On the Legislative Process:

Would it be constructive to understand better how we got such a deficient test and process in the first place (a mess) to prevent doing it again?



It is always constructive to better understand how we get to where we are in public policy.


  • The Republican controlled legislature has passed laws especially within the past few years such as opting out of Common Core and creating new College and Career Readiness Standards – in doing so, developing a new test was required in order to align with these standards.
  • The ISTEP panel and the legislature need to take a step back and focus on adopting a valid standardized test without rushing through the process.


Following the money helps explain how we ended up with the deficient test and process. Legislators and governors who promote high stakes testing attract campaign contributions from individuals and organizations that agree with them. With those public officials in the majority over the last several years, they pushed through legislation and policies that moved the ISTEP from a simple standardized test that served as a snapshot of student performance to one that carried the load of also assessing the competency of teachers and schools. The ISTEP was expected to do a job it wasn’t designed to do with a process for judging schools that practically everyone agreed was seriously flawed.

That process, by the way, was implemented a few years ago by the State Board of Education, the members of which are appointed by the governor. A day-long public hearing on the proposed process met with criticism from everyone—from parents, teachers, administrators of public and charter schools, businesspeople, including the representative from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and city council members, mayors and others. Despite the objections, the plan was approved. The legislature later passed a bill requiring changes but the board has not yet made the rule changes. With the ISTEP repeal bill passed last session, we have an opportunity to make needed changes or even decouple teacher and school accountability from the test or tests that replace the ISTEP. The 23-member committee can only recommend changes. It will be up to the governor and his board of education, the superintendent of public instruction and the legislature to put changes into law or rules. That’s why it is important for citizens to ask candidates their position on education issues such as privatization and vouchers, and the type and role of testing in Indiana schools.


Actually, I believe the current reliance on standardized tests emanates from the late 1970s and early 1980s and the initial issuance of A Nation at Risk.

Since that time, we have tried various reform movements to improve schools. Those have had limited success. As of NCLB, the federal government has taken a more coercive approach and many states have jumped on that bandwagon.

Legislation is trying to figure out “who” is accountable for present poor results—i.e., teachers, students, system, who else?—and to foster change. Who is driving the need for testing? And why? Do teacher education hours include courses on how to do testing—rather than teaching?


  • The “need” for testing is driven mainly through federal laws and guidelines adopted by the US Department of Education.
    • For example. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law on December 10, 2015. It includes certain standards that must be met by states and school districts – these guidelines include certain testing standards for high-stakes, summative testing. Although states are required to develop valid standardized tests, the federal government gives states flexibility to tailor the testing to their student population.


I don’t believe Indiana students are failing. Indiana did as good or better than the U.S. average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “nation’s report card,” this year compared to 2013. As reported in the online blog Chalkbeat:

For 2015, the state was ranked fourth in the nation in fourth-grade math and 11th for eighth-grade math, up from a ranking of fourth and 19th, respectively, in 2013. In reading, Indiana students ranked 10th for fourth- grade reading and 16th for eighth-grade reading, up from 15th and 27th. Back in 2013, the state made huge jumps in scores that some questioned the validity of at the time, said Mark O’Malley, the state’s NAEP coordinator.

“That was a big deal and that made the headlines,” O’Malley said. “As Indiana repeats again the fourth highest math score in fourth grade, it kind of validates the student performance that has happened, so that is exciting. It’s not a phenomenon, it didn’t happen by chance.” You can access the full NAEP report at http://www.nationsreportcard.gov

For a longer view, a 25-year review of Indiana’s test scores and other performance indicators compiled by Vic Smith, one of the founders of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, found improvement, not decline. Below is the summary of his research. The full report can be found at http://www.icpe2011.com/uploads/Decade_15.Summary_10.7.27.15_final.pdf SUMMARY: To many Hoosiers, the message still comes as a surprise: Indiana’s public schools clearly improved during the past 25 years. The data are available from the Indiana Department of Education, the College Board, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Postsecondary Opportunity and ACT, Inc. Performance on ten indicators from 1988-89 through 2013-14 formed the basis for this positive conclusion:


*Hoosier public schools have successfully raised daily attendance in 18 of the past 25 years.
The latest 2013-14 rate of 96.1% ties the highest ever mark reached in 2008-09 and 2011-12.


