Test Experts' Warning: Replacing ISTEP Isn't A Quick Fix

Sep 30, 2015

Credit Alberto G. / https://www.flickr.com/photos/albertogp123/5843577306

National education leaders are cautioning Indiana to think through any attempt to replace ISTEP with a new test.

Legislators have been reviewing whether switching to an off-the-shelf test would reduce the time students have to spend on exams.

The Senate passed a bill this year to dump the ISTEP and find a shorter test, but the House called for further study.

Michael Cohen is president of the Washington testing-reform consulting group Achieve, which worked with Indiana on its academic standards and on early versions of ISTEP. He says if Indiana plans to continue using ISTEP as a measure of school accountability, it's critical the test be in sync with the state's standards.

Cohen says a national test wouldn’t necessarily do that.

“Your standards expect students to be able to read one or more texts, draw evidence from them and make a coherent, logical argument that’s based on the evidence that they find in those texts,” Cohen says. “You can’t measure that with just multiple choice.”

He says the Department of Education should "trust but verify," demanding that any test vendor make its questions available for the department to confirm that the subject matter lines up properly.

University of North Carolina testing expert Greg Cizek says legislators need to think through exactly what they want the test to accomplish.

“An annual, large-scale test is good for some purposes. It’s really not good for diagnosing strengths and weaknesses,” Cizek says. “If you think you have too much testing time now, an individually diagnostic test would have to be much longer to get specific information about individual students. That’s why that kind of test should never be mandated at a state level.”

Cizek says “that kind of test” should be administered at local teachers’ discretion.