testing industry grows even as important questions go unanswered.

  1. Why have Indiana policymakers not authorized a study of the direct and indirect costs of standardized testing in Indiana?
  2. What are the annual direct costs and indirect costs of such testing?
  3. Is the testing valid and reliable, and does it accurately measure the performance quality of teachers, principals and schools?
  4. Does the testing improve the amount and quality of student learning?
  5. Are there better and less costly ways to measure student, teacher and principal performance, and hold them accountable for learning?
  6. Are there better and less costly ways to improve student learning?

So, our policymakers support educational testing that not only could cost more than a billion dollars over the next decade, but it may be redundant or, worse, have no meaningful impact on student academic achievement.

Indiana cannot continue to make its education decisions on the herd mentality of educrats or what standardized-testing companies may give to political campaigns. Rather, those decisions must be made on the gold standard of all research, i.e., using control groups and intervention groups to study the impact of standardized testing.

Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., J.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is an education consultant living in Fort Wayne. An attorney, Dr. Abbott was a superintendent of Indiana public schools and an  instructor in the graduate school of education at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.



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