*The new cohort method shows 89.8% graduated in four years or less in the Class of 2014, the highest of all nine classes since the new four-years or less method became law. *The dropout rate was 4.6% for the Class of 2014. The seven previous dropout rates were 5.6%, 5.8%, 5.3%, 5.6%, 7.7%, 9.4% and 11.0% in the new system which tracks each student.


*Verbal scores rose from 490 in ’88-’89 to an historic high of 504 in 2004-05. *Since then, a revised SAT shows Reading and Writing scores separately. Reading reversed a downward trend to rise 4 points to 497 in 2013-14, up from 493 the previous year but still down from 498 in 2005-06. Writing stayed at 477 in 2013-14, down from 486 in 2005-06. *Reading tied the national average while Indiana tested 71% of all graduates, over 20% more than the nation as a whole, thus giving more marginal students a chance at college.


*Math scores on the old SAT went up from 487 in ’88-’89 to 508 in 2004-05, another top performance in state history.
*In the eight years of the new SAT, Indiana scored 509, 507, 508, 507, 503, 501, 500 and 500, dropping 9 points from the peak level of 509 in 2005-06 when rigor increased.


*Indiana’s composite score on the ACT rose to 21.9 in 2013-14, as participation rose to a historic high of 40%. Indiana ACT scores have exceeded national averages in all 25 years.


*On National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) basic scores, Indiana outperformed the national average on all 46 NAEP assessments since 1990.
*On the NAEP proficient standard, Indiana outscored the national average on 36 of 46 tests.


*In 80 valid year-to-year comparisons over 16 years and 8 grades, 42 (53%) went up, 21 (26%) went down, and 17 (21%) were stable. More went up than down by a clear margin.


*In 80 valid year-to-year comparisons, 53 (66%) went up, 15 (19%) remained stable, and 12 (15%) went down, showing a strong trend of improvement, stronger than English/LA.


*The percent of graduates aspiring to college went up 20 of the 21 years to reach 77.0% in 2009-10, the highest level in state history. IDOE no longer has this percent on its website.


*For all 25 years of the study, more students every year earned either the 47-credit Academic Honors Diploma or the Core 40 diploma, reaching a record total of 85.3% in the Class of 2014.

CONCLUSION: Improvement is clear. Public schools in Indiana have improved more than is widely believed.


Several groups that are against public schools are involved in pushing for testing. BSU’s Dr. John Ellis speaks well on this subject. Actually, undergraduate teacher preparation courses rarely cover psychometrics in much detail.

What can be done to assure that persons on the committee, legislators and their families, do not benefit financially from the test(s) that are selected?


There are conflict of interest rules/laws in place to help prevent this. People can be held criminally liable for failing to disclose conflicts of interest.


  • Ethics procedures
  • Ensuring there are checks and balances throughout the entire process

What kind(s) of research are happening at the state level to make decisions regarding new tests? What opportunities will the public have to provide feedback to the 23-member study panel? Will there be forums, etc.? How will this group be accountable for their recommendations being research driven and informed by the public?


There will almost certainly be public forums and other avenues through which the public can make their voices heard in the process; during the process for developing Indiana’s new academic standards, there were public forums held throughout the state and an online platform for providing comments on the standards as well. There isn’t a formal process for accountability for people on the committee; they are required to deliver a report and recommendations before December 1, 2016, but there are not criminal or civil penalties for failing to do so.


  • The ISTEP panel will consist of various stakeholders in the process such as teachers, superintendents, representatives from the Commission for Higher Education, the Department of Education, and other elected leaders.
  • The public is encouraged to provide feedback and recommendations to the panel members via email, phone calls, etc.
  • It is our hope that the discussions surrounding a new standardized test are focused around evidence based, research driven information.
  • The ISTEP panel will then be responsible for submitting their final recommendations/report to the governor and General Assembly by December 2016.o During the next legislative session, the public can testify at committee hearings and contact their legislators to give additional feedback regarding the next steps in the process for replacing ISTEP 


Last fall, the Interim Committee on Education studied alternatives to the ISTEP but made no specific recommendation. IN Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz assembled a Blue Ribbon Committee of education experts last year to look at ways to stem the teacher shortage. One of the Commission members was BSU School of Education Dean John Jacobson. The Commission study topic was broader than the ISTEP but their report provides insights into school issues of concern. The full report can be found here: http://www.doe.in.gov/news/indiana- superintendent-public-instruction-glenda-ritz-releases-final-blue-ribbon- commission

The 32-member study panel referenced in the question has now been appointed and made public. One of the members is Ball State professor Lynne Stallings who has been vocal in her concern about ISTEP and high stakes testing. The legislation establishing the committee did not include appointments by leaders of the House and Senate minority, and did not name Superintendent Ritz as chair or cochair. I feel those are major flaws in the bill. The governor could have made Superintendent Ritz the chair or cochair but chose not to. On the other hand, I am encouraged to see that a majority of members are educators.

