We hear about wanting our students to be creative problem-solvers, risk takers, and prepared to become contributing members of society. How does STANDARDIZED TESTING relate to this goal?

Lanane:

• Standardized testing relates to this goal by accurately assessing student progress. Per the US Department of Education “They provide necessary information for educators, families, the public, and students themselves to measure progress and improve outcomes for all learners. Done poorly, in excess, or without clear purpose, they take valuable time away from teaching and learning, draining creative approaches from our classrooms.”1

Marchant:

It doesn’t. Standardized achievement testing focuses on meeting academic standards related to knowledge and skill standards. It is the definition of thinking inside the box, not outside. Critical thinking and creativity would need to be addressed in another way. However, with high stakes testing being so important, it is unlikely that teachers would spend too much time on activities not designed to boost test scores. There are conspiracy theorists that believe that this is by design, in order to create less challenging thinkers.

Baule:

It really doesn’t. Standardized testing is good at determining if students have the basic concepts and facts on a given subject. Generally, standardized testing works at the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and doesn’t do well at evaluating a tester’s ability to synthesize, judge, or evaluate. Creativity is generally not well considered in standardized testing. Even in writing sections where free responses are necessary, writing evaluators tend to look for specific rote formats in written responses.

Johnson:

It doesn’t.

Our Gifted and Talented kids are being left behind! How is standardized testing going to help all kids reach their potential?

Lanane:

• The US Department of Education indicates that many gifted/talented students, as well as students with disabilities have been underserved by the use of many standardized tests. They give states the flexibility to craft solutions to address their specific student population – improving outcomes for these students should be a focus of the ISTEP Panel.

Marchant:

As long as there is a cut score, it doesn’t. A cut score is a certain score a student has to reach to pass. Students that tend to perform way above or way below the cut score are, at least theoretically, less important. Those above will easily pass, and those way below will never pass. It is the bubble kids in the middle that often receive extra attention to make sure that they pass.

Baule:

I don’t think GT students are necessarily more penalized than others by standardized testing unless one is discussing the overall narrowing of the curriculum due to standardized testing. Standardized testing is not about students reaching their potential. It is about political accountability. State required standardized testing is currently without any direct positive impacts on students.

Johnson:

Using a test such as NWEA measures growth above and below grade
level. No testing is going to ‘help’ ALL kids reach their potential. Testing is generally used to measure that students are getting the ‘minimum standards’.

How much do ISTEP scores tell teachers and parents about what a student has learned?

Lanane:

  • One goal of ISTEP and standardized testing should be full transparency – states and school districts should ensure that every parent gets understandable information about the tests their students are taking, as well valid information regarding individual student progress.
  • Transparency in testing should be a focus of the ISTEP panel.

Marchant:

For teachers at the end of the year, they may confirm their own assessments. For the new teacher they might provide some initial insights for grouping and differentiate instruction. Beyond that, the tests are not very functional for teachers. For parents, ISTEP might provide some information specific to the standards. If the teacher is communicating specific performance information, the ISTEP should just confirm teacher evaluations. The main thing to remember is that the test will not tell the teacher or parent “why” a student performs at a certain level; that requires insights from the teacher and/or parent (and student).

Baule:

The ISTEP+ test is supposed to measure a student’s achievement level according to the Academic Standards for Indiana. A parent/teacher can compare ISTEP+ as to Pass+(demonstrates advanced understanding)/Pass(demonstrates proficient understanding in skills targeted for grade level tested)/DNP(did not demonstrate a proficiency in skills tested) from year to year.

Technically, it is not a particularly effective tool to compare specific skills. You can analyze the yearly growth in the general areas of ELA (Reading and Writing), Mathematics (Number Sense, Computation, Algebraic Thinking, Data Analysis, Geometry and Measurement, Math Process Skills), and Science (Physical Science, Earth Science, Life Science, Science Eng and Tech, Nature of Science, Design Process) High School is ELA 10 and Algebra specific. A student is categorized with High Growth and Low Growth compared to the previous year.