Full roster of the review panel

The 23-member committee includes six state education officials and 17

appointees. House Enrolled Act 1395 gave Gov. Mike Pence authority to appoint

the chairman.

Glenda Ritz, superintendent of public instruction

Steve Braun, commissioner of workforce development

Teresa Lubbers, commissioner for higher education

Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development


Robert Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee

Byron Ernest, Indiana State Board of Education

Pence’s appointees:

Chairwoman Nicole Fama, principal at Indianapolis Public Schools

Jim Roberts, superintendent of Batesville Community School Corp.

Charles Weisenbach, principal of Roncalli High School

Brent Freeman, special education officer at Indianapolis Public Schools

Michelle McKeown, Indiana Charter School Board

Ritz’s appointees:

Ayana Wilson-Coles, third-grade teacher at Pike Township Schools, Indianapolis

Julie Kemp, principal at North Spencer County School Corp.

Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools

Callie Marksbary, Indiana State Teachers Association

Senate President Pro Tem David Long’s appointees:

Jean Russell, literacy specialist at Southwest Allen County Schools

Steve Baker, principal at Bluffton High School

Kenneth Folks, superintendent at East Allen County Schools

Marilyn Moran-Townsend, chairman and CEO of CVC Communications

House Speaker Brian Bosma’s appointees:

Melissa Scherle, second-grade teacher at Indianapolis Public Schools

Edward Rangel, assistant principal at Tindley Genesis charter school

Scot Croner, superintendent of Blackford County Schools

Lynne Stallings, assistant professor, Ball State University

The committee will determine its procedures and process so I don’t know if there will be forums around the state or only at the statehouse. All of their meetings will be open to the public and viewable in real time on line. These are opportunities for citizen input and scrutiny of the committee’s work as well as calls to keep politics out of the decisions. The deadline for completion of their work and a written report is Dec. 1, 2016.

Everybody seems to agree that it’s important to get politics out of education policy. How will that work without a truly bi-partisan committee? Is there a way to make the committee accountable regarding political obstacles?


There isn’t a formal accountability mechanism for the committee.


  • Input from stakeholders outside the panel (parents, other teachers, etc.) is encouraged both when the panel meets as well as during the 2017 legislative session.
  • Two areas of potential concern regarding the make-up of the ISTEP panel:
    • Senator Rogers offered an amendment which would have made the Superintendent of Public Instruction (Glenda Ritz) a co-chairperson on the panel – the amendment was defeated.
    • There are no appointments to the panel from the Senate Minority caucus or the House Minority caucus.


I’m encouraged that so many of the committee members are educators. All of the committee’s meetings will be open to the public and viewable in real time on line. Citizens can testify in person or in writing at these meetings. Meeting agendas, minutes, and reports are also available on line although usually there is a time lag for minutes. These are opportunities for citizen input and scrutiny of the committee’s work as well as calls to keep politics out of the decisions. It is especially important that citizens attend the meetings and speak up if the committee veers into political decision making. The deadline for completion of their work and a written report is Dec. 1, 2016.

The years of high stakes ISTEP testing have left a nasty legacy of other laws and policies including a requirement for 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading instruction for K-3 every day. The result has often been only one physical education class per week and reduced art, music, & recess. Will some of these other laws be changed too?


It seems likely that as the picture around testing and accountability continues to evolve, legislators may see value in revisiting other requirements.


  • The reduction in physical education, art, and music classes is influenced by funding that the school receives from the state.
  • The ISTEP teacher prep time for administering the assessment should be addressed by the ISTEP panel when they begin meeting.