Johnson:

I think it can give teachers and parents ONE piece of information about whether their child is progressing each year. But it is ONLY ONE piece of information.

What would be the ideal method for evaluating a student’s learning over a year? (formative vs. summative, combination?)

Lanane:

  • Formative assessments provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and student learning. They are generally considered “low-stakes testing” which means they have low or no point value.
  • Summative assessments (such as midterm exams, final projects, etc.) evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit. They are generally considered “high-stakes testing” and ISTEP falls into this category.
  • Depending on the school district and student population, a combination of both may be better.
  • One thing to keep in mind is that the federal government requires certain high- stakes testing such as standardized testing.
  • In 2015, the State Board of Education approved a resolution allowing schools to apply for grant money from the state in order to purchase/administer their preferred formative tests.
    • o The Formative Assessment Grant Program was approved in the 2015 budget (HEA 1001).
    • o A component of this law shares that the formative assessment grant will be provided to public school corporations, charter schools and accredited nonpublic schools to fund formative tests to identify students that require remediation. Prior to distribution to public school corporations, charter schools and accredited nonpublic schools, the grant amounts and formula shall be submitted to the State Board of Education and the State Budget Agency for review and approval, and the Indiana Department of Education shall provide a report to the State Budget Committee.2

Marchant:

Formative assessment informs the teacher’s instruction and the students’ learning. It can also provide a baseline for improvement. Summative assessment determines whether or not students master the content. Both are important for teaching.

Baule:

Formative assessment, when used properly, can help students and their teachers best understand what growth children are making and how to provide to move them forward. It also helps teachers learn what has and has not worked in their instructional tool kit.

Summative assessments, like final exams, are there to ensure students have mastered materials and also for teachers to ensure they have been effective instructors. When a larger portion of a class fails an exam, a good teacher will try to refine what they do in the future to make sure instruction is more impactful next time.

Johnson:

Well, 1. Trusting teachers professional judgment. But that is never going to happen by either the government or the parents. Parents would not stand for ‘just a teacher’ telling them their child has not achieved. The teacher has to have ‘back up’ by the ‘state’ to say ‘prove’ it.

How do/can we implement real incentive/investment for students to take assessment seriously?

Lanane:

For students and teachers to take the assessments seriously, we need valid tests with valid outcomes in order to track student progress.

Marchant:

Why do you want to? The assessment should be the result of learning? Our emphasis on assessment tends to undermine student learning. The exception to that is the degree to which teachers can develop real-life authentic assessments. These are projects that require learned standards to perform tasks that mirror activities in the real world. For example, instead of simply calculating the area of rectangles, students determine the amount of paint needed to paint a room.

Baule:

Excellent question. The short answer is it varies for each student. Schools have done everything from taking those students who pass the exam to a major league baseball game, to giving students preferred parking spaces, to paying them for good scores. The key is that except for ECA exams and standardized entrance exams like the ACT or SAT, students have little if any intrinsic motivation to take these tests seriously. These tests are in place for political reasons and not educational ones; so it is extremely hard to motivate students to take them seriously.

Johnson:

We could implement a student accountability policy that looks at several factors whether students are progressing and make them explain their progress or lack of progress when they don’t achieve.

We have already purchased, prepared, and placed an assessment system that has the capability to holistically consider student learning and growth. Why do we repeatedly reject the estimation and expertise of classroom teachers?

Lanane:

  • The legislature needs to place more trust in the expertise of classroom teachers in regard to assessing the needs and progress of their students.
  • The inclusion of education experts, teachers, superintendents, and principals in the ISTEP panel will hopefully bring this issue to the forefront.

Marchant:

Because politics demands it. The narrative that teachers are bad drives political decisions to underfund education and to push for privatization. Parents are also interested in confirmation of teacher evaluations of their children.

Baule:

That is a question for the legislators and those who crafted NCLB at the federal level.

Johnson:

Well, there you go. Someone agrees with me.

How can we empower teachers and building administration to use assessments that aren’t number-based (to use qualitative date to supplement quantitative)?

Lanane:

The funds need to be available for schools to use different testing procedures that meet the needs of their student population.

Marchant:

Most qualitative assessments can be quantified, and to provide objective evaluations they need to be quantified through rubrics or other assessment tools.

Baule:

At MCS, we work to educate our teachers and administrators to use a wide range of assessment measures. We do use a wide range of qualitative measures to supplement quantitative measures, but the coercive nature of Indiana’s current laws requires a focus on ISTEP+ preparation.

Johnson:

My teachers do. I don’t think teachers are necessarily dis-empowered. But we are in such a ‘prove it’ society that teachers have to be willing to do the documentation for the ‘qualitative’.

Is Test Anxiety now common in students? What plans or ideas are there to include families in ISTEP testing? As a parent I know when my student is testing, but I don’t get specifics about the test schedule, what their test day looks like, etc. Why am I not the first stop to help ease my child’s test anxiety and how can I do this without being educated about it myself?

Lanane:

  • There are resources available through organizations such as the Health Center for Indiana University on how to address test anxiety in students. http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/counseling/self-help/test-anxiety.shtml
  • Both schools and parents should have the information available to them to realize when students have test anxiety and also how to appropriately address it.
  • High-stakes testing such as ISTEP/end-of-year assessments are known to contribute to test anxiety – this topic should also be a focus of the ISTEP panel.

Marchant:

Yes, but not all students. The greater importance put on a test the more anxiety it is likely to produce. Many adults experience this in their work, but seldom at the level students face. Imagine a test or project at your place of employment that you had advanced through for a few years where the result would mean that you could be removed from all of your co-workers and shipped off to another company to start over climbing up the ranks. Also imagine that the test or activity isn’t really about doing your job, but answering a series of questions to prove that you know how to do your job. That would be pretty stressful.

Baule:

Test anxiety is not uncommon among students or teachers. Most schools send information home about ISTEP+ testing to parents. The IDOE also provides ISTEP+ information on its website for parents.

Johnson:

I can not answer for this school. I would recommend this parent reach out to their child’s classroom teacher to answer this question.

A student teacher in Muncie was not able to submit lesson plans to her supervisor because students were doing ISTEP testing and review. That’s 2 testing sessions each year, 1 month out of the school year. How will instruction time be used more effectively?

Lanane:

  • The use of instructional time being used more effectively has been a common complaint by teachers in many school districts in Indiana.
  • The ISTEP panel should be open to the feedback and recommendations from teachers regarding this issue – whatever state-based standardized test that is approved should take the amount of preparation time into consideration for teachers to administer these tests.

Marchant:

This is a very important question and gets at one of the two main problems with ISTEP. ISTEP has grown to consume too much time and importance. The nature of the test is one issue. Expanding its length and time helps with both validity and reliability. Validity has to do with whether or not it is covering what it is supposed to cover. Reliability has to do with the accuracy or repeatability of the test. The more items there are, the less likely a bad answer or an aberrant response will matter. So technically speaking the ISTEP has become a better test. Unfortunately, functionally it has become a disaster. The question the panel must wrestle with is, how to use whatever test they choose. They will need to look for a way to use a shorter test that takes less time to administer and less time to prep for.

Baule:

We would need further information as to the specific. The principal, teacher, student teacher and the university would all be aware that state testing is a mandate and preparation for those exams does take time out of the instructional calendar. Student teachers are assigned for one semester only.

Another option for student teachers who may not want to participate in all of the testing sessions would be to make observations throughout the district by visiting non-tested grade levels. During this testing period other university assignments could be made. These plans should be made upfront. Standardized testing should be no surprise to any stakeholder.