The 90 minute requirement is a rule adopted by the State Board of Education. My colleague Rep. Melanie Wright, a Daleville teacher, filed a bill (HB1577) voiding this rule and requiring the State Board of Education to authorize local school officials to determine best practices in regard to the number and time of reading periods. The bill was assigned to the House Education Committee but Chairman Robert Behning chose not to allow the committee to vote on it. Therefore the bill died.


Yes, flexibility for each school is important as students are not all the same and one size rarely fits all.


While I agree some limited testing needs to occur to measure student progress, it seems that testing is being used inappropriately—from grading schools to dominating curriculum. Do you think that how the tests are used will change, and if so, how?


  • The US Department of Education released clear guidance to all states in January 2016 for potential ways to reduce assessments as well as what federal funds are available to states for them to conduct independent assessment audits.
  • It is our hope that the ISTEP panel’s final recommendations and potential action by the legislature take the issues of over-testing into consideration.


The state legislature passed the bill ending the ISTEP because the public demanded action. Inappropriate uses of the ISTEP will change if enough parents and other citizens demand it of the state legislators, the governor and the state board of education. It’s important that citizens ask candidates how they stand on testing, privatization, and other education issues. The ballot box is a powerful tool for making change.

Since Indiana owns the ISTEP questions, how can we ensure that we are not simply handed a rebranded ISTEP? What would you like the new state test to look like?


  • This will ultimately be decided by the legislature after receiving recommendations from the ISTEP Panel.
  • One thing to keep in mind is that the “new” test will need to comply with federal standards (ESSA).


This is a good question to ask of the candidates for governor and superintendent of public instruction as well as legislative candidates. I’d like to see the ISTEP replacement be a series of short tests given periodically with immediate feedback to measure a student’s growth instead of one high stakes test, the results of which aren’t known until months later. We should give serious consideration to an off- the-shelf testing system such as the NWEA.

How can we ensure that the DOE provides testing resources and information to teachers in a timely way? How can we ensure that the information is meaningful?


HEA 1395 includes the following provision:

  • Requires that scores of student responses under an ISTEP program test must be reported to the state board of education (state board) not later than July 1 of the year in which the ISTEP program test is administered.
  • Consistent communication from the DOE to the school districts will help ensure that the testing materials are provided in a timely manner.


The Superintendent of Public Instruction has expressed her desire to change testing and provide resources. Letting her know that you agree will reinforce her resolve and encourage her to push on.

What would you suggest parents and concerned citizens do in the next few months to change the testing environment in our schools?


  • Contact their legislators, voice concerns to the Department of Education, testify at State Board of Education meetings.
  • Governor Pence is charged with appointing the chairperson of the ISTEP panel, so feel free to contact his office with any questions or concerns.


Remain engaged by attending or watching the live feed of the 23-member committee meetings. Ask questions and express your views to Muncie resident Lynne Stallings at Ball State who is a member of the committee. Write a letter to the editor. Ask questions and express your views to candidates for governor, superintendent of public instruction, and the legislature between now and the November election. Vote!


Contact your legislators and press for a sensible and flexible system that provides for less overall testing and better itemized feedback for parents, teachers and administrators.

Questions for Sam Snideman:
How much latitude are we allowed under federal law? Our exemption from No Child Left Behind means testing is tied to teacher evaluation?



We’re not allowed a lot of latitude under the law in terms of broad test parameters (e.g., the test still have to be summative, related to Indiana’s academic standards, and covering the same grade bands and subjects the current ISTEP covers), but it seems like we’ll have pretty wide latitude in how we use the results of the test for accountability purposes. Test performance will still need to be part of the school accountability formula, but it can now be a smaller portion of the overall picture (and, indeed, states will need to include some non-academic measures of school performance in their formulae). Teacher accountability will still likely have test performance as a component (if only because state legislators seem to want it), but here again we will have the discretion to choose how much weight to give test performance. Since we won’t be operating under a NCLB waiver, the state can choose how to use the test scores in teacher evaluation schemes.

Would ESSA allow use of a formative test?


It seems very unlikely. The requirements of the law require a summative test in reading or language arts and mathematics annually in grades 3-8 and once during grades 10-12, and in science once in each of the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. There is a provision in the law that allows for some limited pilot testing for approved states of different/innovate exams, but this is something the state can’t really count on and, even if chosen to be a pilot, Indiana would still probably still have to do a summative test.