Johnson:

Hmmm… I would not be very happy if my teachers gave students a total ‘free day’ just because they were testing for part of the day(s) during these testing sessions. Nor would I be happy if the teachers spent an entire day of ‘review’ and had no plan of action to go along with that review. So, to be honest, this sounds a little odd to me….

Among the directives to the 23-member study panel is to examine off-the-shelf norm-referenced tests (NWEA, Stanford Achievement Test, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, ACT Aspire) for possible adoption to replace ISTEP. Are you familiar with any of them, and do any of these options seem viable to you to assess student achievement?

Snideman:

NWEA is likely not a good option because it is not a summative test, and with the requirements of ESSA that wouldn’t do. ACT Aspire is being used in a few other states (Alabama, for example), but how closely aligned it would be to Indiana standards is something that would need to be studied. The same is true for Stanford and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. That’s part of the issue with all off-the- shelf tests: does it test what you are teaching? And until the committee gets to work, it is tough to tell how closely aligned any of these tests are to Indiana standards.

Lanane:

The ISTEP panel and the legislature will need to vet these assessments in order to: o Ensure that the assessments are valid
o Don’t lead to “over-testing”
o Align3with both federal guidelines and our state’s educational standards

ACT Aspire

  • ACT Aspire maps learner progress from grades three through high school on a vertical scale, anchored to the scoring system of the ACT.
  • ACT Aspire provides an array of features and functions that can be scaled for state-wide implementations, individual districts, associations of schools, or individual schools.IOWA Tests (Seton Testing Services)4
  • The Iowa Tests meet most states’ requirements for an annual, nationally normed standardized test and offer educators a diagnostic look at how their students are progressing in key academic areas.
  • Available for Kindergarten to Grade 12, the Iowa tests allow educators to trace student achievement growth continuously.Stanford 10 (Pearson Assessments)5
  • The concepts and skills assessed by each level of Stanford 10 are those ordinarily taught during the second half of any given year and the first half of the following year.
  • This midyear-to-midyear configuration provides for a more focused assessment of students tested in the spring of one grade and the fall of the next than could a single test level intended for use in both the fall and spring of the same school year.
  • It also provides more opportunity to monitor academic growth when Stanford 10 is administered in the fall and the spring.

Marchant:

For the Indiana state test to be valid, it must be based entirely on Indiana state standards. Otherwise, students that have been taught the standards well may perform poorly on a test that does not cover what they have been taught. None of the tests that have been based on other content will be appropriate for Indiana standards. I call this the race to replace acronyms. In other words, the idea that some other test is superior just because it has a different name or abbreviation is an exercise in folly. The biggest problem with the ISTEP was how it was being used. Any of the tests mentioned can be abused in the same way as the ISTEP. Therefore, the committee has two big challenges: Decide the nature of the test and how that information will be used (and not abused). What makes sense to me is to use statistical information on the tests to greatly reduce their length and time. But more importantly eliminate the abuse of its use by limiting its impact on students, teachers, and schools.

Baule:

As Dr. Marchant stated none of those tests would immediately be acceptable without either modification of Indiana Academic Standards or the exams themselves. That being said, NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress is most certainly an excellent exam and already used in 144 Indiana school corporations and growing. It is computer adaptive meaning it is a better instrument for identifying student skills than non-adaptive testing. Particularly among children working above or below grade level. The other two tests also have advantages over the ISTEP+, but NWEA’s product, which is centered on student growth over time, is particularly powerful.

Johnson:

Hands down: NWEA!

1 US Dept. of Education Fact Sheet: Testing Action Plan http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-testing-action-plan

2 http://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/assessment/chapter_7_formative_assessment_2015- 2016_final.pdf

3 https://www.discoveractaspire.org/assessments/summative/
4 http://www.setontesting.com/iowa-tests/
5 http://www.pearsonassessments.com/learningassessments/products/100000415/stanford- achievement-test-series-tenth-edition.html#tab-details